New Zealand Remembers the Holocaust

January 28, 2010 by Miriam Bell
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Record numbers of New Zealanders attended this year’s commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, at the Holocaust Memorial in Wellington’s Jewish cemetery at Makara.

The remembrance ceremony, which was co-hosted by the Wellington Holocaust Research and Education Centre, the Wellington Regional Jewish Council, B’nai Brith Unit 5187 and the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, attracted over 200 people.

Attendees included Holocaust survivors, New Zealand’s minister of culture and heritage Chris Finlayson, Wellington mayor Kerry Prenderast, politicians from the country’s major parties, foreign diplomatic representatives, the German ambassador Thomas Meister, religious leaders, and Maori leaders including Sir Ngatata Love and former governor-general Sir Paul Reeves.

Wellington Holocaust Research and Education Centre director Inge Woolf said that both the commemoration at Makara cemetery, and a special reception held at parliament later in the day, were extremely moving.

“It was a significant event, especially as it was just the third time there has been an official commemoration of the day in New Zealand. At this time of the year it can be difficult to organise such events, but there is a lot of good will out there, and I think that was demonstrated by the number of people who attended the commemorations.”

Woolf, who was particularly pleased by the large turnout of Maori dignitaries and representatives, hopes that, in the future, commemorations of Holocaust Remembrance Day will be celebrated across New Zealand.

“I would like to encourage other centers around the country to hold commemorations of this day – no matter how small they might be at first. It is important to recognise this date to remember those who died in the Holocaust, and also in order to further educate about the Holocaust.”

Wellington Regional Council chairperson David Zwartz said the involvement of UNESCO and local Maori leaders in the commemoration underlines the message that the lessons of the Shoah apply to the whole of society and are not just a Jewish remembrance.

A central part of the day’s commemorations involved participants donating buttons to a local Jewish school’s button collection project.

Moriah College principal Justine Hitchcock said the school, which has been collecting buttons since 2008, is aiming to acquire one and a half million buttons to represent each of the one and a half million children killed in the Holocaust.

“As individual children the number [of children killed] is just too big from them to comprehend, so the concept of the button collection is to help them to understand just how huge those numbers were,” Hitchcock told TVNZ news.

To date, the pupils have collected 991000 buttons. When they reach their target, they plan to have the buttons used as part of a memorial to the child victims of the Holocaust.

New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO deputy chair Dr. Andrew Matthews said that, through Holocaust learning problems, the younger generation comes to value the importance of tolerance and freedom in a just society.

“This knowledge is essential to ensure that such atrocities never take place again.”


One Response to “New Zealand Remembers the Holocaust”
  1. As the world commemorates the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp 65 years ago, it’s also important to understand, and remember, what was it that drove the Germans and their helpers in the various countries they invaded to perpetrate the Holocaust.

    In Germany they evolved the ancient hatred toward Jews into something modern, secular, and pseudo-scientific, something the post-Enlightenment, highly cultured German people could accept as a replacement for the old Christian antisemitism. By the time Hitler came to power the racial underpinnings of his antisemitism were so strong no one in Germany thought of the old theological animosity. To 20th century Germans, the Jews were hateful for causing the loss of WWI, for being racially inferior, for Bolshevism and—simultaneously—for capitalism. To those Germans, however, any message of hatred that conformed with their worldview formed by almost two thousand years of Christian teachings about Jews made sense and was acceptable.

    Elsewhere in Europe, particularly in the East where the genocide took place and where the Germans found no shortage of auxiliaries for the genocidal duties that took place behind the front lines, the situation was different. Neither the Poles, nor the Lithuanians, nor the Ukrainians, nor any of the others who willfully collaborated in the execution of the “Final Solution” had been brain-washed by Nazi racial propaganda. In those countries the locals hated Jews for the same reasons other Europeans had hated Jews since the time of Emperor Constantine: for killing Christ, for poisoning wells, for bringing about the Black plague, for killing young Christian boys to extract their blood to make Passover bread, for being minions of the devil, for being greedy money-lenders (conveniently forgetting it was Christian laws that pushed Jews into that profession to start with), and any number of other baseless accusations.

    So, now that the world is paying attention at the result of this hatred when looking-in through the old electrified fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau, we should not forget where antisemitism came from, and recognize that part of that foundation is still in place in Christianity.

    Gabriel Wilensky
    Six Million Crucifixions:
    How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust
    Follow me on Twitter at

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