PORTLAND, Ore (KOIN) — The walls of the Oregon Holocaust Memorial in Southwest Portland were tagged with swastika symbols and other anti-Semitic messages this weekend.

The graffiti has since been removed, but Oregon Jewish Museum Director Judy Margles said defacing the memorial is an act of “symbolic violence.”

“To use Nazi symbols to deface a memorial dedicated to the millions who were murdered during the holocaust re-capitulates the hatred that drove the original genocide,” she wrote in an emailed statement to KOIN 6 News. “It is an act of symbolic violence against the very idea that inspired the memorial.”

(photo courtesy Jewish Federation of Greater Portland)

Marc Blattner, President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland said, “Alongside this narrative of achievement and opportunity, there is also a history — far older than the Nation itself — of racism, bigotry, and other forms of injustice. This includes the scourge of anti-Semitism. In recent years, Jewish Americans have increasingly been the target of white nationalism and the anti-Semitic violence it fuels.”

Margles said whoever did this went on a rampage throughout the park. Museum officials believe this happened sometime Sunday morning.

“It matters and it hurts terribly. I keep saying my heart is aching,” Margules said. “To deface a memorial created in the memory of the millions of Jews who perished in the Holocaust is unimaginable. Unthinkable. Horrific. Violent. Dangerous. Horrible.”

Portland police aren’t yet sure if this will be investigated as a bias crime, but this vandalism comes at a time when bias crimes and anti-Semitic crimes are on the rise.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call police.

Data from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office shows bias crime charges have increased in 3 of the past 4 years, from 15 in 2017 to 35 in 2019. Last year there were 31.

‘It’s not like this is new’

Randy Blazak with the Coalition Against Hate Crimes said conspiracy theories, especially surrounding the pandemic, are fueling this rise.

Randy Blazak with the Coalition Against Hate Crimes, May 3, 2021 (KOIN)

“I think the thing that magnifies this is social media,” he told KOIN 6 News. “A lot of bad information can spread on social media, the need for people to find a conspiracy theory that explains this confusing time, and some of these people are going to gravitate towards these dark, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”

Blazak also said there’s always been a pocket of anti-Semitic activity in the state.

It goes back to our history in the 1920s. Oregon had the largest (Ku Klux) Klan in the country,” he said. “It’s not like this is something new.”

Sen. Ron Wyden said anti-Semitism is on the rise both online and in instances like this. He said education can help stop the hate.

“To a great extent it’s about two factors, education, with young people and then role models stepping forward.”

He added this is a deeply personal issue.

“This strikes very close to home for the Wyden family,” he said. “My parents fled the Nazis. Not all got out.”