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Nine barracks at Auschwitz death camp were vandalized with antisemitic, Holocaust-denying phrases

The railway tracks from where prisoners were directed to the gas chambers to be killed inside the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz. (Markus Schreiber/AP)
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Nine windowless wooden barracks that each housed hundreds of prisoners at a time at an Auschwitz death camp were marked with antisemitic phrases and Holocaust-denying slogans on Tuesday, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum said.

The spray-painted vandalism was on buildings at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the Nazi-run extermination site in occupied Poland. About 1 million people were killed there, more than 90 percent of whom were Jews, according to the museum. About 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Police have not yet made an arrest, though they are reviewing security tapes and analyzing the graffiti.

“Such [an] incident — an offense against the Memorial Site — is, above all, an outrageous attack on the symbol of one of the greatest tragedies in human history and an extremely painful blow to the memory of all the victims of the German Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau camp,” the museum said in a statement.

The vandalism at Birkenau is the latest example of rising antisemitism in Europe. A survey conducted by Europe’s Agency for Fundamental Rights found that 81 percent of young Jewish Europeans said antisemitism is an issue in their respective countries. Forty-four percent said they were the target of antisemitic harassment in the 12 months leading up to the survey.

Antisemitism has been prolific during the pandemic. Anti-vaccine and mask protesters have worn yellow Stars of David, which they say represent victimization from public health mandates. Several Holocaust museums and memorials in the United States have been defaced over the past two years in St. Petersburg, Fla.; Charleston, S.C.; Tulsa; Portland, Ore.; and Albuquerque.

A report published by the European Commission on the rise of antisemitism during the pandemic in France and Germany found a surge of online activity. Hateful content on Facebook, Twitter and Telegram increased sevenfold in the French language and 13-fold in German, the report said. There were 585 incidents in Austria in 2020 — an increase of 6.4 percent — which made for a record high.

In August, Poland’s government passed a law that would cut off restitution for Holocaust survivors and their descendants, which allowed them to reclaim property that was seized under Nazi and communist rule. Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, said the move “borders on Holocaust denial.”

The European Union on Tuesday announced a new strategy to combat antisemitism in Europe. The plan aims to increase awareness and education about Jewish life and the Holocaust and offer funding to communities to help them better monitor, flag and remove online hate.

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The vandalism at Auschwitz II-Birkenau occurred Tuesday morning, the museum said. Nine barracks in what was once housing for male prisoners were marked with phrases in both German and English. The museum said there were “two references to the Old Testament, often used by antisemites, and denial slogans.”

Museum leaders are asking anyone who may have witnessed the vandalism to contact them. They also ask that visitors who were there before noon on Tuesday send any images they may have taken in the area of the men’s barracks and near the main entrance, also known as the Gate of Death.

Security at the 420-acre site, which is “constantly being expanded,” the museum said, has become difficult as of late. The security is financed through the museum’s budget, which has been impacted by the reduced number of paying visitors during the pandemic.

The graffiti will remain on the barracks until police “have compiled all the necessary documentation.” The museum hopes investigators will be able to solve the case quickly.

“We hope that the person or people who committed this outrageous act will be found and punished,” officials said.