DARMSTADT, GERMANY–Residents of this quiet Rhineland city awoke Monday to discover that Heinrich Himmler Memorial Cemetery, the final resting place of over 200 Nazi SS Officers who gave their lives for Germany in World War II, had been desecrated during the night with pro-Semitic graffiti.
"This is horrible, simply horrible," said a tearful Grete Brautig, who found the headstone of her grandfather, Waffen-SS Oberlieutenant Otto Brautig, defaced with a spray-painted Star of David. "Why would anyone want to do such an awful, hateful thing to my grosspapa, a man who loved and fought for his country?"
According to Darmstadt police, sometime between the hours of 1 and 6 a.m., unknown persons vandalized the grave markers of dozens of prominent SS men with pro-Semitic graffiti, including Jewish stars and slogans like "Chosen People" and "Next Year In Jerusalem."
It is believed to be the worst pro-Semitic crime in Darmstadt history.
"You must understand, the Star of David is an incredibly painful symbol for my people," said former Hitler Youth member Conrad Steuben, 67, whose father, SS-Unterscharführer Erich Steuben, was buried with full military honors at Darmstadt in 1945. "It stands for the destruction of us and everything we believe in. Seeing it scrawled across those gravestones reopens many deep wounds."
"I thought we had put pro-Semitism behind us here in Darmstadt," Steuben said. "But I suppose old prejudices die hard."
Darmstadt police, working closely with the Nazi Anti-Defamation League, are committed to bringing the perpetrators to justice.
"This sort of hate crime must not be tolerated," police chief Klaus Meine said. "We will do everything in our power to find the Jews responsible for this."
The vandalism is not the first incident of pro-Semitism to occur in Darmstadt. In 1991, a group of Zionists marched through the streets of the city, waving Israeli flags and chanting in Hebrew. City leaders filed a court injunction in an effort to block the march, but the Zionists, defended by the German Civil Liberties Union, won.
"I will never forgive the GCLU for defending the Zionists," Steuben said. "I am all for free speech, but that crossed the line."
Support for the people of Darmstadt has poured in from across Germany in the form of letters, donations and personal visits from political figures.
"Once more, Germans have become the victims of hatred, prejudice and intolerance," said former Austrian president Kurt Waldheim in a speech given in the Darmstadt town plaza. "This incident serves as a reminder that we must remain vigilant about preserving the memory of the four million Germans who died during World War II, so that similar tragedies can be prevented in the future. Never again."