Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a leading Jewish congresswoman, called on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to replace three headstones in military cemeteries bearing swastikas and invoking Hitler.
The inscriptions are on graves of German prisoners of war who died in US internment camps during World War II. Two are in a Houston cemetery and another is in Salt Lake City.
In addition to the swastikas, the tombstones include the phrase “He died far from his home for the Führer, people, and fatherland.” Führer was the title Adolf Hitler assumed for himself.
“It is deeply troubling and terribly offensive that swastika-adorned headstones that include messages honoring Hitler continue to stand in this nation’s Veterans Administration National Cemeteries,” Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, said in a statement.
“The VA’s decision to leave the swastikas in place, as well as the messages honoring Hitler, while ignoring calls to take the headstones down is callous, irresponsible and unacceptable — and comes at a time when documented antisemitic incidents in the United States have reached a new high,” she said.
Wasserman Schultz is among the most senior Jewish Democrats in Congress and for a number of years chaired the Democratic National Committee.
The American Jewish service organisation B’nai B’rith said it had sent a letter to US Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie calling for the removal of the gravestones.
“We write to express our outrage over the display of swastikas, iron crosses, and quotes honoring Adolf Hitler on the gravestones of three German prisoners of war in the Fort Sam Houston and Fort Douglas military cemeteries. These deeply offensive symbols and language appear alongside the tombstones of American soldiers, including some who fought Nazi oppression in World War II,” the letter said.
Earlier this week, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation called on Veterans Affairs to replace the headstones.
In response, a VA spokesman cited an agency policy “to protect historic resources, including those that recognize divisive historical figures or events.”
“I call on the VA to eliminate this antiquated policy and immediately replace these inappropriate and insensitive headstones,” Wasserman Schultz said.