United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Shalom. Ngā mihi maioha ki a koutou. Tēnā tātou katoa.
My very warmest greetings to you all. I’d like to specifically acknowledge: Bobby Newson, Kaumātua; Deborah Hart, Board Chair, Holocaust Centre of New Zealand; Gillian Wess, Chief Executive, Holocaust Centre of New Zealand; The Honourable Priyanka Radhakrishnan, Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities; Desley Simpson, Deputy Mayor of Auckland; survivors of the Holocaust and your families, and my fellow speakers at this afternoon’s commemoration
I am honoured to be with you all today as we gather to observe Yom HaShoah – United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Every year, on this day, we as a global community come together to remember the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi regime during the Holocaust.
We uphold the memory of those millions – cherished friends and family members – who lost their lives during that period of almost unimaginable suffering.
And we honour the survivors and their families – those such as Bob Narev and Lisa Newman, who are with us today, and whose stories stand as a testament to the strength and courage of the human spirit.
Israeli jurist Gideon Hausner, at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, spoke of the orders carried out by the Nazis as ‘contrary to the principles of conscience and morality, orders that violated the essential imperatives on which human society is based and which negated the basic rules without which men cannot live together.’
The Holocaust is an event in history so shocking – so inhuman – it can bely the powers of language and imagination. But it is our duty to try – to express the horror, and to imagine the suffering – so that those memories are kept alive, and so that those events and the philosophies that underpinned them may never again be replicated.
As the whakataukī tells us: ‘Haere whakamua, titiro whakamuri. We must walk into the future with our eyes wide open to the past.’
This year, we mark 80 years since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – the largest uprising by Jews during World War II, and the first significant urban revolt against the Germans during the course of the war.
The uprising began on the 19th of April 1943, when a group of young Jewish insurgents revolted against German troops and police seeking to deport the ghetto’s last surviving inhabitants. At least 7,000 Jews were killed in the uprising, and 7,000 more were captured by the Nazis and deported to the Treblinka killing centre.
Mordechai Anielewicz, leader of the Jewish Combat Organisation, said: ‘The most difficult struggle of all is the one within ourselves. Let us not get accustomed and adjusted to these conditions. The one who adjusts ceases to discriminate between good and evil. He becomes a slave in body and soul.’
Mordechai’s words, and the extraordinary actions of those brave young men and women, serve as a reminder of the solemn responsibilities we each bear, as citizens, to never remain idle in the face of injustice – but to stand up for what we know to be true and good, and to be vigilant and outspoken against any expressions of hatred and intolerance.
At this juncture in modern history, as we continue to grapple with the many consequences of Covid-19, ongoing global conflict, as well as the dangerous dissemination of misinformation and disinformation, such vigilance and moral courage could not be more important.
As Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel said: ‘Sometimes we must interfere. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the centre of the universe.’
I wish to take this opportunity to commend Holocaust Centre New Zealand – an organisation of which I am proud to be patron – for your commitment to preserving the memory of the Holocaust here in New Zealand, through commemorations such as this, and education programmes for New Zealanders of all ages.
It can be tempting, in learning and speaking about the Holocaust, to dwell only on humankind’s shocking capacity for hatred and violence.
I would urge us rather to emphasise our capacity for goodness and justice and courage – the sort of courage demonstrated by Mordechai and his compatriots 80 years ago – and the knowledge that the future of humanity is reliant on the role we can each play, on this and every day, to build a truly inclusive and loving society.
Kia ora huihui tātou katoa.