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“Gas Chamber” and “Heil Hitler” Found Scrawled at Famous Beach Resort in Queens

On the Friday evening before the final big weekend of summer, members of one of New York’s last private beach clubs, the Silver Gull in Queens, received an ominous email. 

The club’s playground would be closed, the manager wrote, “due to the recent and increasing incidence of vandalism from within the club.”

Word soon spread that the playground had been covered with racist and anti-Semitic graffiti. “Heil Hitler” was scrawled in large block letters. White walls were smeared with a red swastika and racial slurs targeting black people. The words “gas chamber” were painted on a door, according to photos shared with The New York Times. 

The graffiti at the club, which sits on federal seashore, was quickly painted over by the management, according to a club member, and the police were called.

Sgt. Richard Firrito, a spokesman for the United States Park Police in New York, said the incident was being investigated as a bias crime.

Investigators believe a group broke into a shed that the club uses for arts programs on Friday and vandalized the interior. The vandals then proceeded to “trash the room,” Sergeant Firrito said. He first said the incident appeared to have happened after the beach club had closed for the day, but later clarified that it apparently had occurred during opening hours.

Harold Bretstein, a son of Holocaust survivors who has been a member of the oceanfront club for about 20 years, said the incident hurt. 

“You can gloss it over. You can talk about it being a prank,” Mr. Bretstein said. “But it’s much more than a prank, especially in terms of the times we’re living in when you’re seeing a rise in anti-Semitism everywhere.”

The graffiti comes as New York continues to struggle with a recent uptick in reported hate crimes, fueled in part by anti-Semitic attacks. Reports of anti-Semitic hate crimes rose to 145, up from 88, through Aug. 25 as compared with the same period last year, police data show.

Families found anti-Semitic graffiti on a playground in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, earlier this year, and swastikas were discovered in a Brooklyn Heights playground last fall.

The Silver Gull has been an institution since it opened in the 1960s, and has remained proudly unhip and family-friendly even as the surrounding strip has become a magnet for young visitors who snap up the chocolate-dipped Popsicles on offer at neighboring Jacob Riis Park.

The club sits next to Breezy Point, a predominantly white gated community at the western end of the Rockaway Peninsula. The Silver Gull was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy. But the club rebounded and is seen as an oasis, particularly for middle-class white families from Brooklyn and Queens who proudly decorate cabanas that cost about $5,000 for the summer season and pass them down to their children. 

Some members of the club said they were frustrated that the manager had not condemned the graffiti, especially given the number of young children at the club. Others took to Facebook to express deep concern about the incident.

Michelle Freedman, who lives in Downtown Brooklyn and has spent eight summers at the Silver Gull, said the fact that the club had only sent a terse email to members about the incident was “inexcusable.”

Ms. Freedman, whose mother survived the Holocaust, said she was “hurt, angry and scared.”

“We cannot sweep this under the rug, we have to acknowledge when these things happen and all the members of the club need to know the club doesn’t tolerate racism or anti-Semitism,” she added. 

The club’s general manager, Jamie Blatman, would not answer questions and instead referred a reporter to the police. “We have no comment because there’s an ongoing investigation,” Mr. Blatman said on Sunday. 

Mike Eichenwald, who has been a member for four years, said he was hoping for a strong statement from the Silver Gull.

“Unfortunately, we know that things like this can happen anywhere,” Mr. Eichenwald, who has served on the faculty of a fellowship program on ethics based in part at Auschwitz, wrote in an email. 

“The question is, how are you going to respond? Are you going to take a stand, articulate your values and bring people together? Or are you going to cover it up, pretend it’s of little consequence and look the other way?”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/01/nyregion/graffiti-beach-club-silver-gull.html