VILNIUS - Vandals spray painted swastikas and the phrase "Jews out" on the windows and walls of the Jewish Community Center in Vilnius Sunday. Government officials and Jewish community leaders quickly condemned the act.
"Contempt targeted at a nation which has suffered from genocide is not casual hooliganism. It is a destructive and sordid act against Lithuania as a whole, not only Lithuania's Jewish community," President Valdas Adamkus said. "I consider such disreputation of our country a harsh provocation against Lithuania," he added.
Jewish leaders echo Adamkus' regret that all Lithuanians must suffer from the actions of a few. "These racist attacks actually hurt the image of Lithuania, and why should all people be connected with these neo-Nazis when the fact is that most people are very tolerant?" Simonas Gurevicius, Executive Director of the Jewish Community in Lithuania said.
In addition to the German phrase "Juden raus" (Jews out), vandals also painted a Star of David depicted as a hanging man and drawings of concentration camps on the walls of the center. Daniel Kirshner, an Israeli from Jerusalem who lives in Vilnius, discovered the vandalism. "We were walking in the Jewish quarter and suddenly we saw this. Our first thought was that we were back in 1934," he said.
Gurevicius said that it was important that the president and prime minister condemn the vandalism. "The president and deputy prime minister apologized to the Lithuanian Jews, and this is the first step 's to condemn them [the vandals], because these people think that when they do this they become heroes and think of themselves as patriots," he said. The state press service quoted Kirkilas as saying that so-called patriots writing anti-Semitic slogans on walls or making racist comments on the Internet were truly causing harm to Lithuania.
The symbol from the original Lithuanian flag was spray painted over the sign of the community center.
Adamkus has called on law enforcement and special services of the country to identify the organizers and the perpetrators of these acts immediately, the presidential press service reported.
Immediately after the act of vandalism, the acting prime minister, Finance Minister Rimantas Sadzius, who is currently substituting for the vacationing prime minister, asked Police Commissioner-General Vizgirdas Telycenas to investigate the circumstances of the incident and identify the perpetrators without delay.
Police have confirmed that they have begun investigations into the vandalism. At present they have no suspects, but a police spokesperson said that this is a direct breach of the Lithuanian Criminal Code. Part 1 of Chapter 170 of the criminal code makes it a crime to incite hatred against Jewish nationals or other groups based on race, nationality or origin.
Kirschner said he was surprised at the locals' indifference to the Jewish issue. "It seems no one here is making a big deal out of it. The guard at the center said he hadn't seen a thing and that it must have happened during the night. They don't have a clue who did it, but I myself saw a gang of skinheads lurking nearby. Maybe it has something to do with them," he said.
Gurevicius thinks that this is the latest in a long string of actions intended to disrupt progress on issues confronting Lithuanian Jews. "There are the issues of property restoration and the Snipiskes cemetery, and I think these issues are being solved very late. I think a motive of these attacks is to delay the solution," he said.
Gurevicius played down suspicions that this attack is directly linked to an incident in the Snipiskes cemetery when a rabbi attacked a photographer for allegedly overstepping a boundary set by the excavation crew.
Jewish proponents say that authorities have done little to combat anti-Semitism in Lithuania, thereby allowing it to flourish. "There is a vacuum opened and this is being filled by nationalists who move in and play on these issues," Gurevicius said.
The police department said that a black swastika was also found Sunday on the signboard of a Jewish community building in Panevezys, a city in central Lithuania.