ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Detectives with the St. Petersburg Police are investigating a hate crime after they say someone spray-painted anti-Semitic language and a swastika on the side of the Florida Holocaust Museum.
Police say patrol officers spotted the anti-Semitic graffiti on the museum around 4 a.m. local time on Thursday morning.
Police say city sanitation workers painted over the graffiti Thursday morning while officers checked cameras and worked to talk to those nearby.
"This act of hatred demonstrates that the work of the Florida Holocaust Museum is more important than ever," said Elizabeth Gelman, the 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."
"As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, this attack on the museum is not just repugnant. It is personal," said Michael Igel, the chairman of the board at the museum. "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 said his paternal grandparents and maternal grandfather were survivors of the Holocaust.
"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're going to do about this," he said. "Let's make our voices heard. Let's educate. Let's make some noise in a good way. Let's change people."
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," Broitman said. "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."
The Anti-Defamation League released preliminary data last week that shows an increase in online and real-world incidents of antisemitism in the U.S. 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% since 2018.
"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," said Maxine S. Kaufman, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Florida's Gulf Coast and Rabbi Philip Weintraub, the president of the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis in a statement. "Jews, no matter where they reside, should never live in fear of intimidation or personal attack because of their religious beliefs or identity."
"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," said Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Florida, in a statement. "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."
"Even St. Pete isn't immune to the hate that exists in our society," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said. "We stand with our Jewish Community."
"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," Igel said. "We need to be upstanders."
This story was originally published by Emily McCain on Scripps station WFTS in Tampa, Florida.