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Congressional leaders push to remove gravestones with swastikas, praise for Hitler from veterans’ cemeteries

Michael Balaban, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Broward County listens to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, at a Jan. 7, 2020, discussion on the rise of anti-Semitism. Wasserman Schultz is using her role as chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees the Veterans Administration to push for removal of headstones at VA cemeteries that have swastikas and words honoring Adolf Hitler. (Taimy Alvarez / South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Congressional leaders who oversee the budget for the Veterans Administration are making a Memorial Day push for the removal of gravestones containing swastikas and praise for Adolf Hitler from veterans’ cemeteries.

Outrage over the symbols representing Nazism is bipartisan. The push for action comes from U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Texas.

“Allowing these gravestones with symbols and messages of hatred, racism, intolerance, and genocide is especially offensive to all the veterans who risked, and often lost, their lives defending this country and our way of life,” they wrote in a Memorial Day letter to the secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Memorial Day is to honor the nation’s war dead. The lawmakers said the presence of the swastikas and homages to Hitler don’t do that.

The markings are “a stain on the hallowed ground where so many veterans and their families are laid to rest. Families who visit their loved ones, who are buried in the same cemeteries with the Nazi soldiers whom they fought against, should never have to confront symbols of hatred that are antithetical to our American values.”

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Wasserman Schultz is the chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies. Carter is the top Republican on the subcommittee, which oversees the budget for the Veterans Administration.

Other signers of the letter are U.S. Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-New York, and U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the chairwoman and top Republican of the full Appropriations Committee.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service reports that two headstones at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio feature swastikas inside a German cross and the phrase, “He died far from his home for the Führer, people, and fatherland.” A third is at Fort Douglas Post Cemetery in Salt Lake City.

The VA didn’t control the cemeteries when the headstones were installed, but the agency now controls them. The lawmakers said the decision to leave them in place is “callous, irresponsible and unacceptable” and is especially bad at at a time when anti-Semitic incidents are increasing.

“There is no excuse for VA to continue to maintain these headstones” instead of removing or altering them, the members of Congress wrote, rejecting the agency’s assertion that a federal law requiring protection of historic resources for “the inspiration and benefit of present and future generations.”

Robert Wilkie, the secretary of the VA, is scheduled to appear before the Wasserman Schultz-Carter subcommittee on Thursday.

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© 2020 the Sun Sentinel