Remembering the past – looking to the future

January 29, 2020 by David Zwartz
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Holocaust survivors were honoured at the Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations in the capital, Wellington, at the same time as speakers referred to changes needed in New Zealand to counter rising antisemitism.

Dutch Holocaust survivor Rachelle Calkoen with her grandchildren at the Holocaust Memorial at Wellington’s Jewish cemetery, on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Photo: Sydney Kriel

A larger than usual gathering of diplomats, MPs and local government politicians, community leaders, faith and interfaith leaders, and the Jewish community attended the United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the rural setting of the Jewish cemetery at Makara.

With emphasis on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the other death camps, the suffering of the six million who died, and the ongoing hurdles facing the survivors’ return to normal life after liberation, strengthened the ‘Never again’ message that applies to New Zealand as to the rest of the world.

Russian ambassador H E Georgii Zuev spoke of the huge carnage which must never be repeated, while Rick Sehar gave a moving account of his Polish father’s liberation from Auschwitz by the Red Army and subsequent years of fulfilment but not without difficulties.

The effect the messages from the Holocaust have on present-day New Zealand could be seen when Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon announced his plans for increased action against bullying in schools. This parallels the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand’s ongoing education campaign: “Be an Upstander, not a Bystander” which draws on the lessons to be learned from the growth of antisemitism in Nazi Germany.

An unplanned presentation underscored the message of being an Upstander, when Matthew Smith, president of the Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation, gave a certificate of thanks to Eckhardt Reynke, the young building worker who, a few days earlier, painted out the swastikas graffitied onto the wall of Temple Sinai next door to where he was working. His action as an Upstander was warmly applauded.

Stones were laid at the cemetery’s Holocaust Memorial by the survivors, representatives of the second generation, and dignitaries, followed by a large number of the people attending.

Later, at a Parliamentary reception hosted by the Minister of Finance Grant Robertson, child survivor Vera Egermayer recalled her emotions at the time of liberation by the Soviet Army from Terezin camp near Prague.

The Mayor of Wellington, Andy Foster, spoke again of his support for the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and the chairperson of the NZ National Commission for UNESCO, Robyn Baker, explained youth education initiatives that UNESCO is taking.

Paul Seideman, a 92-year-old survivor of many camps including Auschwitz, and liberated from Dachau, looked on as Minister Robertson presented their prizes to the three winners of the essay competition on a Holocaust topic which Paul has endowed.

Comments

One Response to “Remembering the past – looking to the future”
  1. michael kuttner says:

    As expected plenty of rhetoric but a shortage of practical action from the NZ PM and Government Ministers.

    Who exactly is supposed to remember the past and how can they do that? Most Jews remember the past so that leaves 99.99% of the rest of the population who need to be activated. By the time students have left high school the vast majority will have neither met a Jew, encountered a Holocaust survivor nor been exposed to the history of antisemitism and its consequences. A few may have visited the Holocaust Centre in Wellington but that is it.

    Instead of political waffle and feel good oratory once a year NZ’s political leaders need to take immediate action to ensure that remembrance is activated in a practical manner. That means making Holocaust studies a compulsory part of the history curriculum and facilitating visits to Holocaust centres. At the same time the NZ Govt needs to urgently adopt the IHRA (international holocaust remembrance alliance) definitions of antisemitism.

    As there is no indication that any of these actions will be taken the future will only lead to even more ignorance and intolerance thereby making the slogans and speeches merely an annual exercise in political hot air and insincere gestures.

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