Dozens of graves in what is believed to be the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe were vandalized and desecrated last week, the European Jewish Association (EJA) said on Sunday, according to multiple media reports.The graves were in Heiliger Sand, the Jewish cemetery in Worms, Germany. The community in the city, renowned for counting the famous medieval French rabbi Rashi among its residents at one point, was established in the 11th century. The oldest still-legible tombstone dates back to 1058/59, and thousands still visit the cemetery every year, the European Jewish Press reported.“The Jewish community in Germany is in shock after unknown individuals vandalized and desecrated dozens of gravestones in the ancient Jewish cemetery in the city of Worms,” the EJA announced.Among the tombstones vandalized belonged to the Maharam of Rothenburg, one of the chief Ashkenazi rabbis of the medieval period who was famous for opposing domestic violence against women, and for being a major contributor to the tosafot on Rashi's commentary.It is currently estimated that anywhere from 50 to 100 gravestones were vandalized. However, according to the community, it isn't possible at the time to determine how many were actually affected because many of the graves were covered in paint.“It is not yet possible to determine exactly how many gravestones are affected because the color often resembles the patina of the stones,” the community said in a statement.Rabbi Joseph Havlin, a Chabad rabbi from the nearby city of Frankfurt, slammed the vandalism as an act of antisemitism.“We are witnessing, and not for the first time, desecration of German cemeteries alongside a disturbing rise in antisemitism in the entire public sphere. We call on the German government to declare an uncompromising fight against antisemitism to ensure that such acts do not are no longer repeated,” he said in a statement, according to media reports.These sentiments were reflected by EJA chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin, who commented on rising antisemitism in Europe amid the coronavirus pandemic.“There is no doubt that the [coronavirus] crisis has brought with it a sharp rise in antisemitic discourse on the Internet, and now that most of the closures have been lifted, we unfortunately see how the toxic discourse on social media is turning into real attacks on Jewish institutions and symbols.”He added that “We expect the German government to act swiftly not only to renovate the cemetery but to formally declare the acceptance of the comprehensive program to combat antisemitism that that we have initiated and prepared. These measures include a substantial changes to the curriculum in the education system.”
Chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel Isaac Herzog urged German authorities to find the perpetrators of the vandalism and repair the damage caused in a letter to Germany's Ambassador to Israel, Susanne Wasum-Rainer, on Monday.
"I have learned with dismay and consternation that the Heiliger Sand Jewish cemetery in Worms, one the oldest in Europe, has been desecrated and vandalized," wrote Herzog. "This testament to a millennium of Jewish life in German lands has been the target of a vile hate crime at a time when rising antisemitism is a shared preoccupation in many countries. I know very well how vigilant and aware German authorities are to this wave of racist hate which has found in the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus a new pretext to reshape and renew old forms of anti-Jewish conspiracies and libels."
"The relations between our countries and our civil societies, exceptional and intimate on so many levels, are dear to my heart and you know how much I value the multi-partisan friendship of your government. It is as a sincere friend, therefore, that I urge German authorities to bring to justice those responsible for this hate crime and to restore the damage wrought on the cemetery. I would welcome your immediate intervention on this issue," added Herzog.It is currently unknown who was behind the vandalism. A local news outlet reported that police detained a 47-year-old woman in relation to the incident, but it is currently unknown what her involvement was.