Hunt for vandals who scrawled Nazi graffiti at Drancy, wartime camp from where 63,000 Jews went to their deaths
The government of France vowed yesterday to hunt down the vandals who scrawled anti-semitic graffiti on the country's chief Holocaust monument. Large, black swastikas were painted on to the memorial at Drancy, the site of the second world war deportation camp from where tens of thousands of Jews were sent to their deaths.
Local authorities said one of the people behind the defacement was captured on surveillance cameras and was believed to be a man in his 20s "of European origin".
The train carriage that was once used by the Nazis for deportations, and a stone pillar, were daubed with swastikas. Shopfronts in the towns of Drancy and Bobigny were also attacked, according to the police.
In a statement, the interior minister, Michelle Alliot-Marie, said: "Everything is being done to identify those responsible for these unspeakable acts and to bring them to justice."
The vandalism, in the middle of the Passover celebrations, sparked anger and unease among France's Jewish population, the largest in western Europe. The Representative Council of Jewish Institutions said such acts were indicative of a prejudice "deeply engrained" in French society. In a statement, the umbrella group condemned the graffiti at Drancy, denouncing it as an "insult to the whole of France".
The statement said: "Those responsible wanted to spit on the Jews deported from Drancy to death camps … insult the Jews who are celebrating Passover, the Jewish Easter … and dirty the town of Drancy."
Raphael Chemouni, responsible for the upkeep of the memorial, said it was the first time since the inauguration in 1976 that it had been daubed with swastikas. "Until now there has been a very great respect for this monument," he said.
Situated on the north-eastern outskirts of Paris, the internment camp was the site to which French Jews were taken on route to concentration camps in eastern Europe. By the time the camp was liberated in 1944, 65,000 people had been deported on board its trains, 63,000 of whom died. Although under overall control of the occupying Nazis, the day-to-day running of the camp was the responsibility of the Paris police force.
Lucien Tismander, from the Auschwitz Memorial Association, said this weekend's vandalism was particularly hurtful because of Drancy's symbolic importance in the history of France. "This monument is in a sense the tomb of the 76,000 French deportees and it has been sullied," he said.