The psychology professor opened the heavy oak doors of the Horace Mann Hall, with 16-foot ceilings and polished parquet, and headed for his office on the fourth floor. Behind her, students were getting ready for an hour and a half. Wednesday laboratory meeting. Upon entering his workspace, they passed a mezuzah, a small box containing Hebrew religious texts, glued to his door.
But the sight that met them later prompted the teacher and her students to stop.
Antisemitic graffiti was spray painted on the walls of Elizabeth Midlarsky's office, a Clinical Psychologist and Holocaust Specialist at Columbia's Teachers College on the Upper West Side of New York. The vandalism included swastikas and an anti-Semitic insult, "Yid", painted bright red on the white walls of his office lobby. The outside door was closed but not locked, said a student.
"I was shocked, I could not believe it," she said in an interview with The Washington Post. "I'm not usually a fearful person, but they've had me." I'm scared. "
Midlarsky informed security, and she said the New York Police Department was investigating the incident. The teacher said that she had "no idea who was behind all that".
The episode comes amid growing concerns about anti-Semitism, which have rebounded for the twenty-first century as the memory of the Holocaust begins to fade. In February, the anti-defamation league reported that the number of antisemitic incidents was nearly 60% higher in 2017 than in 2016, which represents the largest increase ever recorded in a year and the second highest figure recorded since the organization has begun collecting incident data. According to a survey released in April, many Americans do not have basic knowledge of the Holocaust, such as the name of a single concentration camp.
The problem is not limited to the type of symbolism that tainted the walls of the teacher's office. It has been just over a month since 11 members of the congregation were slaughtered in a Pittsburgh synagogue, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the nation's history.
Prejudice is also not limited to the United States. One in three Europeans think Jews use the Holocaust to "assert their own positions or goals," according to a CNN poll released this week.
Documenting the true legacy of the Holocaust in Jewish life is at the heart of Midlarsky's academic work. She applied clinical psychology to the meaning of rescue during the genocide of European Jews in the twentieth century and the reaction of survivors and their descendants. In a 2005 article titled "Heroic Rescue Personality Correlates during the Holocaust," she asked if certain personality traits, such as tolerance and empathy, might help explain why some people became "Non-Jewish heroes" during the Holocaust and the Nazis pursued the final solution.
The vandalism discovered Wednesday does not mark the first time that his office is altered by an anti-Semitic iconography. In 2007, she became the target of repeated harassment. A swastika was painted on the door of his office about a week after he found two antisemitic leaflets in his mailbox at work. The same leaflet had appeared for the first time earlier in the month.
"I think there is a very cowardly person in hate," she told the New York Sun at the time. "It makes me cold with blood."
Around the same time, a noose was found on the door of a black teacher's desk at Teachers College. These incidents were condemned by the leaders of the college, the first and most important higher education school in the country, as hate crimes.
On Wednesday, as Midlarsky again found himself the target of anti-Semitic animus, Teachers College president Thomas Bailey issued a statement in which he pledged to work with the police "to find out who this odious act ".
"We unequivocally condemn any expression of hate, which has no place in our society," he said. "We are outraged and horrified by this act of aggression and the use of this despicable anti-Semitic symbol against a valued member of our community."
Midlarsky attributed the graffiti to a "tremendous upsurge of anti-Semitism," but said she could not understand why she had been retained.
The experience, she said, differs from that of a decade ago when she was "shocked but not surprised" to face antisemitic abuse. At that time, she was actively involved in campus debates on Zionism, religious conflict and conflict in the Middle East. In particular, she participated in protests against the speech of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September 2007 at Ivy League University.
"At the time, I was doing things that the anti-Semites hate me, but I have not been so visible recently," she said Wednesday night.
This fact, she said, made her even more vulnerable, as if her Jewish identity alone was enough to make her a target.
"I am Jewish in this college, one of the few to act as a Jew," she added, suggesting that she does not fear her religious identity. "My writing has to do with Jewish subjects."
After Midlarsky discovered vandalism and called for security, she waited with her students, who took pictures and checked the extent of vandalism.
"I was afraid to be alone," she said. "I was afraid to be alone in my office."