Five hundred gather to remember the Holocaust in provincial NZ

January 27, 2020 by Perry Trotter
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In a weekend buzzing with activity in the coastal city of Tauranga, more than 500 turned out for a Holocaust Remembrance event held at the beautiful Performing Arts Centre, Bethlehem College on 25 January

James van Ameringen [centre]

The event, organised by the Holocaust and Antisemitism  Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand (formerly Shadows of Shoah) also served as the official launch of their new exhibition Auschwitz. Now.” 

A Powhiri (Māori welcome ceremony), led by Kaumatua Huikakahu Kawe was held earlier in the day, in order to acknowledge the local iwi and receive their blessing. Later, Kaumatua Tony Wihapi opened the evening event with a karakia (prayer). The evening was marked by solemnity as speakers recalled the genocide perpetrated on the Jewish people and pondered its significance. 

Dame Lesley Max, noting that the scale and magnitude of the Holocaust was beyond comprehension, told the personal stories of relatives such as Eva, who, at the moment of liberation was photographed by her Russian liberators, her emaciated figure peering out from behind barbed wire. Eva was able to re-build her life – a wonderful testimony of the fortitude of the human spirit.  

A number of perspectives were presented during the event. National MP Hon Alfred Ngaro in a poignant moment honoured 98-year-old Holocaust survivor James van Ameringen. Ron Matsen of the Koinonia Institute brought a theological perspective, ending with a stirring call to action, quoting German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer: 

Dame Lesley Max and Kaumatua Huikakahu Kawe

If I sit next to a madman as he drives into a group of innocent bystanders, I cant, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering out the wheels of the hands of the driver.

The need for activism was a recurrent message throughout the evening along with the observation that knowledge of the Holocaust is fading while antisemitism is again on the rise. Another theme highlighted was that anti-Zionism is the new manifestation of antisemitism – a connection underlined in the IRHA definition on antisemitism.

HAFANZ founder Perry Trotters addressed the mounting challenges to Holocaust memory: denial, distortion and universalisation.

David Cumin of the New Zealand Jewish Council and Israel Institute of New Zealand concluded the evening with the famous quote from Elie Wiesel:

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

The Holocaust and Antisemitism Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand is committed to raising awareness of the Holocaust and standing against the rising tide of antisemitism.

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