Burnt scrolls, broken windows and vicious graffiti: a synagogue is desecrated again

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A burnt torah scroll, a swastika scrawled on a wall and virulent anti-Semitic graffiti greeted the elderly members of Wales's oldest Jewish community yesterday as they opened the door to their synagogue.

A burnt torah scroll, a swastika scrawled on a wall and virulent anti-Semitic graffiti greeted the elderly members of Wales's oldest Jewish community yesterday as they opened the door to their synagogue.

"T4 Jewish C**ts from Hitler," was daubed on the wall – an apparent reference to the Nazis' T-4 euthanasia programme, which was responsible for the deaths of thousands of disabled people during the Second World War.

Windows were broken, prayer books and papers scattered and a community education project, set up by the synagogue to explain Jewish life to local schoolchildren, was destroyed.

While the damage represented a shocking event in the life of a small community, many in the wider Jewish population fear that the attack is symptomatic of an upsurge in attacks against Jewish targets across Britain that has gained momentum in recent months.

Volunteers began cleaning away the graffiti yesterday in the hope of a return to normality. But most members of the community, including the rabbi, were reluctant to talk about the attack.

Jewish community leaders described the damage as "heinous" and compared it to the desecration three months ago of the Finsbury Park synagogue in north London, highlighted by The Independent. Some expressed concern about the emergence of "copycat" attacks.

"We utterly condemn this appalling act and our thoughts are with the congregation. We have confidence that the police will investigate this heinous crime as a matter of urgency and bring the perpetrators to justice," said Fiona Macaulay of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The National Assembly Against Racism (NAAR) blamed the attack on the recent rise in support for extreme right groups in Britain and Europe.

"We are completely appalled by this attack and we firmly believe that this is directly linked to the sweeping rise of the far right and extreme right across Europe," said Sabby Dhalu, spokesman for the NAAR.

"We were worried that the election of three councillors for the British National Party in Burnley would lead to an upsurge in attacks of this nature." Police in Swansea were surveying the damage last night in an attempt to find clues to the attackers' identity.

However, like Finsbury Park, the presence of the swastika and the reference to Hitler's programme of killing the mentally and physically disabled suggested that this was not simply the work of vandals or ignorant youths.

The T-4 programme, a phrase familiar to only the most ardent students of Nazi history, appeared to confirm that the attackers had not chosen their target at random. The Nazis' sinister killing scheme was named after its headquarters: Tiergartenstrasse 4, Berlin.

The killing by gassing and lethal injection was carried out by the Third Reich in a programme established in 1939. It was designed to rid the Nazis of people they regarded as unhealthy or "imperfect" and ran in tandem with the genocide of the Jews.

Police believe the attack was racially motivated but are keeping an open mind about whether it was organised or carried out by opportunists.

Although the attack was initially thought to have been a burglary, the synagogue's ceremonial silverware, which is kept with most of the holy scrolls in a fireproof trunk, was not touched.

The vandals are believed to have come in through a broken window between 10am and 10pm on Thursday, at which point the destruction was discovered by a member of the synagogue.

"A lot of damage has been caused. We are keeping an open mind but we do believe it is a racially aggravated attack," said Chief Insp Steven Mears of South Wales police.

The Swansea congregation is no stranger to adversity. During the Second World War their synagogue was destroyed by bombs. The new synagogue on Ffynone Rd is a practical post-war building, built on a plot of land donated to the community to rebuild their "shul" after the war. The dwindling congregation is barely large enough to reach a minyan – the quorum of 10 men needed to conduct prayers.

Ironically, the synagogue has pursued a highly successful policy of reaching out to non-Jews and welcoming them to the synagogue to teach them about Jewish life.

Last night the elderly orthodox community was determined that the destruction would not force them to abandon their prayers. They assembled amid the damage for the Friday night service – an act of defiance and resilience to show the vandals that they would not be deterred.

Norma Glass, 63, who runs classes to teach young people about the community, was eager to play down the damage to her cherished place of worship. Mrs Glass, who is a member of the Board of Deputies, said she would not be deterred from her work, despite the destruction wreaked in her classroom.

"They have broken glass and cupboards and thrown things around. They have broken a glass door and bookcase doors. They have made a real mess. I use it as a centre for educating non Jewish schoolchildren. I used to keep one Torah scroll to show the children. It is burnt," she said.

"The community is continuing as normal, to continue our lives. It's in the hands of the police who have been excellent and supportive."

Many recent attacks on Jewish people and buildings are believed to be directly related to the spiralling violence in the Middle East, and have included the desecration of cemeteries, as well as vicious beatings of individuals.

But the community had been hopeful until yesterday that the spate of violence was abating. Last month the number of attacks slipped to 13 reported incidents, down from 51 in April and 46 in May.

But the wrecking of the Swansea synagogue, which with the Finsbury Park desecration is only the second recalled by Jewish community leaders in living memory, was sharp reminder not to lower their guard.

The Community Security Trust, which is in charge of protecting Jews in Britain, said yesterday that it was shocked by the scale of destruction and appealed for witnesses to come forward.

"There was a large amount of damage to the synagogue. Whoever committed this wanton act did so with the intention of causing considerable destruction," said a spokeswoman. "This is a further indication of the numerous anti-Semitic incidents we have seen this year. Our thoughts are with the Swansea community."

A rising tide of hatred

Holy Law Cemetery, Oldham, May 2002 A 14-year-old boy was charged with demolishing 21 headstones.

Jewish cemetery in Delhi Street, Hull, May 2002 More than 80 gravestones were desecrated.

Finsbury Park Synagogue, north London, April 2002 Windows were smashed, a swastika was daubed under the Star of David on the rabbi's lectern and human excrement left on the floor

Holocaust memorial, Bramcote Park, Nottingham, April 2002 An eight-foot high statue depicting a death-camp survivor cradling her baby was ripped from its base and damaged.

Giffnock Synagogue, near Glasgow, March 2002 Hot tar poured over the outside of the building and two cars vandalised.

Dundee Hebrew Congregation, July 2001 Swastikas, anti-Jewish abuse and the name of the violent racist group Combat 18 were painted on walls.