Historic Jewish Cemetery vandalized with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti

By Sophie Lewis

/ CBS News

Police are investigating widespread vandalism at a historic Jewish cemetery in western Massachusetts. Swastikas and anti-Semitic phrases were found written in black marker on dozens of gravestones over the weekend. The incident is being treated as a hate crime, police said Tuesday.

Approximately 25 gravestones gravesites were vandalized at Fall River Jewish Cemetery either Saturday or Sunday, according to Fall River Police Department. Two headstones were toppled over, and the rest were vandalized with graffiti, some of which referenced Hitler and President Trump. The damage was discovered and reported by a groundskeeper Sunday afternoon.

According to CBS Boston, some of the vandalism allegedly included the phrases "Heil Hitler," "Hitler was right" and "Expel the Jew." One allegedly "Oy vey! This is MAGA country," an apparent reference to Mr. Trump's campaign slogan "Make America Great Again."

Reward offered for info leading to arrest of people responsible for #AntiSemitic stmts of hate on dozens of graves in #FallRiverMA. Incredible work by @FallRiverPD today but they need the public's help. Silence is not an option…time to step up. pic.twitter.com/ahJzW5BAfA

— ADL New England (@ADL_NewEngland) March 19, 2019

"My great-aunt used to take me here, she's over there with her family," said Lewis Brooks, whose family plot was desecrated. "It has a lot of memories."

According to CBS Boston, worried family members returned to the plot all day to see if their families' plots had been vandalized.

Detectives surveyed the damage Tuesday with the president of Temple Beth El and the director of the local anti-defamation league, but so far, no arrests have been made. An anonymous donor is offering a $12,500 reward for the arrest and conviction of those involved, according to the Hebrew Cemetery director. The Anti-Defamation League of New England is also offering a $1500 reward in addition to the reward offered by the Fall River Police.

"We have to pull together, not be afraid, look forward, and see what we can do," Temple Beth El President Stephen Silverman told CBS Boston.

The police department investigated reports of a suspicious vehicle parked at the cemetery for two days, but found it was not related to the crimes committed. They are also digging through surveillance video of the property.

The desecration of The Hebrew Cemetery of Fall River is an inexcusable act of antisemitic hatred in the place where we…

Posted by ADL New England on Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"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, " Anti-Defamation League of New England Director Robert Trestan told CBS Boston.

"In accordance with our mission, we stand by the Fall River Jewish Community and view this recent incident as another reminder that we all need to be vigilant and proactive in fighting hate," the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts said in a statement. "We are confident the investigation is in good and experienced hands with local law enforcement and although this is not one of our cemeteries, we are available to provide any assistance if needed by law enforcement or the victims of this senseless act."

First published on March 20, 2019 / 11:51 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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