As Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, watched Monday night as workmen swept up glass from the shattered panel of the New England Holocaust Memorial, his facial expression alternated between indignation and grief.
“Right now I'm just horrified and angry,” he said, “trying to figure out how I and our staff are calling survivors of the Holocaust tonight to tell them this, hopefully before they see it on the news.”
Dozens of people gathered through the night in front of the memorial, which was vandalized shortly after twilight Monday. Police have a suspect in custody. It’s the second time this summer that the memorial, which has stood in Boston for more than 20 years, was vandalized.
“This happened, as you may recall, in June for the first time in 20 years,” said Burton. “And now twice in six weeks. One thing we know from our communal collective memory of Nazi Germany is that you cannot stay silent when bigotry is rising.”
The confluence of events in Virginia and the assault upon the memorial have many in this area on edge.
Visitors walked past workmen on the other side of yellow police tape and examined inscriptions etched on green glass panels, including these words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. “No one should ever speak again about racial superiority ... We cannot give evil another chance,” it reads. Inspiring words, said Patricia and Roger Samuel from Maine.
“But we’re not getting any inspiration from Washington,” Patricia said. “It’s a sign of the times.”
Roger added, “I think it’s exactly the sort of thing the current federal administration is encouraging to happen. Words have consequences. And he had a whole campaign stirring up exactly this kind of hatred.”
Police arrested a teenager from Malden who was observed throwing what appeared to be a large rock at the structure Monday night. Why he did it isn’t clear, say police, but Burton says it really doesn’t matter who did it. He said the destruction at the memorial cannot be divorced from other hate-fueled events taking place around the country, most recently in Charlottesville.
“In the last couple of days all of us had to witness Nazis marching in the streets of America, chanting Nazi slogans that were used by Nazi Germany in World War II, waving Nazi flags, using slogans about Jews in Virginia,” said Burton. “We never thought we'd have to see that in America.”
Earlier, Burton had taken part in a meeting of civil rights and interfaith leaders at city hall to discuss counter-measures to a planned rally by white supremacists this weekend on the Boston Common. Some, including Darnel Williams of the Boston chapter of the Urban League, said he advised Mayor Marty Walsh to block the protest.
“Their track record would speak to violence and hatred and bigotry towards blacks and Jews. So this is not something we should be embracing,” said Williams.
Walsh, surrounded by an assembly of racially diverse clergy and civil rights activists in City Hall Plaza, warned white nationalists that Boston would not tolerate their presence.
“We reject racism. We reject white supremacy. We reject anti-Semitism. We reject the KKK. We reject neo-Nazis. We reject domestic terrorism, and we reject hatred,” said Walsh. “We will do every single thing in our power to keep hate out of our city.”
A procession of Massachusetts residents then lined up on the first floor of City Hall to sign a card of condolence for Heather Heyer, who was run over by a man identified as a Nazi sympathizer. Cards were also signed for two Virginia State police officers who died in a helicopter crash the day of the rally.
On Monday night, Boston City Hall was awash in blue and orange lights in honor of the University of Virginia and anti-racist demonstrators. Across the street, Burton stood by the shattered Holocaust Memorial and watched as workmen finished shoveling glass off the floor, the words of holocaust survivors etched into broken panes disappearing into a trash bin.