The swastikas loomed suddenly in black spray paint just in front of Esther Shpitalnik’s car as she navigated traffic last Saturday morning.
Someone had peppered the back of a truck with anti-Semitic graffiti and an infamous name: Hitler. The vandalism triggered immediate shock and disgust in Shpitalnik, 34, who is Jewish. Though she wishes she had acted sooner, the Needham attorney didn’t call the police. She took a picture, drove to her parents’ house, and told them what she saw.
Shpitalnik thought about the millions of people killed by those who glorified that symbol, and everything the swastika still represents. She thought about her distant family and their friends who perished during the Holocaust in Ukraine.
Born in the former Soviet Union, Shpitalnik was given the name “Esther” after her grandmother. She said her parents told her that they were forced to bribe the hospital to be allowed to give their daughter a Jewish name.
“We came to this country to escape persecution for being Jewish,” Shpitalnik said. “It’s not just a symbol. It’s the eve of 2019. How can we be living in my town seeing this around?”
Shpitalnik decided that something needed to be done.
On Monday, she called the Needham police and reported the incident to a dispatcher. She was promptly told that there was nothing police could do. She said the dispatcher told her that she should have called Saturday. Shpitalnik then contacted the Jewish Advocate newspaper and the Anti-Defamation League, who both reached out to the Police Department.
Lieutenant Chris Baker, a Needham police spokesman, said in a telephone interview Wednesday that the dispatcher did not follow proper protocol in handling the call. He said officials planned to talk with the dispatcher about it.
He also said police were able to track down the trailer portion of the truck behind buildings on Crescent Road in Needham and locate the person who was using it.
“We followed up with the new owner of this box trailer,” Baker said. “He was very cooperative and said he would cover it up and paint it as soon as he can.”
Baker said the man had gotten the trailer from Ashland and said there was a possibility that he was not aware of what the graffiti represented.
It’s unclear who originally vandalized the trailer, but the graffiti appeared to have been on there for a while. The man painted it over Wednesday, Baker said.
It was “something that should be addressed,” Baker said. “It’s meant to cause alarm, and people have to be educated as far as that’s concerned.”
“We should be grateful that Needham police took it seriously,” said Robert Trestan, the ADL’s New England regional director.
Shpitalnik said she’s relieved and grateful for the action by police.
“I’m very proud of my heritage, and I’m very proud of all the sacrifices that my family and all the Jews around the world have gone through,” Shpitalnik said. “I never want to see a swastika anywhere except my history books.”Cristela Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.