The hardest part of the day for the 230 boys at the Merkaz Hatorah Jewish high school in Gagny, a middle-class suburb of Paris, had always been getting there. During the train ride from home, the boys replaced their yarmulkes with baseball caps but were still regularly hassled by other French teenagers, usually of Arab or North African descent, who called them "sales juifs" ("dirty Jews"). Once the boys made it to the school, a bright steel-and-glass building surrounded by trees and tidy homes, they felt safe. No longer.
About 3 a.m. on Saturday Nov. 15, the school's brand-new building due to open Jan. 5 went up in flames. There are no suspects. Police believe the fire was likely started at two separate points. The blaze licked 8 m into the air, the searing heat blew out windows and warped girders. At least 60 firemen managed to save the old school building next door, but from the synagogue where the boys still gather every morning, they now look out over 3,000 sq m of charred debris. "We were in a very calm place here, a privileged place," says math teacher Michaël Mimoun. "Now we know there is no privileged place."
And it seems there is no place in Europe that's immune to hate crimes like the arson attack on the Merkaz Hatorah high school. The Gagny fire made headlines across France, and on the same day, the suicide bombings of two Istanbul synagogues led newscasts around the world. But in the week before the blaze, hundreds of hate crimes were committed throughout Europe against Jews, Muslims, Roma, Pakistanis and Africans. On Nov. 10, German police discovered a large black swastika painted on the wall of an empty factory building in Marienwerder Brandenburg. On Nov. 14, a box of six Molotov cocktails was found outside a synagogue in Ivry-sur-Seine, just south of Paris. On Nov. 15, this message appeared on a web forum hosted in the Netherlands, according to Magenta, a watchdog group in Amsterdam: "Just throw that Muslim vermin, those f___ing Muslim rats out of the country." And on the same day, Agrese 95, a Czech "white power" band, played before some 150 people in central Bohemia, singing lyrics like: "Enough tolerance ... Your future is ovens and gas chambers."
Most incidents like these do not make headlines. Although they would be denounced by the vast majority of Europeans, they are often not recognized by police and their perpetrators aren't necessarily hard-core extremists. Different countries have different definitions of hate crime, and different ways of punishing offenders. But most agree that hate crimes are prompted by what the victim represents a religion, race, nationality or, in some cases, sexual preference. Hard statistics are tough to find, since in most countries data collection remains abysmal. But in Germany, for example, anti-Semitic and xenophobic attacks were up in 2002. Anti-Semitic incidents are up in Italy and Belgium, too, while in France the number of anti-Semitic attacks increased dramatically until late 2002, then dropped this year. In London, racist and homophobic attacks have dropped slightly; but anti-Semitic complaints have increased nationwide.
Is there a method to this madness? To find out, TIME has reconstructed a week in the life of the people who've suffered a verbal or physical assault because of their perceived differences. In this imperfect collage Saturday, Nov. 8 through Friday, Nov. 14 the stories share many qualities: young perpetrators, usually acting without organization, lashing out at people and sacred places. Their motivations vary, but through their action they share a desire to keep Europe's deepest wounds unhealed.
6 P.M., SATURDAY
A 22-year-old unemployed man put his BB gun in his pocket, hopped in his car and went looking for a Roma to shoot. Angry about being out of work, angry about the recent burglary of his apartment, he blamed it all on the Roma, 150,000 of whom live on the margins of Italian society. The man found his target in a neighborhood on the southern outskirts of the capital: an 11-year-old boy, walking with his aunt. He pulled up and shot the boy in the face.
The boy's injury was minor, but the emotional trauma of having a gun fired in his face was not. His aunt went to the police and complained, but she did not file a written report a frequent problem that renders anti-Roma attacks the most under-reported of any hate crime. The police found the man in a nearby park based on the woman's description. He was charged with inflicting bodily harm and illegal weapon possession.