ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Pete Police detectives are investigating a hate crime after they say someone spray-painted antisemitic language and a swastika on the side of the Florida Holocaust Museum.
Police say patrol officers spotted the anti-Semitic graffiti around 4 a.m. on Thursday along the 1st Avenue South side of the museum.
“This act of hatred demonstrates that the work of the Florida Holocaust Museum is more important than ever,” said Elizabeth Gelman, Executive Director of The Florida Holocaust Museum. “We remain committed to our vital mission to prevent future genocides and educate people about the dangers of antisemitism and other forms of racism and hatred. Clearly, our society still has a long way to go. The Museum deeply appreciates the responsiveness and professionalism of the St. Petersburg Police Department and its dedicated officers.”
Michael Igel, Chairman of the Board, added: “As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, this attack on the Museum is not just repugnant. It is personal. The lessons of the Holocaust have not yet been learned, but the Museum and the broader community who supports our vital work will never be intimidated by cowardly vandals, nor will we be deterred from our mission.”
Igel, the grandson of Lusia and Stanley Igel and Henry and Paula Ferber, said his paternal grandparents and maternal grandfather were survivors.
“I think it's part of my fuel for what I do and what the museum does is it quickly turns into what are we going to do about this. Let’s make our voices heard. Let’s educate. Let’s make some noise in a good way. Let’s change people,” he said.
The graffiti was discovered the same day many gathered for a virtual rally for a "Day of Action Against Antisemitism.”
“The goal was to bring our communities and other communities together and our elected leaders and really say antisemitism will not be tolerated and to call for specific actions,” said Elana Broitman, the senior Vice President of The Jewish Federations of North America.
The event brought together government, faith and community leaders. Broitman said they calling for appointments in the federal government, more funding for places like the Florida Holocaust Museum and more funding to help local law enforcement’s ability to share information about these crimes with federal partners.
“America is a country where this kind of action will not be tolerated. So even as what happened at the museum is chilling I’m incredibly hopeful because I saw so many Americans band together at the grassroots and at the leadership,” said Broitman.
The Anti-Defamation League released preliminary data last week it said shows an increase in online and real-world incidents of antisemitism in the US since the recent outbreak of violence in the Middle East. The FBI’s most recent report on hate crime statistics from 2019 showed 953 antisemitic incidents in 2019, up 14 percent since 2018, according to the Department of Justice.
Maxine S. Kaufman, Executive Director, Jewish Federation of Florida’s Gulf Coast and Rabbi Philip Weintraub, President, Pinellas County Board of Rabbis, stated in part:
“The Jewish Federation of Florida’s Gulf Coast and the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the recent rise in incidents of antisemitism in our community, across the nation and around the world. Jews, no matter where they reside, should never live in fear of intimidation or personal attack because of their religious beliefs or identity.”
Congressman Charlie Crist released the following statement on the vandalism.
"This act of antisemitic hate and bigotry on the walls of Florida’s tribute to the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust is disgusting and reprehensible. These symbols of hate have no place in our Sunshine City, home to so many Holocaust survivors and their descendants. The perpetrators who committed this crime must be apprehended swiftly and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
"I am grateful to the City of St. Petersburg for moving quickly to remove these vile symbols and language on such a sacred place to all of us who value human life and human dignity. This is a painful reminder that we must always stay vigilant against the forces of antisemitism and bigotry, so we may keep our solemn promise: Never Again."
Mayor Rick Kriseman stated, “Even St. Pete isn’t immune to the hate that exists in our society. We stand with our Jewish Community.”
Police say city sanitation workers painted over the graffiti Thursday morning, while officers checked cameras and worked to talk to those nearby. Police said they are taking this very seriously.
“This happened the Holocaust happened to real people. I’m living proof this happened to real people and if we continue to misunderstand each other and to inject hate into a situation bad things will happen and we need to just do better, we can all do better. We need to be upstanders,” said Igel.
Anyone who may have information is asked to please contact the St. Petersburg Police Dept. 727-893-7780 or text SPPD+ your tip to TIP411.