New Zealand Prime Minister, Rt Hon John Key, launched a New Zealand-produced artistic educational project, ‘Shadows of Shoah’ at the official Auckland commemoration of United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday 25 January. Dr Edna Tait, speaking for the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, reminded the participants of the importance of forward-looking education to learn from the Holocaust.
Dr Tait quoted UNESCO’s Director General, Mme Irina Bokova: “The history of the genocide perpetrated during the Second World War does not belong to the past only. It is a ‘living history’ that concerns us all, regardless of our background, culture, or religion. Other genocides have occurred after the Holocaust, on several continents. How can we draw better lessons from the past?
The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand organized and part-sponsored a group of 22 New Zealand teachers (from all around the country) to attend a Holocaust education seminar at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, in January 2013.
The Director of the Centre, Inge Woolf, told the gathering that:
“Spreading deeper understanding of what the Holocaust means for New Zealand society is a major part of our purpose, and this needs to be at community level as well as in schools.”
A ceremony was also held in Wellington on Sunday 27 January, the actual anniversary of the day in 1945 that the Auschwitz Birkenau Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp was liberated. Deputy Chair of the NZ National Commission for UNESCO, Dr Andrew Matthews, informed the gathering of local dignitaries and members of the Diplomatic Corps that the Auschwitz death camps are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a reminder to the international community of the acts of barbarism perpetuated in that dark period of history.
Dr Andrew Matthews at the Holocaust Memorial, Makara Cemetry, Wellington.
To read more:
Holocaust Centre of New Zealand – www.holocaustcentre.org.nz
UNESCO International Holocaust Day of Remembrance 2013 – http://bit.ly/IHRD2013
Full texts of speeches given by Dr Tait and Dr Matthews:
United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day Friday 25 January 2013 at Raye Freedman Arts Centre, Epsom, Auckland
Address by Dr Edna Tait, Education Chair, New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO
Roma and Sinti, the disabled, Soviet and other prisoners of war, including New Zealand airmen, homosexuals, freemasons, intellectuals, political dissidents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy, doctors and nurses … this is the roll call of millions killed in the Nazi-led Holocaust. At the top of the list is the murder of six and a half million Jewish men, women and children.
In village massacres, in overcrowded trains, on forced marches, in concentration and death camps, the victims of the Holocaust suffered unimaginable and unforgivable persecution. Today we honour those who died and those who survived. Today we ensure that their voices are not forgotten.
The United Nations established an International Holocaust Remembrance Day as an “historic warning” for all nations. UNESCO, the UN’s lead agency for peace, accepted the mandate to teach the lessons needed to prevent future genocides. The NZ National Commission for UNESCO participates in the work of remembrance and education and is pleased to share this special occasion with our partners. The Chair of the National Commission, Mr Neil Walter, greatly regrets he is unable to be present this morning.
Three facts provide important and universal lessons. First, the Holocaust was unlike all others because the persecution and killing of the victims, and Jews especially, was systematically planned, resourced, recorded and executed with the full bureaucratic power of the state. No other mass killing was so thoroughly and technologically organised. It was truly a unique evil.
Second, the people who collected, guarded, tortured and killed the victims were not illiterates nor did they have to obey. We know this not only because so many described their terrible compliance in letters and diaries but also because some exemplars of humanity and courage sheltered and saved those being hunted.
Third, the causes of the Holocaust were many: prejudice, fear, greed, envy, ignorance, mistrust, bigotry, hatred; it’s a Pandora’s Box of social cancers. The horror is that today no nation, including New Zealand, is symptom-free.
What do these facts teach us? First, silence, indifference, compliance, when there is injustice and suffering, is moral failure and not the way of civilised people. It is always possible to resist. The second lesson, and this year’s message from UNESCO, is that we must confront any abuse, regulated or not, that demeans, denies or disenfranchises people and human rights. We must have the courage to care. Third, the only cure for social ills is improved knowledge, attitudes and skills so that in all parts of our lives we reject violence, protect the vulnerable and live by the values of tolerance, respect for human rights, human dignity and equitable life choices. This is the most important lesson of the Holocaust.
We may struggle up the 186 stairs of death from the quarry at Mauthausen, walk under the Arbeit Macht Frei arch at Auschwitz, stand in the courtyard at Dachau, read stories written by Czech children waiting in Theresienstadt for their death train but we cannot experience what the victims of the Holocaust suffered. Therefore, we must work for the time when Holocaust Remembrance Days are not about lessons to be taught but lessons learned. We shall truly honour the voices of the Holocaust when all peoples are living safe and fulfilled lives.
United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day Sunday 27 January 2013 at Holocaust Memorial, Makara Cemetery, Wellington
Address by Dr Andrew Matthews, Deputy Chair New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO
Excellences, Distinguished guests, Holocaust survivors and their families, ladies and gentlemen, students, boys and girls: the UN General Assembly resolved in November 2005 to call on the World to designate 27 January as an annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust and as an “historic warning” for all nations. UNESCO, the UN’s lead agency for peace and education, accepted the mandate to teach the lessons needed to prevent future genocides. The NZ National Commission for UNESCO participates in the work of remembrance and education and is pleased to be associated with this event.
The date is of course significant as it was on this day in 1945 that the Auschwitz Birkenau Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp was liberated. The Auschwitz death camps are listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List with the following citation and I quote:
“Auschwitz – Birkenau: monument to the deliberate genocide of the Jews by the Nazi regime (Germany 1933-1945) and to the deaths of countless others, bears irrefutable evidence to one of the greatest crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. It is also a monument to the strength of the human spirit which, in appalling conditions of adversity, resisted the efforts of the German Nazi regime to suppress freedom and free thought and to wipe out whole races. The site is a key place of memory for the whole of humankind, for the holocaust, racist policies and barbarism; it is a place of our collective memory of this dark chapter in the history of humanity, of transmission to younger generations, and a sign of warning of the many threats and tragic consequences of extreme ideologies and denial of human dignity.”
Holocaust education should recognize no boundaries in terms of curricular subject, location or the age of the learners group. It should inspire our young people to challenge anti-Semitism, racism, and extremism rather than to remain silent.
UNESCO’s Director General, Mme Irina Bokova, in her press release for today states: “The 2013 Day of Commemoration focuses on the theme of rescue. Let us recall that many of those who survived managed to do so because they were helped. They were hidden, warned of a raid, protected by a helping hand or by the silence of those who did not denounce them. They were supported by organized groups of both Jews and non-Jews as well as by individuals. Wherever evil struck, the righteous stood up, even at the risk of their own lives, against the violence of killers and the indifference of many others.
These men and women carry a vital message – it is always possible to act against racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance. We must convey this message of resistance and this lesson in humanity, in all its strength and complexity, against the temptation to forget or to take misleading shortcuts due to the passage of time.”
Thus, it is our firm belief that the only way to combat the social ills of racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance is improved knowledge, attitudes and skills, so that in all parts of our lives we reject violence, protect the vulnerable and live by the values of tolerance, respect for human rights, human dignity and equitable life choices.
This is the important lesson of the Holocaust.”
Thank you for the opportunity to take part in this Day of Commemoration of Victims of the Holocaust, and to share with you all, the hope to build a culture of peace through understanding.