Commemorating the Holocaust in New Zealand

February 2, 2011 by Miriam Bell
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For the second year in a row, record numbers observed New Zealand’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust, on Wednesday January 27, at the Holocaust Memorial in Wellington’s Makara Cemetery.

A stone is laid

According to Wellington Regional Jewish Council chairperson David Zwartz, about 300 people attended the Holocaust Rememberance Day event, which was co-sponsored by the New Zealand National Commission of UNESCO and the Wellington City Council.

New Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown, who was one of the ceremony’s keynote speakers, said it was important for the people of Wellington, and of New Zealand, to understand difference and to foster diversity.

“It is important so that the ugly prejudices of 1930s Europe, which became the evil of the Holocaust, can not develop here”, she said. “But it is a tragedy that the world has not yet learned the lessons from the Holocaust, and that other genocides have taken place since.”

Another speaker was Maori leader Sir Ngatata Love who challenged those attending the commemoration to pass on to younger generations the message that prejudice should be avoided and good relationships should be maintained throughout society.

Besides Wade-Brown and Sir Love, attendees included Holocaust survivors, Israeli ambassador Shemi Tzur, New Zealand’s minister of culture and heritage Chris Finlayson, politicians from the country’s major parties, foreign diplomatic representatives – including German ambassador Thomas Meister, religious leaders, and Maori leaders.

Prayers [including the El Rachamim prayer and Kaddish] and speeches were dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and, after the ceremony, attendees laid stones on the memorial.

The day’s commemorations concluded with a special reception, held at the New Zealand parliament’s Banquet Hall, which featured an address by UNESCO NZ deputy chair Dr Andrew Matthews and the launch of a New Zealand Holocaust survivor’s biography.

Dr Matthews said that this year the United Nations had chosen to highlight the courage of Holocaust women, such as Irene Nemirovsky, Germaine Tillion and Anne Frank, because “the courage of these amazing women in the midst of one of our modern world’s darkest chapters demonstrates for us all the very best of humanity – as well as the most wicked”.

“We all have a responsibility to remember the atrocities of the Holocaust so that future generations are able to value and protect the importance of tolerance and freedom,” he said. “This is crucial if we are to ensure that such atrocities never happen again.”

After Dr Matthews spoke, New Zealand’s minister of culture and heritage Chris Finlayson launched “The Violinist” – a biography of Clare Galambos-Winter, an Hungarian Auschwitz survivor who went on to play the violin in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for over 30 years.

Finlayson spoke about the personal achievements of Galambos-Winter, as well as of her contribution to New Zealand through such things as the donation of her violins to the New Zealand School of Music and the provision of scholarships for promising players.

A string quartet from the New Zealand School of Music then played the first movement of a Schubert quartet, with one of the donated instruments playing the part of the first violin.

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