August 07, 2007

Jewish cemetery desecrated in Poland

A Jewish cemetery in southern Poland has been desecrated with around 100 tombstones daubed with anti-Semitic slogans and Nazi symbols, police said Monday.

Police spokesman Adam Gaska said that the perpetrators were believed to be local youths, and that a criminal investigation had been opened in Czestochowa in the country’s south.

“Numerous tombstones have been covered with insulting wording or SS symbols, in black paint," Gaska told Poland’s PAP news agency.

The Czestochowa Jewish cemetery was founded in the late 19th century and houses 4,500 graves, including that of the Hasidic spiritual master Izaak Mayer Justman.

Few Jewish cemeteries in Poland are currently used for burials, and many were left abandoned for decades before restoration efforts began in recent years.

Most of the country’s pre-World War II population of 3.5 million Jews -- then the largest Jewish community in Europe -- were exterminated by the occupying Nazis.

After the Holocaust, Poland’s Jewish population numbered just 280,000.

Many Jews emigrated to the United States or Israel, either immediately following the war or during a wave of anti-Semitism under communist rule in 1968.

Poland now counts between 3,500 and 15,000 Jews -- out of a total population of 38.2 million -- according to estimates by different sources.