BALTIMORE — Elected officials and faith leaders gathered at the Jewish cemeteries off German Hill Road on Friday morning to decry anti-Semitic graffiti which was left on graves there over the July 4 weekend.
Swastikas and the word “Holodomir,” an apparent reference to a famine in Ukraine during the Soviet era, were spray-painted onto several headstones this weekend in the cemetery, which is located just inside of the Baltimore City limits, near Dundalk.
The graffiti was discovered by several who went to the cemetery earlier this week.
“The president [of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater Baltimore] called us down on Monday morning,” Marty Glas, who keeps the grounds at another Jewish cemetery off Workmen’s Circle in Dundalk, said just before a planned press conference with elected officials and faith leaders at the cemetery.
Glas and Kelly Rainey, who were supposed to be on vacation this week, cleaned up the graffiti early on Monday morning and made their vacation, but “could only think about” the hateful images on graves.
The two said they had seen graffiti around the area’s Jewish cemeteries, but never anything this direct.
“It’s never inside,” Rainey said. “And it’s never that hate.”
Glas said the cemeteries maintained by the association are often host to illicit activities, such as drugs and prostitution, and needed police protection.
“We ask for police presence all the time,” he said.
Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen, who represents the city’s first district, said at the cemetery he thought about his great-grandmother, who escaped to the United States before the Nazi Party annexed Austria.
“I thank God my grandmother had the courage to come here. I also thank God for the Americans that welcomed her here,” he said.
Cohen said there was a “rising tide of anti-Semitism, white nationalism and neo-Fascism lurking in the shadows of cities throughout America and Europe.”
“We know what it means when swastikas show up on our tombstones. There are people here who still want us dead,” he said.
“I take this very personally,” Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka said. Patoka, who represents the county’s second district, said his parents were Holocaust survivors, and his grandparents as well as aunts and uncles were killed in the Holocaust.
“There’s no more cowardly act than to desecrate a cemetery,” he said. “I say to those who did this: How dare you. How dare you. How dare you. And we will fight back.”
Howard Libit, the director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said it was “heartening” to see religious leaders from across the board at the cemetery. He said police are “treating this seriously, like they should,” and investigating the vandalism as a hate crime.
“The nature of vandalism in this, or any cemetery, is distasteful, disheartening, and as a Jew, downright scary,” Steve Venick, the president of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater Baltimore, said.
“We are living in times that people can say and do what they want, when they want, no matter the hurt or collateral damage it may cause others.”
He said the cemetery association was looking at additional security measures.
“We know that people are not born with hatred in their heart, they learn it in various ways,” Bishop Denis J. Maden of the Archdiocese of Baltimore said. “I think what we’re doing this morning is giving a teaching lesson, that we love each other, and that love will win in the end.”