Hundreds of Jewish graves in Sarre-Union, a town in eastern France, were seriously vandalized over the weekend. Photographs of the aftermath show hundreds of tombstones and catacombs spray-painted with red swastikas, and other tombstones toppled over.
Police are investigating the vandalism of the graves and have been staying in touch with leaders in the Jewish community about the incident.
The graves in the same French Jewish cemetery have been targeted in the past. The last time, in 2001, 54 headstones were vandalized and back in 1988, sixty grave stones were shoved over.
Hundreds of Jewish graves defaced today in a cemetery in the town of Sarre Union in northeastern France. (AFP Pic) pic.twitter.com/jfyRJlBkos
— Breaking News Feed (@PzFeed) February 15, 2015
The most recent attack comes at a time when the Jewish community in France is still reeling from the brutal Paris attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and a Jewish kosher market. The town where the graves were vandalized is several hours east of Paris, near the German border.
The French Minister of Interior Bernard Cazeneuve said in a letter published on French-language news website JSS News that the government condemns the attack on the Jewish graves. Cazeneuve described it as a “heinous act.”
“The Republic will not tolerate this new abuse that harms the values that all the French have in common,” Cazeneuve said in a translation of his letter.
Despite the condemnation from the government, many Jewish residents of France and Europe in general are planning to leave the country. During a recent emigration information fair in Paris about how French Jews can move to Israel, thousands of people showed up for more information. Typically, the annual information fair only attracts a few hundred people.
The emigration rate to Israel in 2015 is expected to be two or three times higher than during normal years.
During 2014, more than twice the number of Jews emigrated to Israel from France as in 2013, according to the BBC. About 7,000 moved to Israel from France. That number is expected to be even higher in 2015 as the Jewish community weighs its collective safety and future in Europe.
Currently, about 500,000 people make up the Jewish community in France, but 2014 was the first time ever that more Jews emigrated to Israel from France than any other country.
The desecration of the Jewish graves is just par for course for many Jews living in Paris and Europe, where an increasingly anti-Semitic climate has led to a number of attacks. Over the weekend, three people were gunned down at a synagogue in Copenhagen, killing one, at the same time that the Jewish graves were vandalized.