Opening of Wellington Holocaust Centre
Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests, may I first greet you in the languages of the realm of New Zealand - English, Maori, Cook Island Maori, Niuean and Tokelauan.
Greetings, Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni. And Shalom Aleichem.
Thank you for inviting my wife Susan and I to this evening's opening of the Wellington Holocaust Research and Education Centre.
In particular may I acknowledge you: Rabbi and Tova Dovrat, Rabbi Orthodox Congregation and Rabbi Johanna Hersenon, Rabbi Progressive Congregation; Steven Sedley, Chairman of the Holocaust Centre Project Team; Ministers of the Crown Hon Annette King, and Hon Luamanuvao Winnie Laban; Members of Parliament Hon Marion Hobbs, Gordon Copeland; Inge Woolf, Director of the Holocaust Centre Project Team; Kelvin Ratnam, Chairman of the Yom Hashoah Organisation Committee; Your Excellency Jrg Zimmermann, Ambassador to the FederalRepublic of Germany; Hon Consul for Israel David Zwartz & Helen Zwartz; Joris De Bres, Race Relations Commissioner; Your Worships the Mayors of Porirua, Ms Jenny Brash, of Lower Hutt Mr David Ogden; of Wellington, Kerry Prendergast and Rex Nicholls; Deputy Mayor of Wellington, Alick Shaw; Six survivors of the concentration camps.
In every New Zealand setting, whoever speaks, ought first to establish a place to stand before the audience. In that regard, my wife Susan and I, in our personal lives, have had a significant amount of continuing contact with people from the Jewish community in our country.
We have seen the humility of service and benevolence. We have seen how your community has applied the principles of humanitarianism to help make New Zealand a better place for all people to live.
We also have many personal and professional connections within the Jewish community and the senior partner in the law firm in which I practised for many years, Norman Shieff, is well-known and respected in many parts of New Zealand
It is fitting that this project is being opened on Yom Hashoah, the Jewish International Day to commemorate the millions who died during the Holocaust - the same day in which the lives of those who survived are also celebrated.
This present month April also happens to be significant to the Jewish community in this year I am informed, part of April falls when Passover has come to be observed and along with Yom Hashoah, I am also informed there is also to be a celebration of Israel's Independence Day organised by the Zionist Federation of New Zealand beginning next week.
Passover celebrates the birth of Israel and the freedom of the Jewish people, while Yom Hashoah is an occasion to remember those Jewish people who had freedom removed from their lives. I acknowledge Shoah as the Hebrew word, meaning whirlwind - the term used to describe the conflagration that swept up 6 million people between 1938 and 1945.
In this year, for that reason, April thus becomes a suitable month in which to reflect on both the past and the future of Jewish communities.
In this new 21st Century, generations of Jewish people will be born with little or no knowledge of their links to the Holocaust which makes education just as important as remembrance and recollection.
At the request of an old friend from University days in Auckland, Geoff Levy, I am writing an endorsement for the March of the Living, a programme of which many here may be aware.
It is a worldwide education programme, which takes Jewish students to Poland and Israel to educate them about the Holocaust and the home of the Jewish people. It helps them discover and take pride in their identity and it encourages them to return home and educate others about their heritage and history and thus fulfils both the education and the remembrance obligations in equal measure.
I shall also be happy to officially open the Holocaust Centre as it will further enhance the New Zealand understanding of the Holocaust, bringing with it a distinctly Wellington perspective.
New Zealand's Jewish community may not be large, but it does foster a strong commitment to Holocaust education. Exhibitions documenting Jewish Holocaust refugees in New Zealand have previously been held in Auckland and Wellington. These exhibitions, although small, have enabled the non-Jewish public to better understand the history and meaning of the Holocaust.
The Wellington Holocaust Centre I am advised, aims to:
Tell of humanity lost, of resilience and survival, and through the stories of the refugees that came to Wellington, teach tolerance, courage and racial harmony
It is through education, archives and exhibiting that the Holocaust Centre hopes to achieve this aim. I am told that archives will be available online and that access to international databases will also be made available. This will allow families to research information on their family history and their connection to the Holocaust.
A major feature of the Centre will be the profiles of Jewish people who escaped from Europe for this then unknown capital city far away in the South West Pacific. Many of these people became an important part of Wellington's development and have given much to the city in subsequent years.
One such person is with us today. Clare Galambos-Winter played as a first violinist in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for 33 years and her family's story will be one of the first to be shared.
Along with Mrs Galambos-Winter I am informed that there are five other survivors from concentration camps here with us today. Their stories will no doubt be part of future exhibitions and their presence here today will place the memory of the Holocaust before New Zealanders in very real terms.
As New Zealanders, we are fortunate to live in a diverse and open society. Our communities are furnishing evidence of being increasingly willing to listen, to learn and to engage with each other - the interfaith movement in which Jewish people have played a significant role, being onesuch.
It is for this reason (of showing signs of engagement) that I believe the success of this centre will be assured. As people want to learn, they will also derive respect for the many histories which together form the wider story of New Zealand and New Zealanders.
For this reason, memories of the Holocaust will not be dulled by time and distance for New Zealand's future generations. Instead, and with the help of the Centre, the legacy of the Holocaust will remain a sombre reminder of the consequences of racial intolerance.
Remembering the atrocities of the Holocaust is vital to ensuring such horror is not repeated, anywhere, ever.
As the Spanish-born American man of letters and philosopher, of the last century, George Santayana famously said:-
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
And, unfortunately, despite vigilance and concern the world knows of continuing episodes of discrimination and violence and atrocities in places such as Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo.
I offer on everyone's behalf best wishes to the Wellington Holocaust Research and Education Centre in its mission of educating and informing both the Wellington community and all those who may visit from further afield.
I began speaking in all the New Zealand realm languages. May I close by speaking in Maori issuing greetings and wishing you good health and fortitude in your endeavours.
No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tena koutou katoa.