WAUKEGAN, Ill. - Hate strikes in the northern suburbs, as Jewish headstones were spray-painted with swastikas in a Waukegan cemetery. Police are now investigating.
"The desecration of graves is as low as it gets, and by the way, it’s also as cowardly as it gets," said David Goldenberg, regional director of ADL (Anti-Defamation League) Midwest.
The horrific discovery was made early Monday morning at Am Echod Cemetery on Grand Avenue. Waukegan police said red swastikas were spray-painted on at least 16 tombstones. Police said 23 other headstones were defaced.
"My immediate thought is with my parents and how angry they would be," said Larry Yellen.
The small, Jewish cemetery is more than 100 years old and holds special meaning to Yellen, whose parents, Morris and Dorothy, are buried there.
"My father lost at least four aunts in the Holocaust, his family was from Poland. They know more than anyone what a swastika means," said Yellen.
Yellen grew up in Waukegan. He is one of dozens of community members whose relatives’ burial sites were defaced.
"They have defaced the gravestone of somebody who fought bravely in World War II through 50 missions in a B17 as a bombardier. They have defaced the gravestone of his wife who raised five children and all went through the Waukegan school system," said Yellen. "I think they need to know a little bit about the people that they have attacked in such degrading form."
On one tombstone, a vandal wrote, "Kanye was rite." This comes after the rapper has made headlines in recent weeks for anti-Semitic remarks.
"Let’s be clear, they should illicit a visceral reaction. It is hateful, anti-Semitic and they’re dangerous because they can cause these types of real life acts," said Goldenberg.
Goldenberg with the Anti-Defamation League says in the last five years, anti-Semitic incidents in Illinois have gone up more than 400 percent.
"In this particular case, it was vandalism, the next one could be assault. People could get hurt," said Goldenberg.
Like Goldenberg, Kelley Szany from the Illinois Holocaust Museum is encouraging the entire community to speak out against this hatred.
"Anti-Semitism, when met with silence, can be deafening," said Szany, Senior Vice President of Education & Exhibitions with the Illinois Holocaust Museum. "This can lead to more extreme violence or more extreme ostracism."
In a statement, Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor sayed, "I am deeply disturbed and angered by the hateful imagery found spray-painted on headstones this morning in Am Echod Jewish Cemetery. Hate does not have a home in Waukegan; when such incidents occur, our marginalized neighbors are victimized, and our entire community suffers. I hope our officers promptly locate the perpetrators of this despicable act and hold them accountable, and I offer my full support to those directly impacted by this vandalism."
Congressman Brad Schneider of the 10th District of Illinois provided the following statement to FOX 32 Chicago in response to the incident:
"I am shocked and appalled by the defacement of the Am Echod Jewish Cemetery in Waukegan. This act of hate is truly despicable. I join with other leaders and organizations such as Mayor Ann Taylor and the ADL in condemning this attack. Hate has no home here. Antisemitism must neither be normalized nor accepted. An attack on any community is an attack on all of us, as it diminishes and threatens each of us."
A spokeswoman with the cemetery tells FOX32 Chicago they will be restoring the damaged headstones as soon as possible.
Anyone with information about this act of hate is asked to call the Waukegan Police Department tip line at 847-360-9001.