WARSAW (Reuters) - Vandals have defaced a Jewish memorial in eastern Poland by rearranging bushes forming the Star of David into a Nazi swastika, police said on Monday, the latest in a string of anti-Semitic incidents in the area.
“Unknown assailants, most likely overnight, vandalized a monument commemorating a former Jewish cemetery,” a police spokesman in the city of Bialystok, Andrzej Baranowski, told TVN 24 news channel.
Television pictures showed the swastika, made from bushes, sitting in the middle of the original Star of David.
“The (Nazi) symbol has now been removed,” Baranowski said.
Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish population until Nazi Germany’s invasion and occupation of the country during World War Two. Most Polish Jews perished in the Holocaust.
The Polish government and Jewish groups have condemned recent acts of vandalism against Jewish targets which Bialystok police have said they believe were performed by the same people.
On September 1, at a site near Bialystok, vandals covered a monument to victims of a World War Two pogrom against Polish Jews with swastikas and racist inscriptions.
A prominent Jewish group, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, condemned “the cowardly desecration” at the Bialystok cemetery and urged Polish authorities to do more to protect such sites.
“Security at locations memorializing the destroyed Jewish communities of Poland must be guaranteed as a matter of Polish national obligation,” it said in a statement.
“The vicimisation of Poland by Nazi Germany was an historical reality, but the role of Poles in the persecution of its Jewish citizens places a particular responsibility on it which Poland has yet to fulfil.”
Some Jews who survived the Holocaust came under physical attack from their Polish neighbors after the war. Many also faced discrimination by the communist authorities.
The vast majority of Poland’s remaining Jews had left for Israel or the West by the late 1960s, but there has been a revival of interest, especially among young Poles, in their country’s Jewish heritage since the fall of communism in 1989.
Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Matthew Jones