Three men have appeared in court in New Zealand charged with desecrating more than 20 Jewish gravestones in a historic cemetery last week.
The men, aged between 19 and 23, are alleged to have daubed the graves in Auckland, some of which date back to the 1880s, with swastikas and the number 88 — code for “Heil Hitler”.
All three were charged with willful damage, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years.
They were ordered to reappear in court next month and bailed on condition they do not associate with each other and do not visit any Jewish cemetery, synagogue or school.
One of them, Nathan Symington, accused police of a “witch-hunt”.
“This is a wanton act of antisemitic vandalism”
The attack drew a chorus of condemnation from Jewish officials, Israel’s ambassador and interfaith leaders. “This is a wanton act of antisemitic vandalism,” said New Zealand Jewish Council president Stephen Goodman. “The prosecution of the perpetrators will, hopefully, send the message that this type of behaviour is totally unacceptable to all New Zealanders.”
A spokesman for Prime Minister John Key, whose mother escaped Nazism on the eve of the Holocaust, said the vandalism was “appalling”.