HALF of the cemetery's tombstones were desecrated by unknown vandals.
Slovakia's state representatives hurried to condemn the raid, which left half of the cemetery's tombstones commemorating local Holocaust victims lying broken on the ground. Košice officials said the act was the biggest attack on the town's Jewish community since the second world war, when about 13,000 Košice-area Jews were taken to Nazi death camps.
"We'd like to look into the faces of the heroes who fight against mute stones," said Košice rabbi Jossi Steiner.
Košice police have launched a search for the vandals, and suggested the 113th anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birthday had been a motive behind the act.
Košice regional police spokeswoman Jarmila Petrová said an investigator had already launched proceedings against unknown people for property damage and hooliganism.
Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda condemned the act as "barbarous", stating that it was "not possible that at the beginning of the 21st century in central Europe a hatred based on religious, racial, or ethnic differences is being revived".
During the second world war about 70,000 Slovak Jews were sent to German concentration camps. At that time, the independent Slovak Republic was a puppet state of Hitler's Germany.
Representatives of the country's estimated 3,500-strong Jewish community warned of growing anti-Semitic feelings in Slovakia.
Pavol Sitár, head of the Košice branch of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities (ÚZŽNO), told The Slovak Spectator that a similar, though smaller attack had taken place in the same cemetery in 1997 causing damages of Sk530,000 ($11,000). The recent raid is estimated to cost Sk3 million to repair.
"The police never caught the vandals [in the 1997 case]. These people may feel that society tolerates these acts. That's worrying," he said.
After western European countries such as Belgium and France registered a series of anti-Semitic attacks following Israel's recent military action against Palestinian communities, World Jewish Congress Secretary-General Avi Beker was moved on April 23 to compare the situation to "the worst times of Europe".
Slovak police authorities are under heavy international scrutiny in dealing with the Košice attack, as the cemetery contains the remains of family members of many western Jews who emigrated after the war.
"Why aren't the police on special alert when anniversaries like this [Hitler's birthday] come around?" asked the ÚZŽNO's head of office, Jozef Weiss. "They must catch the vandals and assess a penalty that will serve as a warning."
29. Apr 2002 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová