Poles team up to erase cemetery vandalism

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prague | Polish officials and Catholic teens wasted little time in joining local Jews to clean up one of the biggest cemetery desecrations in postwar Polish history.

Police discovered that some 100 graves in the Jewish cemetery of Czestochowa were covered with anti-Semitic graffiti on Aug. 5. The cleanup began two days later in the southern Polish town.

“We are here together to say that we are taken aback with what happened and we want to quickly as possible get rid of these horrible symbols,” said Czestochowa Mayor Tadeusz Wrona.

Swastikas, skinhead symbols and a Magen David in a noose, as well as the phrase “Juden Raus,” or “Jews Out,” were among the graffiti spray-painted by unknown perpetrators.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski decried the desecration in a letter to the head of the town’s Jewish organization.

There are 4,500 headstones in the Jewish cemetery, founded at the end of the 18th century and one of Poland’s largest. About 40,000 Jews lived in Czestochowa before World War II, making up one-third of the city’s population. Only 5,000 survived the Holocaust. About 100 Jews live there now.

Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said the city “has made more efforts to commemorate its Jewish history than any city of its size in Poland.

“Poles feel things like this are not supposed to happen here,” said Schudrich, who cleaned a swastika from a grave with the mayor and a local priest.

City officials have worked closely since the end of the communist regime with philanthropist and Czestochowa native Sigmund Rolat to recover the city’s Jewish past.

Rolat informed the police about the vandalism after he visited the graves of his family. He funded the cemetery’s renovation so it could be open to the public.

Rolat said the inauguration in June of a Jewish culture center in Czestochowa may have given some extremists a motive to vandalize the cemetery.

Wrona said the Polish media has noted a rising number of racist incidents in the region in recent years.