Swastikas cannot be removed from graves

PERMANENT SCAR: Despite extensive cleaning, further clean-up work would damage the headstones further.
PERMANENT SCAR: Despite extensive cleaning, further clean-up work would damage the headstones further.

Swastikas will remain on Jewish headstones at an Auckland cemetery, despite more than $12,000 being spent on the clean-up.

More than a dozen graves were defaced with images of swastikas and expletive-ridden anti-Israeli messages in the Jewish quarter of Symonds St cemetery on October 19 last year.

Auckland Council has spent $12,107.50 repairing the porous headstones, with three being cleaned on the day the incident was reported. But it is unlikely the stones can be repaired completely.

“Sadly, the vandalism has caused irreparable damage to some headstones and it is unlikely that the black paint can be removed completely from the remaining 18 headstones,'' council spokeswoman Lynda Lucas said.

Ms Lucas said no other work could be completed without damaging the stone surfaces.

The council has had to collect specific information on the product and pigment of the paint, but depending on the type of stone, these methods have had varying degrees of success.

It is estimated a further repair job could cost up to $50,000.

One of the men involved in the attack, Robert Moulden, 19, has pleaded guilty to a charge of intentional damage in November. He will be sentenced next month.

His co-accused, Christian Landmark, 20, entered a not-guilty plea at the Auckland District Court yesterday and will reappear in court in June for a defended hearing.

Police withdrew a charge against a third man accused of being involved in the attack.

Ms Lucas confirmed the council will seek ‘‘recovery of costs” at Moulden’s sentencing.

“The graves and headstones belong to family descendants who are responsible for general maintenance. Some have requested advice and quotes from conservators,” said Ms Lucas.

New Zealand Jewish Council president, Geoff Levy, said quotes to repair the stones as much as possible were being obtained but the damage was “very, very hard to take’’.

“This is totally abhorrent to the Jewish community, and I would think and hope it would be abhorrent to the Auckland community. Because it’s so damaging and permanent,” he said.

“It’s an historical area which links Auckland and its citizens to the 1860s or thereabouts, and it will be forever damaged.”

Mr Levy said “very little” could be done and a “ghosting image” will likely remain on the stones.

The most problematic headstones included four white marble headstones, including two belonging to the Ehrenfried family who lost relatives during the Holocaust, he said.

“They are very, very upset by what has happened ... This is a double whammy to them. Not only were the stones desecrated, but members of their family were murdered in WWII by the Nazis.”

After the October attack, Mayor Len Brown said there was “zero tolerance for racism, bigotry and ethnic intolerance”.

Brown and Waitemata Local Board chairman Shale Chambers have also obtained a report on how to improve security at the cemetery.

Safety measures include “passive surveillance by creating a circuit through the cemetery and improved maintenance and trimming vegetation to improve sightlines”.

The local board will spend $1.64 million over the next 10 years to upgrade the entire Symonds St cemetery.

A volunteer group, “Friends of Symonds St Cemetery” has also been formed to help clean up the area.

Auckland Now