A Holocaust survivor rose from her seat moments before a self-proclaimed Nazi would get seven months behind bars for defacing the Temple Beth Shalom Synagogue in Spokane with swastikas this February.
Carla Peperzak, 97, stood Friday morning just feet behind 44-year-old defendant and Holocaust denier Raymond Bryant as she addressed Judge Julie McKay.
Peperzak was born in Amsterdam. She was 16 years old when Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands. During what she called “five years of hell,” she said she lost 18 relatives and more friends at the hands of Nazis.
“They were taken from their homes to concentration camps and murdered by the Nazi government because they were Jewish,” Peperzak said. “It is really not possible to convey to you, Your Honor, the fear that one had to live through in those years — all the suffering because of the Nazis. The Nazis were truly evil in every sense of the word. I was very lucky that I was alive at the end of the war.”
Peperzak married her husband after World War II and the couple moved to the United States, but she didn’t speak of the holocaust until she was in her 80s, she told the court.
“Over the years I tried to forget what happened. I never talked about it because it made me so sad. I tried to go on with my life. Even my children knew it was a subject not to ask me about. However, it turned out to be impossible to forget.”
“Eighty years later, in the last part of my life,” Peperzak said, “my question is, why do people have to hate? What can I do to convince this man that the Holocaust happened? How can I get across to him that each human being should be respected?”
Bryant pleaded guilty to felony malicious harassment without a plea deal Friday. McKay ruled he would pay about $9,300 in restitution to the synagogue and serve seven months for the crime, one month more than prosecutors had recommended. He will get credit for more than 50 days served in Spokane County Jail.
Bryant’s public defender, Jeff Compton, said Bryant has beliefs that “most people find odious,” but emphasized that Americans are free to believe whatever they want.
“He did some time [in prison] quite a while ago and that actually made him worse, and that’s kind of the sad part,” Compton said.
Compton argued that, because Bryant decided to plead guilty without the benefits of a plea deal and because he does not have recent convictions, he should serve the minimum sentence of three months.
Prosecutors recommended six months, though the maximum sentence would be nine months.
Rabbi Tamar Malino advocated for the maximum sentence.
“A swastika is a death threat,” Malino said. “To be graphic, it sent a message, Mr. Bryant, that you want me, my spouse, my four children, my parents, many of my friends, my community — my people — to be tortured, starved, shot or gassed.”
Bryant said he didn’t know that the statue he doused in red spray paint was a Holocaust Memorial. His goal, he said, was to recruit more Nazis into his white supremacist group.
“I feel bad and I do apologize,” Bryant said. “It was just publicity. We were passing out fliers and I guess I got angry that we weren’t getting publicity.”