Worried that there might be a rising tide of hate in America, a group of elected officials and community and faith leaders gathered Tuesday to decry the vandalism at the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston.
A Malden teenager is facing charges that he hurled a rock through a glass pane of the memorial Monday. It was the second time the site has been vandalized this summer.
“The pain of yesterday and today, it hurt me,” said Israel Arbeiter, a survivor of Auschwitz who helped found the memorial of six glass towers, which was first dedicated near Faneuil Hall in 1995. “It hurt me because it was just as if I would have lost a member of my family.”
His words were echoed by Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the group that maintains the memorial.
“How can this be?” said Shrage, his voice quavering at one point during his brief remarks. “It surpasses any possibility of understanding.”
Monday’s vandalism came just two days after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., turned deadly, and less than two months after a 21-year-old with a history of mental illness shattered a glass panel at the same Boston memorial.
Shrage referenced the Virginia rally, describing the white nationalists as “clownish figures in their Nazi uniforms” who were “pretending to be human.”
The Boston memorial, Shrage said, is a testament to what Nazi ideology represents.
“It represents bodies stacked like cordwood,” Shrage said. “It represents a million and a half dead children. It represents the ultimate outcome of evil. These things are not a joke.”
Janet Stein of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Greater Boston also spoke and extended an invitation to high school students in Malden and across the state to visit the memorial to talk with survivors of the genocide.
“These are not just glass pillars,” Stein said, referring to the monument. “This is a sacred site. May those 6 million who perished rest in peace, knowing that we will not allow their memories to be forgotten.”
“I am very close to tears. This has been a rough week, and these are trying times. . . . So much seems to be wrong in this country these days . . . and I’m still not sure exactly what is happening and what it all means,” said Reverend Liz Walker, of the Roxbury Presbyterian Church. “But I know that our increasing capacity to hurt each other breaks my heart.”
The motives of the Malden suspect, whose name was withheld because he is a juvenile, remain unclear, according to Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who also spoke at the briefing.
He said officials are worried that “this is a resurgence of hatred that we are seeing today in this country. It’s a climate that encourages hate. . . . We’re not going to get into letting that climate grow here in the city of Boston.”
Walsh’s counterpart in Malden, Mayor Gary Christenson, said he was “completely disheartened” for his city in the immediate aftermath of the vandalism. But he was later encouraged when he heard from a Malden resident whose mother survived the Holocaust and offered to speak with the suspect to educate him about the history of the atrocities.
“This is a very difficult moment for us all, but it’s why we’re here,” Christenson said. “To fight back and keep us moving forward for the next generation of leaders. Boston strong.”