Vandalism at Boston Holocaust memorial: ‘How can this be?’

Boston politicians and religious leaders came together on Tuesday to mourn and decry the vandalism at the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston the night before, the second time the site has been attacked this summer.

Looming over the solemn gathering were the brazen anti-Semitic slurs and chants that echoed hundreds of miles away this weekend, when neo-Nazis and other white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia,

“How can this be in this country, in this city, so near to the graves of patriots who fought for freedom and liberty in this place?” said Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, referring to the vandalism.

“What did we see over the weekend in Charlottesville? What do we have to think about this? When we see those clownish figures in their Nazi uniforms pretending to be human, pretending to be something more than they are, pretending to be important. It’s important to remember what that represents.”

Where, Shrage asked, “is the Franklini Roosevelt who led our country against Nazism. Where is our president. Where is the condemnation of evil?”

A Malden boy is arrested

A 17-year-old from Malden, Massachusetts, was arraigned Tuesday in Boston Juvenile Court in connection with the vandalism.

He was charged with disorderly conduct, malicious destruction of property over $250, and causing injury over $5,000 to a church, synagogue or memorial, Suffolk County authorities said.

Judge Terry Craven released him on his own recognizance and ordered him to stay away from the memorial and comply with mental health treatment. The boy is scheduled to return to Boston Juvenile Court on October 10.

Witnesses told police they saw him throwing “what appeared to be a rock at the Memorial which shattered a glass panel,” a police news release said

Photos from the memorial showed shattered glass lying on the ground at the site, which is made up of six glass towers.

Witnesses, including an off-duty agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration and an off-duty Boston firefighter, caught and held the person until police arrived.

The teen had a folding knife with a four-inch blade and a small bag of marijuana.

The boy was placed under arrest in connection with the damage to the memorial and additionally issued citations for violating city ordinances by carrying a prohibited knife and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.

Each of the six towers consists of 22 panels of glass, the memorial said. “Each of the panels is engraved with thousands of numbers representing the six million Jews murdered by the Nazi regime,” Suffolk County authorities said.

Visitors often leave stones at the site — “reflecting the ages-old Jewish custom of marking a graveside visit,” according to the group. It’s not clear if one of those stones was used to vandalize the memorial.

The memorial was rededicated last month after being vandalized in June. A glass panel was also shattered in that incident.

Police reported a separate incident on Tuesday — in which a person damaged flowers on the ground surrounding the memorial.

A police spokesman said the vandalism is not connected to the Monday incident. But it is under review by Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s point prosecutor on hate crimes and detectives assigned to the Boston Police Civil Rights Unit.

“Acts like these are disgraceful at any time, but they’re even more reprehensible in the aftermath of the hate-fueled violence in Charlottesville,” Conley said.

“Everyone — no matter their race, religion, gender, or how they define their families — has the right to feel safe, welcome and respected in Boston and Suffolk County.”

The attendees at Tuesday’s event were a diverse group — but spoke as one.

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson issued a statement and delivered remarks calling the “alleged actions” of the boy “reprehensible” and said they “in no way reflects what our community stands for.”

Christenson said he got an email from a resident whose mother survived a concentration camp and she said she was willing to meet with and provide lessons and understanding to the boy on her perspective.

“I was completely disheartened for the city of Malden but not defeated,” he said at the event.

Shaykh Yasir Fahmy, senior imam at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, made reference to the earlier vandalism at the memorial when he spoke at the event. “Unequivocally as Muslims we stand firmly side by side with our Jewish brothers and sisters who have faced so much pain and have been the object of so much hurt over this period of time,” the imam said.

“Twice in one summer to have their sacred memorial desecrated is emblematic of a toxic reality that’s playing out.” Fahmy said the memorial is a sign to never be “apathetic and complacent.”

“To hear those chants in Charlottesville, to see what was being said about our Jewish brothers and sisters,” he said, “was extremely painful.”

Israel Arbeiter, a Holocaust survivor, was gratified by the gathering but distraught over the vandalism.

“The pain that we the survivors are feeling and suffering because of the damage of the memorial will never go away,” he said.