Vandalism of war memorials and desecration of graves are actions that summon a host of emotions. There’s anger at the arrogance and disdain shown by anyone who would splash staining liquid across a monument in South Boston to those who gave their lives in war. There’s a feeling of helplessness, knowing vandals are hard to catch and prone to repeat performances, as appears to be the case in more vandalism in different places in Boston this week. And there is sadness in knowing how it could be uncaring ignorance, or heartless and calculated anti-Semitism, that prompts someone to scrawl swastikas and “Heil Hitler” in black marker on 59 graves in a Jewish cemetery as happened over the weekend in Fall River.
There are some people who argue that publicizing news about these acts of vandalism only feeds the egos of the vandals, and prompts a repetition or copycat desecration by other people seeking notoriety. But silence is never an option when gravestones and memorials are defaced.
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross, speaking about the desecration of the World War II memorial in South Boston on Tuesday, pledged his investigators will move quickly to identify a suspect.
“I find it beyond reprehensible and wrong that anyone would think it OK to damage and desecrate such hallowed grounds,” he said in a statement.
Robert Trestan, executive director of the Boston office of the Anti-Defamation League, didn’t shy away from stating how hateful the vandalism was at the Hebrew Cemetery in Fall River, listing in a tweet “Expel the Jew, Hitler was right, Ethnic cleansing” and other offensive terms scrawled by the vandals.
“AntiSemitic words of #hate deface dozens of headstones in targeted attack at #FallRiverMA Jewish cemetery. Enough!” Trestan tweeted.
In Fall River, the damage was so extensive that police spent much of Tuesday surveying the grounds with Temple Beth El President Stephen Silverman, and going through surveillance video looking for leads as well. An anonymous donor stepped forward to offer a $12,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the vandal or vandals.
“We have to pull together, not be afraid, look forward, and see what we can do,” Silverman told reporters after viewing the damage.
In a tweet, the ADL cited the “incredible work” by the Fall River police, but added “they need the public’s help. Silence is not an option ... time to step up.”
There was no immediate word about whether anyone had come forward to identify the vandals in either Boston or Fall River, but many people did, indeed, “step up” through positive action. The anger and sadness that hits all right-thinking people after these acts also brings people together. That’s what happened in South Boston, as soon as word got out about the vandalism. People turned out with power sprayers, scrub brushes, solvents and rags to do what they could to help remove the material that had left streaks and stains across the granite markers. Others vowed to keep a closer eye on the memorials in coming days.
Vandalism with hate messages isn’t new, of course, but the number of incidents in the state is growing. The ADL tracks acts of anti-Semitism, discrimination and bigotry, and reports a significant increase – year over year – in incidents reported in Massachusetts, including harassment, vandalism, school incidents and threats made against Jewish institutions. A report in early 2018 by the ADL said such incidents increased 42 percent over the previous two years.
There are no easy solutions, no simple answers, but speaking out and raising public consciousness about hateful acts is an important, ongoing step.
Trestan, of the ADL’s Boston office, said, “The real solution and the real response comes from the people in the community. When we say this is not normal and we are not going to allow this to become part of mainstream American society.”