Remembering is a tool for the future

January 29, 2017 by Miriam Bell
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Messages about the importance of remembering the lessons of the Holocaust dominated UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration in Auckland.

Bob and Freda Narev

Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Red Army on January 27 in 1945 – hence the United Nations designed the date as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Friday was the 72nd anniversary of the liberation and the day was commemorated in a special event held at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Over 250 people – including Holocaust survivors, former governor-general Dame Silvia Cartwright, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, several MPs and 19 honorary consul – attended the event.

Recent developments on the global stage, combined with the ongoing spectre of antisemitism and the rise of both fundamentalist terrorism and the far right, prompted added emphasis from the speakers on the need to learn from the past.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said it is hard to understand the depth of suffering and the inhumanity of man to man that was the Holocaust, which was the extreme example of evil.

“We need to not only remember the Holocaust but to act on the lessons it teaches… Unless people of good will and decency speak up and act evil will prevail.

“We should honour the sacrifices of people in the past and fight for human rights. Every time you speak out against the abuse of human rights, injustice and the like you speak for them.”

Applying the lessons of the Holocaust to the present was a key theme for all the speakers.

Dr David Galler, whose mother was a survivor of Auschwitz, urged people to seek practical ways to remember the Holocaust and address the horrors of the present.

He said building memorials is not enough to escape the horrors and injustices that we still see.

“My parents, who had equal parts horror and happiness in their lives, taught me I had an obligation to people, to address injustice… To that end, we need for everyone to reaffirm their commitment to truth, to dissent and to each other.”

Another common theme of the commemoration was that it is not just the horror of the Holocaust that needs to be remembered, it is also the stories of those who survived.

For this reason, between speakers short excerpts from the Shadows of the Shoah exhibition, which features the stories of Holocaust survivors now living in New Zealand and Australia, were shown.

Bob Narev was just seven in 1942 when he, his family and 1000 other Jewish people were sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. All his immediate family died there except his mother, who was forced to work in an armaments factory.

“The recent targeting of minorities in the US and other Western countries, and the surge in extreme right-wing and racist political groups throughout Europe brings back haunting memories for Holocaust survivors such as myself,” he says.

“Sadly we are not immune in New Zealand. There was a rapid rise in hate speech against the Jewish community following the Government’s support of the United Nations Resolution on Israel.

“At the end of World War Two, the world said ‘Never Again’. Holocaust survivors believed the international community would stand up and stop such horrific events ever recurring.

“Yet the world has been powerless to stop the heart-breaking genocide in Syria and we are once again facing the danger of extremism.

“The lessons of the Holocaust – that different beliefs and cultures should be respected not feared – are more important than ever,” Bob Narev says.

Ian Narev

Via video link, Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ian Narev, who is the son of Auckland based Holocaust survivor Bob Narev, said these stories are key to understanding both the depths and the heights of humanity as seen in the Holocaust

“There are two parts to understanding the Holocaust. The first part is trying to comprehend how humanity can reach such depths, what the signs are, what we need to be doing individually and collectively to make sure it never happens again – and to fight it.

“The second part is remembering those who survived, as well as all those who helped people survive, because part of the Holocaust story is the unlimited potential for human survival.

“I don’t know any better stories of resilience than those of the people who survived the Holocaust and went on to live normal lives.”

Learning these stories we learn about resilience, about the power of humanity to survive, he said. “We must ask ourselves what we can learn to avoid the depths and bring out the best within ourselves.”

Some speakers were less optimistic than others.

Dame Susan Devoy

Former governor-general Silvia Cartwright, who spoke of her time doing international judiciary work in Cambodia and Sri Lanka, acknowledged limited belief – when at her most despairing – that much has been learnt from the Holocaust.

Has “never again” been a promise fulfilled?, she asked, before quoting the late Elie Wiesel who said that “never again” was more than a slogan, it was a prayer.

“His words however, are the only bricks that we can use to build again and to try, one day at a time to be better individuals, better communities and more responsive governments in our endless search for peace in the world.

“Never again” should be our aim, our ambition and, ultimately, the triumph of the humanity in all of us.”

However, fittingly, the final words of the commemoration were those of survivor Bob Narev. “Remembering is not the past, remembering is a tool for the future.”

An International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration also took place in Wellington at the Makara Cemetery.

Race Relations Commission Susan Devoy, who attended this commemoration, said the Holocaust taught us that prejudice and hatred start small.

“All of us are responsible to ensure we live in a country where this hatred is never normalised. It is never okay for a New Zealand child to hide who they are out of fear. That is not us.”


One Response to “Remembering is a tool for the future”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    History has been so damning is it any wonder there are those with the political clout who seek to whitewash it.

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