Kiwi Holocaust Survivors Book in all Schools

May 5, 2011 by Miriam Bell
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Educating Kiwi students on the stories of Holocaust survivors – and, in particular, those who migrated to New Zealand – has just got a whole lot easier for high school history teachers around the country.

Lesley Scher, Ruth Filler and Naomi Johnson

In time for Yom Ha’Shoah, B’nai B’rith celebrated the successful completion of its project to provide two copies of the book “Promised New Zealand: Fleeing Nazi Persecution” to every high school in New Zealand in a bid to further improve Holocaust education.

Naomi Johnson, who worked on the project with B’nai B’rith said “Promised New Zealand” tells the tales of 24 refugees from Nazism who abandoned their various German-speaking homelands to escape to New Zealand – an unknown country on the other side of the world.

“Some of them came before the war, while others survived the horrors of the camps and arrived after the war. Most were young adults who carried with them a mixture of relief, hope and a belief in the future.  Although they all yearned for those they had left behind, they worked hard to build new lives in their new homeland.”

Johnson, whose father’s story is featured in the book, said “Promised New Zealand” was told chronologically in time, between the years of 1930 and 1948, and interwove the personal stories of escape, resilience and resettlement with the political events of the day in Europe and in New Zealand.

Speaking at the event to mark the completion of the project, Cyril Nevezie (on behalf of B’nai B’rith) said the organisation believed the book’s style, of using the  “present tense”, would engage high school students while simultaneously educating them about Holocaust history.

He said another worthy component of the book was that it raised awareness of what it is like for immigrants, and particularly refugees, to settle into New Zealand.

Nevezie also read a note from the book’s author, Freya Klier, which said: “The more the last survivors of the Shoah pass away, the greater is our task to anchor their fate into society’s memory and into the hearts of succeeding generations.”

Klier’s note added that she was grateful for the B’nai B’rith project which would allow young New Zealanders to “immerse themselves in this sad chapter, in which twentieth century German and New Zealand history were so painfully linked together and which has given us lasting ties”.

High school history teacher Nina Blumenfeld said the personal stories which made up the book made it a more effective teaching tool than more conventional text books which often concentrated on statistics and violent images.

“This book allows students to read about living, breathing survivors who had every day hopes, and to focus on these real live stories with emotion. Exposure to these stories also allows students to examine their own attitudes.”

Nevezie and Blumenfeld both thanked the five major donors to the project: The ASB Community Trust, APECT, David Levene Foundation, the Friedlander Foundation and one private trust that preferred anonymity.

Holocaust survivor Ruth Filler, whose story in one of those in the book, also spoke at the event. Her tale can be read on the East & Bays Courier’s website at http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/east-bays-courier/4881010/Fleeing-Hitlers-regime.

The celebratory function to mark the completion of the project was held at the Raye Freedman library, in Auckland, in mid April.

It was attended by a number of the families whose stories are included in the book. They included Andrie Hart; Billie Silberstein representing her late husband Fred Silberstein; Merle and Ollie Newland; Ron Eisig; Claire and Peter Bruell; as well as Naomi Johnson and Ruth Filler.

The project, which began in 2009, would be viewed as fully completed when all  New Zealand high schools receive their copies of the book. This was due to have happened by the end of April.

  • • Copies of “Promised New Zealand: Fleeing Nazi Persecution” (by Freya Klier, translated from the German by Jenny Rawlings, Otago Press, 2009) can be ordered through local bookshops or online from Otago University Press at booksales@otago.ac.nz.

ENDS

 

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