The Jewish section of a major cemetery in the Austrian capital was set ablaze and marred with swastikas, according to a religious leader in the city. The attack comes amid a surge of anti-Semitic incidents across Europe.
Oskar Deutsch, a leader in Vienna’s Jewish community, reported the vandalism and arson in a social media post on Wednesday, saying areas of the city’s central cemetery were severely damaged in the blaze.
“During the night a fire was set on the Jewish part of the central cemetery,” he wrote. “The anteroom of the ceremonial hall [was] burned out. Swastikas were sprayed on exterior walls. No people were injured. The fire department and police are investigating.”
In der Nacht wurde am jüdischen Teil des Zentralfriedhofs (IV. Tor) ein Brand gelegt. Der Vorraum der Zeremonienhalle ist ausgebrannt. An Außenmauern wurden Hakenkreuze gesprayt. Personen kamen nicht zu Schaden. Feuerwehr und Polizei ermitteln. pic.twitter.com/LLvCrrXIge
— Oskar Deutsch (@DeutschOskar) November 1, 2023
Deutsch shared photos of the aftermath, showing firefighters inspecting a heavily charred and smoke-filled ceremony hall. What appear to be crude swastikas were also seen scrawled in fluorescent paint on a wall outside.
A spokesperson for the local fire service, Gerald Schimpf, told the Austria Press Agency that the fire seemed to have broken out sometime on Tuesday night, but had mostly died out on its own by the time firefighters arrived the next morning.
The Vienna State Police later confirmed that the episode was being “intensively investigated” by Austria’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution. While the authorities have stated that the exact circumstances of the fire “are not yet known,” local media reports said police suspected arson, noting that flames appeared to have ignited in more than one location.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer also “strongly” condemned the incident in a statement, declaring that “anti-Semitism has no place in our society and will be fought with all political and legal means.” He went on to voice hopes that perpetrators of the cemetery attack would be “identified quickly.”
The incident in Vienna follows a string of similar reports across Europe in recent weeks, amid renewed fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza. Fears of violent reprisals against Jews have prompted evacuations and closures at a number of religious institutions, with several Jewish schools in Paris reportedly forced to clear out following bomb threats earlier this week. Jewish organizations have also warned of a rise in anti-Semitism in the US, where the Anti-Defamation League has reported a nearly 400% spike in such incidents this month.
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