“This takes us back to the darkest times,” Chief Rabbi Jaron Engelmayer told CNN, as he surveyed piles of destroyed holy books in a blackened and burnt out ceremonial hall.
A brutal arson attack on the Jewish cemetery in Vienna on Wednesday left parts of the building close to ruins, pieces of scripture in tatters, and swastikas emblazoned on the walls outside.
But the attack stirred up painful memories, too. “It takes us back to times where the books were burned,” Engelmayer said. “It is an attack on the spiritual values of the religion and of humanity which happened here.”
The last time the cemetery was set alight was 85 years ago, almost to the day, on Kristallnacht – a Nazi pogrom against Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues. “It’s unbelievable that 80 years after Nazi times, we go back to such times and have antisemitic acts here, in the center of Europe,” Engelmayer told CNN.
Now, incidents like these feel all too common. Across Europe, in the weeks since Hamas’ brutal attacks in Israel sparked a war between Israel and the militant group, a spate of antisemitic assaults have shaken Jewish communities.
Oskar Deutsch, head of the Jewish Community in Vienna, told CNN that Jews in the city have reported 167 incidents in just the past three weeks – a “huge” rise for a small Jewish population of around 12,000.
“After the seventh of October, antisemitism grew dramatically here in Austria, here in Europe, all over the world,” Deutsch said.
Small children were wondering whether they should go to Jewish schools, he added. For older people, “the Holocaust comes back in their mind,” he said.
“That’s not the life we want.”
‘The scale is completely different’
The spike in antisemitic attacks in Europe has been wide-reaching.
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said Monday that since October 7, there have been more than 800 antisemitic acts in the country, nearly twice as many as in the whole of 2022.
In London, the first week after Hamas’ attacks saw a 1,353% rise in antisemitic incidents, the Metropolitan Police reported.
And on Wednesday, Germany’s Vice Chancellor, Robert Habeck, said in a video message that “Jewish communities are moving their members to avoid certain places for their own safety – and this is happening today, here in Germany, almost 80 years after the Holocaust.”
“The scale now is different, completely different,” Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the chairman and the founder of European Jewish Association, told CNN.