United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2013

 

 

The New Zealand Holocaust Centre in Wellington took as its theme for this year’s United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day, New Zealand’s Button Memorial to the Children of the Holocaust. It is never easy to speak or write about the events of the Holocaust, but the strength of the message ‘Never Again’ took on new force in light of this project initiated by children, for children. One of the 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust was Mihály, younger brother of Clare Galambos Winter. Clare, now in her 90th year, attended the Remembrance Day in Wellington. So too did Vera Egermayer, child survivor of Terezin concentration camp. (See my previous posts, New Zealand’s Button Memorial to the Children of the Holocaust and Vera’s Story.) My thanks to Vera for allowing me to publish her address here:

 

27 January 2013

Last December, 20 young children were shot dead in a school in the United States. The world reacted with dismay-horror-outrage-shock-disgust – it was literally sickening. There are no stronger words, in any language, for such diabolical events. So how can we possibly encompass the murder of one and a half million children?  It is beyond words and beyond the scope of our emotions – we are left speechless and numb. Yet no human being can afford to forget this indelible stain on our very humanity.

There are many ways of remembering. A gathering like this is one – books have been written – artworks created – films produced – museums and Centres such the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand have been set up.

We can also remember through memorials.

A tree planted in Jerusalem – a cobble stone with a name set in the pavement in front of a house – a plaque in a cemetery where there is no grave – these are all memorials that I have put up for my own perished family in Prague. The sites of suffering such as Terezin, the camp where I was interned as a four-year-old child, have become memorials in themselves, as has Auschwitz .

I have recently visited Auschwitz. As I stood frozen on the selection ramp I remembered members of our Community in Wellington who had stood there almost 70 years before me – Hanka Pressburg – Sofia Galler – Clare Winter. And I thought about all the frightened and bewildered children who were dispatched to instant death from that very ramp. And I thought how close I had come to being one of them.

The Nazis initially had no specific mission to exterminate children – they did not think that children mattered – children were a just nuisance to them when they appeared in the transports – they cried-they could not follow orders – they could not work – they created panic when you tried to separate them from their parents. So how can you get grown men and women – often parents themselves – to kill children?  After all, children are innocent – they cannot be accused of all the vices with which anti-Semitism habitually stigmatises Jews. As the persecution progressed, the Nazi propaganda machine developed a perverse narrative. The story went as follows: if you let Jewish children live, one day they will wish to avenge their murdered families and will kill YOUR children in generations to come. So by killing Jewish children you are actually saving your own.

That is why there was a frenzy of child-killing towards the end of the war. Jewish orphanages became a target for transports – they were meant to be safe havens but they turned into reservoirs from which children could be conveniently plucked. This is a reminder of my own deportation to Terezin from a children’s home in Prague in 1945. Fortunately the war ended – I survived and we were able to emigrate to New Zealand as a family afterwards. I will not be symbolised in New Zealand’s memorial to the 1.5 million and that is one of the reasons why I am committed to its completion – to getting it built.

I have been spreading the word about the memorial on behalf of the HCNZ  in a number of countries such as France, Poland, the Czech Republic, England and Norway and we have received endorsement from many prestigious individuals and institutions.

The Holocaust is still with us today – it affects all humanity across time and space and it addresses all generations. That is why the children of a small school in New Zealand were able to identify with children, like themselves, whose lives were cut off before they could be lived – decades previously in distant lands. And that is why they decided go beyond sentiment and take action.

The children who perished will be brought out of the shadow of history through New Zealand’s Button Memorial to the Children of the Holocaust and their lives will be validated. As a child who was spared, and as a New Zealander, I see this as a personal victory.

 

Posted on 28th January 2013 in Jewish Holocaust

 

New Zealand’s Button Memorial to the Children of the Holocaust

 

 

Vera Egermayer has travelled around Europe in the last months, spreading the word about New Zealand’s Button Memorial to the Children of the Holocaust, a project initiated by Moriah College in Wellington and now being brought to fruition by the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand (HCNZ).

Following her visit to the Holocaust Centre of Oslo and to a former Jewish orphanage in Prague (now a Lauder School), Vera travelled to Paris to meet Serge Klarsfeld, renowned Holocaust historian and Nazi hunter.

