UPDATE: On Saturday morning, police announced they had arrested a 34-year-old man and charged him in this crime.
Commuters arriving at Union Station Friday morning found the building defaced by swastiskas. The symbol of Nazi hate was scrawled on nearly every column and even the glass windows of the entry to the Chipotle restaurant.
The markings appeared the morning after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marked the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp. More than 1.1 million people are estimated to have died there, 1 million of them Jewish people killed through forced labor and in the gas chambers.
Early the morning of Jan. 28, Hill resident Neil Goldstein was reading stories of courage and resilience in the face of the Holocaust when he saw photos of the swastikas on social media.
Badly shaken by the contrast, Goldstein had to see it for himself. As he crossed the street to stand before the Union Station facade, he said, he was surrounded by symbols of hate.
“They were all over the place,” he said. “It was horrible to see it. I really just got… I really was just sick to my stomach.” His feelings come through in the film he took at the site. “This is disgusting, this is disgusting,” Goldstein repeats, as filming becomes increasingly choppy; stronger language is peppered throughout. Other graffiti reads “Fuck you Obama.”
[Video via Neil Goldstein. Caution: video may contain adult language. Discretion is advised.}
A Jew himself, Goldstein was raised in a family directly impacted by the Holocaust. Although his immediate family escaped from Latvia and Poland to America, he knows and each year, remembers, the dates on which three of his cousins were murdered in December, 1940.
Goldstein said that he is exhausted. In December, 2021, third graders at Watkins Elementary (400 12th St. SE) were made to re-enact episodes from the Holocaust, acting out the digging of classmates’ graves and simulating shooting victims.
“Is this going to be a monthly event now –forget about the city, in our neighborhood?” Goldstein asks.
He commended the staff at Union Station, many of whom, he said, may also be traumatized, but who nonetheless quickly worked to clean the symbols from the building. But he wants to hear from Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and from investigators on both these crimes.
Sources indicated the perpetrator who graffitied Union Station was suffering from mental illness and living without housing. Goldstein said that is no excuse for committing a hate crime. “There’s absolutely no excuse for racism or anti-semitism,” he said, “I don’t care whether you’re homeless or the wealthiest person in the world.”
A 34-year-old man was arrested Friday and charged with Displaying Certain Emblems and Defacing Private/Public Property. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) said that they were investigating the offense together with Amtrak police “as potentially being motivated in whole or in part by hate or bias.”
“The designation can be changed at any point as an investigation proceeds and more information is gathered,” MPD said in a press release. “A designation as a hate or bias-motivated crime by MPD does not mean that prosecutors will prosecute it as a hate crime.”
Rabbi Hannah Spiro, who leads Jewish Congregation Hill Havurah, said that the images are painful to see –not only for Jews and those that love them, but also for all those who have been oppressed.
But she added, her understanding was the perpetrator was dealing with issues that she said go way beyond anti-Semitism.
“As painful as it is to see that Nazi symbol, that symbol of hate all over Union Station, it’s also painful to reflect on the circumstances in our city, in our world and in that person’s life that must have led him to do it,” she said. “I don’t think that happened in a vacuum.”
On Twitter, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington wrote that they were disturbed by this video, “This antisemitic and hateful symbol has no place in our society,” they tweeted. “To find it in our city the week of International Holocaust Remembrance Day is particularly offensive.”
“Our Jewish community will continue to stand strong and resilient in the face of hatred and antisemitism,” they continued, “and in encouraging mental health services for all who need them.”
Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and Amtrak did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication. The Hill Rag has also reached out to the Executive Office of the Mayor. This story will be updated when comment is received.