Published on December 14th in the New York Times
French officials paid their respects Friday at a Jewish cemetery near Strasbourg, where 37 tombstones and a monument to Holocaust victims had been defaced with swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti in the same week that a deadly attack that shook the nation.
“When a place of recollection is desecrated, it’s the entire Republic that is sullied,” Christophe Castaner, France’s interior minister, wrote on Twitter after visiting the cemetery in Herrlisheim. “Everything is being done to identify and detain the authors of this desecration.”
The authorities have not said if they have any suspects in the vandalism, which took place Monday night or Tuesday morning in Herrlisheim, a town of fewer than 5,000 people a few miles from Strasbourg, in the northeast corner of France.
The incident came at a tense time for the nation, shaken by what the authorities called a terrorist attack at a Christmas market in Strasbourg on Tuesday, the “Yellow Vest” protests of recent weekends and a rise in anti-Semitic acts.
The market attack this week killed four people, left one person brain-dead and injured 11 others. The suspect, Chérif Chekatt, 29, was shot dead on Thursday night after a hunt by French security forces. He had been on a watch list out of concern he was being radicalized. That attack did not appear to involve anti-Semitism.
France has suffered several deadly terrorist attacks in recent years, some aimed at its Jewish community, including a 2015 shooting at a kosher supermarket in Paris that killed four people, and a 2012 assault on a Jewish school and soldiers in Toulouse that left seven people dead.
Mr. Castaner, the interior minister, took a detour to Herrlisheim while on a visit to Strasbourg. The Alsace region, bordering Germany, was once home to a significant Jewish population, and it has been no stranger to anti-Semitic acts in recent years. In the month after the attack on the Paris supermarket in 2015, teenage vandals overturned as many as 250 Jewish gravestones in Saverne.
In Herrlisheim, which has only a small Jewish community remaining, the Jewish cemetery has been vandalized several times over the years.
There has been intense debate among French Jews and academics about how to respond to what commentators are calling the “new anti-Semitism,” amid a wave of acts traced back to France’s growing Muslim population. Some French Jews, feeling unsafe, have moved to Israel.
Prime Minister Édouard Philippe wrote on Facebook last month that in the first nine months of the year the number of anti-Semitic incidents nationwide was 69 percent higher than in the same period of 2017.
On Friday, local religious and government officials gathered at the ceremony in Herrlisheim.
Harold Weill, chief rabbi of the Bas-Rhin region, said, according to the news agency Agence-France Presse, that the Jewish community “loves this country, it cherishes it, but it is asking itself questions.”
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