ADL offers reward in Holocaust memorial defacement in S.F.

Wielding a Sharpie pen, vandals scrawled swastikas on San Francisco’s Holocaust Memorial last week, causing up to $6,000 worth of damage. With repairs already under way, the Anti-Defamation League offered a $2,500 reward leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

“It’s very disturbing, especially in a city like San Francisco that seems so progressive and inclusive,” said Jill Manton, director of public art programs for the San Francisco Arts Commission, which maintains the memorial. “It’s shocking, really. It’s totally out of place and inconsistent.”

The San Francisco Police Department is investigating, and has classified the incident as a hate crime.

The defacement was discovered Nov. 12. Created by sculptor George Segal and installed in 1984, the memorial, near the Palace of the Legion of Honor, consists of several human figures cast in bronze, painted white and surrounded by barbed wire. Vandals drew a Star of David with a swastika in the center on one of the figures, and scratched the same design onto a plaque and a bench.

This is the second such incident at the memorial in two months, and it coincides with recent swastika defacements in Oakland and San Jose.

“This incident is different from the others,” ADL regional director Jonathan Bernstein said, “in part because it’s on a piece of artwork commemorating the Holocaust.”

The Oakland defacement was on a randomly selected automobile, while the San Jose graffiti was scrawled on two church signs and featured swastikas inside a pentagram.

Manton notes that a 24-hour surveillance camera is trained on the memorial, and that perhaps the criminals were caught on film. “The area is very brightly illuminated and cameras serve as a deterrent to vandalism,” she said. “I have a feeling [the police] think it was just kids.”

Whether done by kids or not, Bernstein takes this seriously.

“When swastikas appear on freeway overpasses or cars,” he said, “our approach is call the city, document it, clean up and not get too much public attention, particularly if it doesn’t appear to be targeting the Jewish community. Those happen all the time. But if a swastika appears on a Jewish home or synagogue or Holocaust memorial, it’s an entirely different kind of crime.”

The San Francisco Police Department has an anonymous tip line for citizens to call with information about this or other anti-Semitic acts. The number is (415) 575-4444.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.