Jewish Graves Desecrated in Historic French Cemetery

PARIS — Dozens of graves in the Jewish cemetery in the small Alsatian village of Westhoffen have been found daubed with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti, the latest in a series of cemetery and synagogue profanations in the region.

The historic cemetery, which dates to the 16th century and houses the graves of the families of Karl Marx and former French prime ministers Leon Blum and Michel Debré, is the third Jewish cemetery in Alsace to be desecrated in the last year, according to the authorities.

The police discovered the desecrated Westhoffen graves — about 107 of them — on Tuesday, and on Wednesday the French interior minister visited, vowing to redouble efforts to find the perpetrators.

There have been more than 50 incidents this year of school and village walls and cemeteries scrawled with anti-Semitic graffiti in the region, officials said.

“It raises questions,’’ the rabbi for the region, Harold Avraham Weill, said in an interview on Wednesday night. “All these incidents, and no one has seen anything?”

“There is a silence, a deaf-and-dumbness in the population,” he said. “There are no eyewitnesses. Nobody has seen or heard anything. We are obligated to ask questions.’’

The village of Westhoffen no longer has a Jewish community, though the Jewish population in Strasbourg, 25 miles to the east, numbers about 20,000 and is growing, Mr. Weill said.

“This is what astonishes me,” said Maurice Dahan, president of the Jewish community of the Bas-Rhin department, where Westhoffen is located. “These cemeteries are inside the villages. So I ask myself the question, all those people I saw at the windows yesterday, and nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything? It’s not possible that people never see anything.”

Neither faulted the police inquiry, which is continuing, but both said the police were stumped by a lack of witnesses.

Last February, 96 graves in Quatzenheim were discovered scrawled with swastikas, and almost exactly a year ago tombs at Herrlisheim were found similarly desecrated.

On Wednesday, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner visited Westhoffen and promised to create a “National anti-hate office” within the national police, to help coordinate the investigation into this and similar incidents.

“Hate has struck, hate is here, on our land,” Mr. Castaner said.

The perpetrators had left indications that they would strike the Westhoffen cemetery, according to Mr. Dahan, twice scrawling on nearby village walls in recent days the words “Cim juif Westhoffen,” meaning “Westhoffen Jewish cem.”

“I think these people who do this are well-organized, even if they are imbeciles,” he said. “They don’t make too many mistakes.”

Jean-Louis Debré, former president of France’s Constitutional Council, who visited the cemetery with Mr. Castaner on Wednesday, and whose family is buried there, said: “I’m not forgetting that 10 members of my family did not come back from Auschwitz.”