News of Sunday’s deadly shooting in Denmark brought back a terrible memory from my otherwise wonderful trip there in 2013.
In the coastal town of Fredericia, located on the Jutland peninsula, I came across the kind of anti-Semitic graffiti I’d only read about.
Fredericia is not a typical Danish tourist destination. It’s a former fortress town, later an industrial port city, and now, a small Danish city with no particular sites to see. But the anomaly of Fredericia is that it was once home to a substantial Jewish community.
What remains of its once 300 strong Jewish community is the cemetery, and so, that’s what I went to see. The cemetery is normally locked. After retrieving the key from the local history museum I spent a few peaceful minutes wandering through the small, lush green space. I was impressed by evidence of the once vibrant, now forgotten Jewish life of this city.
After leaving the cemetery, I got a little turned around — as often happens in unfamiliar territory — and ended up on the opposite side of the cemetery on my way to return to the key.
I cannot fully explain the shock I felt when I saw the graffiti. It was painted on the face of the building adjoining the cemetery, in huge, black letters: “[Expletive] ZIONISM MEDIA MANIPULATORS.”
How often had I heard, particularly during my 13 years in Europe, the weak rationalization that “anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism”? Really? So why is the hateful anti-Israel graffiti painted right next to the Jewish cemetery? And why the classic anti-Semitic trope of Jews controlling the media?
I have, over the years, seen swastikas scrawled on walls, sometimes in the most unlikely of places. The Serbo-Croat Orthodox church down the street from where I lived in Zurich had a hammer and sickle and swastika spray-painted onto its entry pillars. The church, I have no idea why, left them there for years.
But never had I seen something so large, so venomous — and at a Jewish site.
What contributed to the unsettling feeling that stayed with me for the rest of the trip — again, despite having a wonderful time in what is an absolutely beautiful country — was the contrast between the graffiti and Denmark’s laudable history during the Second World War.
Earlier in the trip I had visited Denmark’s Jewish Museum in Copenhagen, which has a large section on the incredible rescue operation of Denmark’s Jews, which took place under the cover of secrecy and the cover of darkness, literally overnight, when the vast majority of Danish Jews were evacuated to Sweden ahead of a Nazi deportation order scheduled for Rosh Hashana, 1943.
After the war, when Danish Jews, in stark contrast to the rest of Europe’s Holocaust survivors, returned home, their homes were waiting for them. They had been looked after — not plundered — by neighbors.
How to reconcile these two diametrically opposed realities?
And now, a deadly anti-Semitic shooting in the Danish capital.
One searches for reasons, and there are obvious ones: increased Muslim migration; discussion of banning core Jewish rituals like brit milah and shechitah; increased institutional support for unilateral Palestinians declarations of statehood. Perhaps once cannot blame just one of these reasons, but the constellation is critically harming Jewish life in Europe.
When I returned from that holiday, I contacted several Danish journalists who report on anti-Semitism in Denmark about the hideous graffiti in Fredericia. I also contacted the Jewish community and Jewish Security in Denmark, an organization that monitors anti-Semitic activity there.
They all wrote me back. They all expressed their concern and assured me that they would forward the information to the relevant authorities.
None expressed surprise. Some openly expressed their lack of surprise.
For Jews in Europe, these attacks are becoming the new norm.
If a municipality allows the kind of graffiti I saw to remain on a wall adjacent to a Jewish cemetery even for one day, it’s no wonder that Europe’s Jewish citizens are no longer surprised.