Family tie leads to help

DANIELLE STREET
Last updated 05:00 02/11/2012
Mike Coleman
Danielle Street
COMMUNITY SPIRIT Mike Coleman outside the Cold Jet workshop where the carbon dioxide was manufactured for cleaning the gravestones.

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Mike Coleman always knew he had family buried in Symonds Street Cemetery, but it was a "disgusting" act of vandalism that brought him closer to his heritage.

When Mr Coleman heard about the Nazi insignia that had been spray-painted on around 20 headstones at the historic graveyard last month, his first instinct was to offer to help clean-up.

"Because we have got some relatives buried out there, we thought we better jump straight in and offer some assistance. And it was something that we were obviously passionate about so we offered our services free of charge."

Mr Coleman runs the New Zealand distribution of Cold Jet, a global company that specialises in non-abrasive cleaning using carbon dioxide.

By the time he got to the cemetery the marble headstones had already been cleaned by council contractors using solvents.

But the chemical-free cleaning method used by Cold Jet was perfect for treating the granite headstones, without causing further damage.

However, the delicate sandstone graves are more problematic.

"The sandstone is very soft. You just have to touch it and it's crumbling," he says. "I don't think it is going to be possible to remove that stain without damaging the sandstone."

Unfortunately, some of these disintergrating headstones belong to his relatives, the Ehrenfrieds.

"They were the first settlers into Auckland and they really are just a direct bloodline down to the common family on my father's side."

As reported in Auckland City Harbour News on October 24, three young men have been charged with wilful damage for spraying black swastika and other Nazi insignia on the gravestones.

The trio is now remanded on bail until mid-November.

"That was just such a cowardly act to do to the dead. It really disgusted me," Mr Coleman says.

"The justice that is going to be dealt out to that doesn't even measure up to the crime they committed," he says.

The head of a Jewish burial society says he cannot fathom what the vandals were thinking.

Malcolm Silverman, chairman for Auckland's Chevra Kadisha, met with mayor Len Brown this week to discuss the best way to restore the remaining stones.

Also on the agenda was how best to protect the area from future vandalism, whether surveillance, better lighting, fencing, or a combination of all three.

"The problem with fencing is you don't give the public the ability to walk through and look at the historic data," Mr Silverman says. "By fencing it off to try and stop hooligans coming you are closing it off to genuinely interested people."

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He says the council provided extra lighting awhile ago but "unfortunately it was not enough".

- © Fairfax NZ News

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