Vera writes:

11,400 Jewish children were deported from France between 27 March 1942 and 22 August 1944.  France’s memorial to these children is not made of buttons like New Zealand’s but of paper- many layers of paper. The first layer was cemented with the publication in 1994 of the Memorial to the Jewish Children Deported from France showing the names, dates of birth, ages and, for the first time, painstakingly retrieved, the last known addresses and photos of 1533 of these children. The photos and documentation bought the children out of the shadows of history and provided incontrovertible proof of their existence and of their murder.  This publication was the work of one man, Serge Klarsfeld assisted by the Association of Sons and Daughters of the Jews Deported from France (FFDJF) which he founded.  Over the last two decades Serge Klarsfeld has continued to add more layers to the memorial with a series of supplements to the original publication. The 10th supplement will bring the total number of photos published and of lives retrieved to 4200. The photos continue to trickle in from the four corners of the world – often removed from the albums of surviving family, friends, former neighbours, school mates or sourced from offices, churches and other institutions.

I discovered another layer of this memorial to Jewish Children deported from France, in the heart of the Memorial of the Shoah in Paris.  It is a gallery of photos drawn from the publications. Over 3000 black and white photos – set in 16 luminous, back-lit, wordless panels which line the walls from ceiling to floor. Each photo, each face, represents a life that was stolen before it could be lived.  These faces will never leave you once you have seen them. They look out with haunting innocence unaware of the horror that lies ahead. They are all children – some mere babies, others in their teens, almost grown up.  Children on their own or in a family group with their brothers and sisters, the youngest sibling standing on a chair, a small face in the back row of a class photo, a little boy in a hand knitted outfit standing beside his rocking horse, a 6 year old girl in her ballet dress with a yellow star stitched on the left breast and a bow in her hair, a passing snapshot taken in the street, boys caught in movement showing off, acting the clown, boys carefully groomed posing for a birthday portrait, small children holding their mother’s hand or sitting on their father’s knee, some elegantly dressed, others in modest attire.  A mammoth task of painstaking documentation over almost two decades provides this incontestable testimony against holocaust denial and leaves an indelible memory.  It is hard to pass by –you keep wanting to go back and have another look into the eyes of a particular child wondering what he felt as he was trundled around Europe like a piece of debris and then crushed and thrown away.  This is was the fate of the 44 children savagely snatched away by a Nazi gang from a communal home in the remote village of Izieu in France where their parents had placed them for safe-keeping.  This is what happened to most of the children plucked from Jewish institutions in the Paris area a mere month before the liberation of Paris, the last transport from Drancy to Auschwitz being composed exclusively of children.

Children being rounded up from Jewish institutions are a painful reminder of my own deportation to Terezin from a children’s home in Prague on 16 March 1945, six week before the end of the war.  Fortunately, I survived and will not be symbolised in New Zealand’s memorial to the 1.5 million – and fortunately neither will the 60,000 Jewish children (85 per cent of the total) whom the French succeeded in saving.

There are no faces or dates for the 1.5 million children symbolized in New Zealand’ s button memorial. Holocaust memorials take many forms but, whether of paper or of buttons, whether conceived by adults or children, they are all an expression of deep respect for the suffering of fellow human beings, and our abiding responsibility not to forget them.

And what does M Klarsfeld think of our button memorial in New Zealand?

I met Serge Klarsfeld last month in his office in rue La Boetie in Paris just off the Champs-Élysées.  When I described the memorial and told him how it had come about, he offered some suggestions aimed at putting more visual and documentary narrative into the memorial design as it is currently conceived. And then he stood up, leaned across his desk, took a pair of scissors from the draw, cut a button from the sleeve of the suit he was wearing and handed it to me. That button will be part of New Zealand’s Button Memorial to the children of the Holocaust. It is the only button from France and it stands for the 74,000 French Jewish children who perished in the Shoah.  It is an affirmation that every European country has a stake in New Zealand’s Button Memorial to the Children of the Holocaust.

 

Posted on 28th January 2013 in Jewish Holocaust