Today is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day for the victims of the genocide that annihilated six million Jews, two million gypsies, thousands of homosexuals and millions of others. We are the first capital to mark the 27th January and I’m honoured to be here and speak of mutual appreciation, peace and respect for each other.
Last year’s theme for observance was “Journeys through the Holocaust” and later I’ll mention a journey I shall be undertaking in July.
This year, the observance is focussed on “Passing on Holocaust Remembrance from one generation to the next.”
My first visceral understanding of the Holocaust was, as for many young people, reading Anne Frank’s diary. Her tragic tale, of a very special teenager, with her hopes and dreams, minor annoyances and romantic dreams, set in the fearful repression and hiding in Amsterdam, resonates across the world.
I acknowledge the work that the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand does to connect with young students, and I acknowledge director Inge Woolf, who will never be known only as just the mother of Councillor Simon Woolf!
Exhibitions like The Deckston Children link the Holocaust with this country and with children. The story of philanthropists Annie and Max and the 20 Jewish orphans they brought to Berhampore in the 1930s, make a very real connection.
I believe all New Zealanders, particularly children, should be encouraged to visit The Holocaust Centre so the facts of the holocaust and the lessons learned are not forgotten.
Your City Council is actively involved in the education sector locally, in a number of ways both economic and cultural.
One programme we’re developing is the Capital City Initiative, led by the Museum of Wellington City and Sea. We want students from all over New Zealand to come to Wellington and learn about our nation’s fascinating history at Te Papa, watch history being made at Parliament, visit Carter Observatory’s planetarium and, very importantly, understand the horrors of the Holocaust
By 2015 we’ll have a programme developed for school students about what makes Wellington unique as a capital city, what makes Aotearoa New Zealand special and what makes our students special as New Zealanders.
Through the Wellington Museums Trust, we’re working with a number of nationally significant organisations: Te Papa, National Library, the Treaty of Waitangi team, Parliament, Reserve Bank, Supreme Court, and the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand are among them.
Sometimes teachers and parents dismiss the capital as too expensive to visit but there are plenty of places within easy public transport or walking reach, including the Silverstream Retreat, several urban marae including Taputeranga and Ngā Hau e Whā o Paparārangi.
The Capital City Initiative aims to make it as easy as possible for schools from around New Zealand to visit Wellington, build a sense of national identity making sure their experience in the Capital is as rich, rewarding and informative as it should be.
Another city contribution is the Library system. To learn more of Holocaust experiences, I’ve just got out Primo Levi’s biography. Our libraries, online and on paper, are a bulwark of civilisation.
Thirdly, our celebration of Hanukkah, lighting the candles, eating beautiful food and dancing to modern and traditional music in December, links Jewish customs to the heart of this city. Sharing in joy together, sharing admiration of achievements, sharing food together, these are the links our city can continue to build.
Friendship and understanding replace fear and misunderstanding. Tolerance is not enough as it implies there is something “to put up with”. We need appreciation, not tolerance.
We must value our differences and see how they add to the richness of life while recognising they are underpinned by fundamental human characteristics.
Finally, I look forward to working with his excellency Josef Livne
Moving from the civic to the personal, my own journey in 2014 will be to Austria to meet my sister Gitta, who was born during the post-war occupation. While her existence is a real bright spark for me in the horrors of War, I assure you the trip won’t all be about sitting in her organic vineyard.
I will be visiting Mauthausen, where hard labour in the quarry on the Danube, killed thousands, where Hungarian and Dutch Jews, a large proportion of women and people who don’t fit into the boxes, either died as a result of hard labour or were deliberately killed. I shall see what I learn from that, but it’s clear we have yet to learn all the lessons from the World Wars.
Anti-Semitism didn’t stop with the end of World War II.
Prison labour didn’t stop when the last camp was liberated.
Child labour happens today.
These things neither started nor stopped with the World Wars. Let’s use the memories of the Holocaust to be vigilant in our national, civic, business and personal dealings.