United Nations Holocaust Memorial

27.01.13

Nga mihi nui o te ra
Tena koutou Tena koutou Tena koutou katoa

First of all may I acknowledge Holocaust survivor Claire Winton and other sufferers; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Minister Finlayson, Members of Parliament and former members; Deputy Mayor Ian McKinnon; Dr Andrew Matthews; Rabbis; Interfaith leaders; Race Relations Commissioner, Joris De Bres; Former principal and pupils of Moriah College; Members of the Jewish community and supportive Wellingtonians

Distinguished guests all  - because of your commitment to remembrance and repudiation of one of the darkest eras of human history.

Here, in a beautiful peaceful setting, on a typical Wellington day, we gather to mark the International Day of Remembrance of The Holocaust, the Shoah, as the first capital of the world to mark this day in 2013.

Over the past year, it has been inspiring to watch the progress of the Wellington Holocaust Research and Education Centre as it was transformed into the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand.

When I attended the opening of their impressive new premises at the Wellington Jewish Community Centre in Webb Street, it was clear that the strength of emotional and historic investment is matched by insight into what is needed to improve our society in future, and the skills to deliver this.
 
Having the Holocaust Centre in Wellington is important to New Zealand and to our capital city. We need a society that is interdependent, where we all empathise with and co-operate with our neighbours, whatever their ethnicity or background, because we understand their history and way of life.
 
Learning about the Holocaust might seem an unpleasant way of learning to get on with people, because of the horrors of those years 1933 to 1945, including World War II, but it’s necessary to see clearly what evil things humankind is capable of, so that we can make the choice to do better at an individual level as well as at a community level.
 
The Holocaust Centre sees clearly that education, and particularly education of youth, is the key to steering future generations away from intolerance, demonisation, discrimination and hatred.

I am working with a number of institutions on a Capital Education initiative, part of a National Identity project, that will encourage more school visits to the Capital to strengthen their understanding of matters international, national and civic; in appreciation and participation of political, scientific and artistic achievement.

There are so many national institutions in the Capital – Parliament, Te Papa, the National Library, AND now the National Holocaust Centre of NZ, among many others that all NZ children should be familiar with.
 
I see the National Holocaust Centre as a key component of that work, starting with a regional push for visits and then working with government to promote it more widely. The focus on national institutions is important for our visitors – both students and tourists, and I believe we can make The Holocaust Centre a place of greater visitation.
 
The recent desecration of Jewish graves in Auckland’s historic cemetery was an unfortunate repetition of what happened in Wellington, at Bolton Street Cemetery and here at Makara, in 2004.
 
There will always be maverick individual haters and spoilers in any society, and we have a duty to the minority groups in New Zealand to try and prevent such disgusting things from happening, and the best way is to create a baseline standard of non-acceptance of race hatred throughout the community.

This doesn’t apply only to Jews, it applies to all minorities, whether ethnic or religious - or non-religious. Wellington should be a centre for appreciation of diversity, not merely tolerance - which implies there’s something to put up with rather than understand and admire.

As well as matters of faith, this appreciation, beyond tolerance, includes those who choose a variety of different lifestyles – as long as they are not antagonistic to anyone else.
 
Teaching about the Holocaust is an important way of getting the message across, and that is why I am convinced that the proposed New Zealand Button Memorial to the Children of the Holocaust is such a worthwhile project. Many of us here will have contributed buttons, those humble but very human objects, to the collection to symbolise those who died in the Holocaust.
 
If the Children’s Button Memorial can be placed in the new Memorial Park, Te Pukeahu, being created at Buckle Street, it will join other peace memorials and sculptures in the capital that help us remember .
 
This Button Memorial is unique in that it is “from children for children.” The pupils of former Moriah College here in Wellington organized the collection of 1.5 million buttons to represent the 1.5 million children who died during the Holocaust. Buttons are simple symbols of humanity, whether rich or poor.

Out of the horrors of the Second World War, good things have come. As well as the commitment to education by many Jewish communities I have a personal story. In 2012, I found my own Austrian  half-sister whose birth was at least somewhat due to the war. I am very happy to know her. I've learnt that, although not Jewish, the children of the occupation were also discriminated against.

So, to conclude, in our capital, by working together we can teach the lessons of the consequences of intolerance, prejudice and hatred and also the positives - symbolised by today's lighting of the candle – the marvellous effects of inclusion and appreciation of diversity. We can help make a change for good.

The speech delivered may vary from this text.