Headstones in Jewish cemetery spray painted with antisemitic graffiti

(Courtesy of Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka)
(Courtesy of Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka)

Earlier this month, visitors to the Jewish cemeteries on German Hill Road near Dundalk came across an unwelcome sight: headstones spray painted with antisemitic graffiti, including swastikas.

On July 5 at approximately 6:12 a.m., Baltimore police responded to a report of a swastika at 6820 German Hill Road, said Detective Donny Moses of the Baltimore Police Department’s Media Relations Section. Police also received reports from different media outlets of additional swastikas spray painted on headstones on the county side of the cemeteries, he said.

Howard Libit speaks at German Hill Road cemetery
Howard Libit speaks at German Hill Road cemetery (Jesse Berman)

The morning of July 5, members of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater Baltimore removed all of the graffiti from the affected headstones, said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

The investigation is open and ongoing, Moses said, by members of the southeast district in conjunction with Baltimore County police.

This incident follows others last month of swastikas being drawn in public areas of the Fells Point neighborhood.

While troubled both by the appearance of swastikas in Fells Point and at the German Hill Road cemeteries, it was not clear to Libit that the two incidents were necessarily related, he said, noting that police had already filed charges in the Fells Point investigation. While he could not be certain the incidents were unrelated, he saw a significant distinction between targeting a public space in Fells Point and targeting a relatively isolated Jewish cemetery.

“Was it teenage kids who did this because they’d heard about swastikas and knew they could get a reaction?” Libit said of the cemetery graffiti. “Or was it someone who has deep hate in their heart for the Jewish people? I just don’t know. I don’t know that we’ll ever know.”

Meredith R. Weisel, the senior associate regional director in the ADL’s D.C. regional office, seemed to concur with Libit’s assessment.

“A lot of these incidents are not necessarily connected,” Weisel said in an email. “Many are people who are acting out on their own. So there isn’t always a concern that it’s part of a larger network.

“But we do know there are extremist activities in many states, including Maryland,” Weisel continued. “So it’s important that the community is vigilant and report any of these incidents of vandalism to ADL.”

Whenever an incident like this occurs, there is always a concern on whether it could inspire copycats to engage in similar behavior, Libit said.

“Whatever the motivation, it’s certainly an act of hate and is something that Jewish people, I’m sure across this community, are appalled by,” Libit said.

Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, said the swastikas at the cemetery underscore how important it is to combat antisemitism.

“Hearing the news of swastikas being drawn on cemetery headstones was both despicable and repulsive,” said Terrill. “Fortunately, we have the infrastructure within the Jewish Cemetery Association, an agency of The Associated, to respond quickly and provide dignity for the memory of our loved ones.”

On July 9, members and supporters of the local Jewish community came together at the German Hill Road cemeteries in a show of solidarity.

Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka
Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka (Jesse Berman)

Attendees included Libit; Baltimore City Councilmember Zeke Cohen; Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka; Maryland state Dels. Sandy Rosenberg (D-41), Robbyn T. Lewis (D-46), Dana M. Stein (D-11) and Jon S. Cardin (D-11); Rabbi Andrew Busch of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Steve Venick, president of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater Baltimore.

The Jewish Cemetery Association of Greater Baltimore has been in close contact with local police to follow up and patrol the neighborhood in case of copycats, Venick said. The organization is also looking into possible further security measures at local cemeteries.

Baltimore City Councilmember Zeke Cohen
Baltimore City Councilmember Zeke Cohen (Jesse Berman)

Speaking at the event, Cohen recounted how the sight of the gravestones spray painted with swastikas made him recall his great-grandmother, a seamstress, whose family was exterminated during the Holocaust, but who immigrated to the United States before it was too late, sewing her money into her clothing so that it would not be confiscated by the Nazis.

“She made it here to the United States with her money and with her dignity intact,” Cohen said. “And make no mistake, when my [great-]grandmother got on that boat for New York, there were Americans that did not want her here. But there were also people, of all faiths, that welcomed her, and welcomed the Jewish people, with open arms.

“I thank God my grandmother had the courage to come here,” Cohen continued. “I also thank God for the Americans that welcomed her here. Because if she had not gotten on that ship, and if this country had not taken her in, however begrudgingly, I would not be standing here today, serving my city and my country as an elected member of its government.”

7/19/21 9:43 a.m. Update: this story was updated to include additional attendees at the German Hill Road event.

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