Buttons, not stones, on Holocaust Memorial

February 4, 2016 by David Zwartz
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With a break from Jewish tradition, children on UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the New Zealand’s capital city Wellington placed buttons, not stones, on the New Zealand capital’s Holocaust memorial.

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They were showing their sympathy for the 1.5 million Jewish children who died during the Shoah, and their support for the proposed Holocaust Children’s Button Memorial, for which pupils of Wellington’s Jewish day school collected 1.5 million buttons.

The annual Holocaust commemoration, at the rural Makara Jewish cemetery, was addressed by Wellington’s mayor, the Acting UK High Commissioner (Mrs Helen Smith) and Benya Klapaukh, one of the button-collecting pupils and now a youth leader.

The focus on children was part of mayor Celia Wade-Brown’s speech, and Mrs Smith spoke about the children rescued from Prague in 1939 by Englishman Sir Nicholas Winton.

The German ambassador, H E Dr Anne-Marie Schleich, was among dignitaries laying stones (not buttons) on the Holocaust Memorial at the end of the ceremony.

Later, at a Parliamentary reception hosted by the Attorney-General, Hon Chris Finlayson, the Polish ambassador H E Zbigniew Gniatkowski referred to Janusz Korczak, who died with his orphan charges in Auschwitz, and to the Ulma family of Markowa, who were summarily executed in 1944 for harbouring Jews. They were posthumously declared Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem and a museum established in their honour.

Vera Egermayer, a child survivor from Theriesenstadt, also spoke at the reception, and the chairman of the NZ National Commission for UNESCO, Ian McKinnon, read out the UNESCO Director-General’s powerful UNIHRD message.

UNESCO in NZ is a co-sponsor of the annual Holocaust commemoration, together with the Wellington City Council.

The Attorney-General presented the prize for her essay on “Children of the Holocaust” to Joanne Pohe, winner of the annual Paul Seideman competition. Paul, present at the ceremony, is an Auschwitz survivor who endowed the competition.

In his own speech, Minister Finlayson said: “Antisemitism has not passed into history. The same hatred directed against Anne Frank and others by the Nazi regime still exists today, merely in different forms.

This is why the stories of children in the Holocaust cannot and must not be permitted to fade into history. They compel us never to forget and always to confront this lethal obsession, the oldest hatred.

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