In black permanent marker, someone had drawn the kinds of anti-Semitic symbols and phrases that have been appearing across New York – and the country – since the campaign of President Donald Trump gave hope to white nationalists, neo-Nazis and the alt-right.
“Jews belong in the oven” was scrawled across the plastic coating on a map display, photos show, and swastikas marked the doors. Another advertisement had been vandalized with “Heil Hitler.”
“Everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do,” Gregory Locke, a New York attorney on the train, wrote in a Facebook post describing the scene.
Then another passenger in the car – identified in news reports as Manhattan chef Jared Nied – stood and announced an idea.
“Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie,” Nied said, according to Locke’s account. “We need alcohol.”
Nied’s displeased reaction to the symbols and words, written on his face, must have caught the attention of a fellow female passenger, the chef told the New York Times, because soon after he boarded the train she voiced her opinion on the graffiti. “Do you think there’s a way we can erase it,” the woman said, Nied told the Times.
“A light bulb went on,” the chef said, and he thought back on the times he had used alcohol to erase his own missteps with permanent markers.
Those on the train began digging around in purses and bags for “tissues and Purel,” Locke wrote, then scrubbing at the hateful messages.
Within minutes, they were gone.
Locke took photos of his fellow New Yorkers erasing the anti-Semitic symbols, then posted them, along with his description of the incident, to Facebook Saturday night. In one line, he conveyed his own sense of shock at the scene: “Nazi symbolism. On a public train. In New York City. In 2017.”
Locke wrote: “I guess this is Trump’s America,” said one passenger. No sir, it’s not. Not tonight and not ever. Not as long as stubborn New Yorkers have anything to say about it.
By early Monday morning, his post had more than 530 comments, nearly 425,000 shares and 640,000 likes.
The post even drew the attention of former first daughter Chelsea Clinton, also a New Yorker, who campaigned often for her mother, Hillary Clinton.
“We will not let hate win,” Chelsea Clinton wrote on Twitter. “And,” she added, “another reason to carry hand sanitizer.”
This incident in New York was one of three known anti-Semitic acts reported across the country this weekend.
In Illinois, the front window of the Chicago Loop Synagogue was smashed and tagged with swastikas early Saturday morning, reported the Chicago Sun Times. Authorities are investigating it as a hate crime.
Surveillance footage shows the suspect, described by police as a white male wearing dark clothing and a dark face mask, driving up to the synagogue in a dark-colored SUV. The suspect gets out, places two swastika stickers on the front entrance, then uses a metal object to shatter the plate glass window.
“The Chicago Jewish community will not be intimidated by anti-Semitic attacks on a house of worship,” AJC [American Jewish Committee] Chicago Director Amy Stoken told the Sun Times. “The right of all religious groups to practice their faith without fear is a fundamental American value. Chicagoans must speak together clearly that the hatred behind this destructive behavior will never be accepted.”
Also this weekend, the word “TRUMP” was scrawled in chalk above a swastika on a statue commemorating the founder of Rice University in Houston, reported the Houston Chronicle. It’s the third vandalism case in a month at Rice, where “Trump 2016″ and “Aloha!” was written on the university’s piece of the Berlin Wall and where racist recruitment posters were left by a white supremacist group called American Vanguard, according to the Chronicle.
“We won’t tolerate such behavior,” Rice President David Leebron said in a statement, “and it will be punished.”
And back in New York, in a separate incident from the one Locke described, a subway passenger found a green swastika drawn across an image of American flag. The swastika was turned into a black box with four cubes inside, where the letters “L-O-V-E” were written in, according to a statement from New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s office.
On Twitter, the governor shared a photo of the transformed symbol.
“This is what New Yorker’s do – we turn hate into love,” Cuomo said in the statement. “That is our message to the nation and to the world. And we won’t back down. Not now, not ever.”