Two more cemetery desecrations have been discovered in France, just days after five teens were taken into custody for vandalizing 250 Jewish graves and defacing a monument to Holocaust victims in the eastern region of Alsace, near France's border with Germany.
During a hearing on Tuesday, the teens admitted urinating and spitting on tombs, as well as making anti-Semitic comments and imitating the Nazi salute during their graveyard rampage — validating the theory that the youths targeted the cemetery because it is Jewish.
On Tuesday night, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced that vandals had also damaged dozens of graves in a cemetery in Tracy-sur-Mer, a small coastal town in northern France next to the D-Day landing beaches, "removing a dozen crucifixes, some of which were found planted in the ground, upside down." The desecration was discovered Tuesday by a local resident who was visiting the grave of a relative. Speaking on French radio station RTL on Wednesday, Mayor Jean Bedez alluded to "the same phenomenon in three other cemeteries nearby."
On Wednesday, officials in the small, picturesque southwestern town of Saint-Béat said that 20 headstones in the local graveyard had been vandalized. According to reports in the local media, ex-votos [religious offerings] were removed from the graves and destroyed, but no tombs were open or written on.
"Everything will be done to identify and bring before the courts the perpetrators of these revolting acts, which fly in the face of the values and the respect that bind us together," Cazeneuve said Tuesday night.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls took to Twitter Tuesday night to express his "disgust and outrage at the damage committed in the cemetery of Tracy-sur-Mer. #Enough!"
In 2011, a parliamentary task force led by former deputy Claude Bodin released a report presenting the latest statistics on desecrations in France. According to the statistics, Christian graveyards were the main target of vandals in 2010, with 214 recorded Christian desecrations, versus 12 profanations of Jewish cemeteries and seven of Muslim cemeteries.
On Monday, French leaders rushed to condemn the desecration of the Jewish cemetery in the rural town of Sarre-Union and to reassure France's Jewish community in the wake of the Copenhagen shootings, in which a lone gunman shot and killed a Jewish security guard outside a synagogue in Copenhagen. France is still reeling from a recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks, which have left the Jewish community feeling increasingly vulnerable.
A report published in 2015 by the French Jewish Community Protection Services (SPCJ) claims that anti-Semitic attacks in France more than doubled between 2013 and 2014.
According to Alsace prosecutor Philippe Vannier, the five teens initially claimed they "thought the cemetery was abandoned," and only realized it was a Jewish graveyard once the destruction was underway. Vannier also said the teens were not known to police, and had "no known ideological beliefs that might explain their behavior."
A local newspaper revealed Tuesday that the group had agreed over Facebook to meet, responding to an invitation by one of the teens "to explore abandoned sites (houses, manors, castles, train stations, etc"). In the end, the teens decided to meet at the Jewish cemetery of Sarre-Union on Thursday, and stayed there from 3pm to 6pm.
French President François Hollande traveled to Sarre-Union on Tuesday to visit the desecrated cemetery.
"Justice will tell how much of this is stupidity, ignorance, or intolerance," he said. "Profanation is an insult to all religions, it sullies the Republic."
According to reports, a criminal investigation has now been launched against the five teens responsible for the desecration in Sarre-Union. Vannier has requested that all suspects be placed under judicial supervision — four of them in an educational institution, and the fifth in an educational penitentiary facility — pending the results of the investigation.
Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray
Image via Wikimedia Commons