Sarah

Sir Nicholas Winton to be Patron of New Zealand Children’s Holocaust Memorial

 

News from Vera Egermayer, former Honorary Consul of New Zealand to the Czech Republic, child survivor of Terezin, now leading project to build Children’s Holocaust Memorial in New Zealand – made of 1.5 million buttons each representing the life of one Jewish child lost in the Holocaust. 

‘I  have just had confirmation from his daughter that Sir Nicholas Winton will be honoured to be a patron of the New Zealand Children’s Holocaust Memorial. Having the support of Nicky Winton who has made such an outstanding contribution to humanity strengthens our resolve to get the Memorial built.’ 

Sir Nicholas’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize again this year received world-wide media coverage and was broadcast repeatedly on radio New Zealand.

Nicholas Winton will celebrate his 104th birthday on 19 May at his home in Maidenhead, England. His patronage of the New Zealand Children’s Holocaust Memorial will be part of the celebrations. Vera Egermayer has accepted the family’s invitation to attend.

 

from Vera Egermayer

Project Leader

New Zealand Children Holocaust Memorial

The project is under the auspices of The Holocaust Centre of |New Zealand (www.holocaustcentre.org.nz)   

 

Wellington Writers Walk

Wellington’s Waterfront just got a whole lot better with four new word ‘sculptures’ for Wellington Writers Walk. Designed by architect Fiona Christeller, the concept is simple and subtle, and a little bit quirky. (Look for the pole!) The newly celebrated writers are Jack Lasenby, Joy Cowley, Sir James McNeish and Elizabeth Knox. Their words were unveiled in a happy occasion yesterday
by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae. Congratulations to all concerned.

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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.

 

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.

 

Interview with award-winning author Joan Druett

Joan Druett

Congratulations to Joan Druett whose biography Tupaia: the Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator has won the general non-fiction section of the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Published by Random House New Zealand, this is a beautiful book about an extraordinary genius who had, until now, been overlooked in accounts of Cook’s voyages.

Joan, if we consider that biography is like a marriage, it follows that you and Tupaia were destined for one another. It seems he was waiting for you, his story was waiting to be told, no one could tell it as well as you –  and the timing was right. From your point of view, why have you and Tupaia been such a good match?

That such an astonishingly gifted and powerful man was “waiting” for me to write his biography is quite a daunting thought, and yet I feel as if you are right.  That I have been writing novels and stories about my fictional Polynesian sleuth, Wiki Coffin, was probably ideal preparation for writing Tupaia’s story. Wiki, half-Maori, but raised as a Maori until the age of twelve, is abruptly carried off to Massachusetts by his American father, and is forced to make rapid adaptations to foreign thoughts and ways, much of it on European vessels.  Accordingly, I had a very good idea of the challenges Tupaia faced when he embarked on the Endeavour — not just the alien food and the strange daily routine, but the very peculiar social restrictions, focused on status and rank, that prevailed in what was a very small and crowded environment.

I recall talking to you years ago about writing non-fiction. You said ‘Think like a novelist’ – I’ve always thought that good advice, and relevant not only to writing but to research as well. How did an imaginative approach help you in your research of Tupaia?

The important thing to remember when dealing with character in both fiction and nonfiction, is that no one does anything without a good reason.  Once you understand motives, the character becomes credible, and it is possible for the reader to empathise with him (or her).  It was this approach that made writing the biography of a man who left no written record at all possible. I was forced to rely on what other people wrote about him, so my approach was to think, why did this person choose to record that, and why did Tupaia say or do that particular thing?  Each time, not only did the deductions I made reveal something about the writer, but it opened a window into yet another aspect of Tupaia’s nature.

How would you describe your creative process of writing Tupaia? Where do you allow yourself the freedom to invent, and where do you draw the line?

To write like a novelist, you have to have a clear picture of a character’s appearance, which posed a problem. While Parkinson (Banks’s draftsman) sketched Tahitians, apart from the boy, Taiata, they were not named, so I had to make deductions in order to describe what Tupaia and Purea looked like. Purea, the so-called “queen of Tahiti,” and Tupaia’s lover when Wallis arrived, posed a problem, as she was obviously flamboyant as well as tall and goodlooking, and needed a detailed description.  In 1785 the artist de Loutherbourg designed costumes for a pantomime called “Omai, or a Trip Around the World,” and I decided to use his very colourful sketch of “Obereyan Enchantress.” Finding out that John Webber, who had been with Cook’s third expedition, was a stage painter for the pantomime helped justify this decision.

Describing Tupaia was even harder. I deduced from a Parkinson sketch that priests were cleanshaven, which meant that he wasn’t bearded. Robertson, Wallis’s sailing master, wrote that Purea’s “attendance were drest in white,” so it seemed logical that Tupaia wore pure white robes. Missionary accounts stressed that members of the arioi society, like Tupaia, were goodlooking, tall, and athletic. Then studying photographs of more modern Polynesian navigators gave me the details of a crease between the brows, and the far-seeing eyes. When I had finished, the description seemed apt and right, and yet it depended on imaginative deduction.  

Describing his nature went through much the same process. I became convinced that he understood and spoke English very well indeed, which gave me clues to his sense of humour and his use of irony.  Finding a vocabulary of words provided by Tupaia and written down by Solander opened a window into his state of mind as he became increasingly disappointed and disillusioned by his experiences on the Endeavour. Recently, new evidence has come to light that confirms that the deductions I made from the vocabulary are absolutely right. The assistant surgeon, William Perry, wrote that Tupaia was told that it would take just ten months to get to Britain. (It took exactly two years to voyage from Tahiti to London.) With bitter irony, Tupaia finally remarked that Britain must be a “mere story” — that the ship must have risen from the bottom of the sea. When Perry laughed in disbelief, pointing out that great Tahitian canoes did not come out of the sea, Tupaia rejoindered, well, if it had not, “you have lost your way, and can never find Britain again.”

That Random House New Zealand used the pictorial material so lavishly and well had the effect of substantiating as well as illustrating the story I told and the deductions I had made, which was very satisfying. Unfortunately, for some technical reason, these images are not reproduced in the electronic book, and I do wonder if the text is as convincing without them.

Thank you, Joan, and congratulations again for your well-deserved success.

Thank you, Sarah, for the chance to be interviewed on your blog, and particular for your most thought-provoking and revealing questions.

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Theatre Matters

Hot news in July 2012:

  • A useful resource about New Zealand film and television and theatre is Screentalk, New Zealand On Screen.  The latest interview is Ian Pryor interviewing iconic actor Ray Henwood. Talking about his life and career, Ray pays tribute to Nola Millar ‘First Lady of New Zealand Theatre’.

 

  •  The New Zealand Theatre Archive has been awarded Lotteries funding to continue their interviews of  people who shaped our modern professional theatre.

 

  • I was saddened by George Webby’s passing last month. I first interviewed George in 1995 for the Toi Whakaari o Aotearoa: New Zealand Drama School Oral History Project, and later again for my biography of Nola Millar who was his friend and mentor. George took over the New Zealand Drama School from Nola on her death in 1974 and directed it for 16 years. The same qualities that make him a successful educator and theatre director – generosity, wisdom and much more (not least a wicked sense of humour) shine through his accounts of his life both in interview and in his memoir, Just Who Does He Think He Is? (Steele Roberts 2006). We joked that we were joined at the spine – our books were reviewed together, they sit together on my bookshelf as they did on his. He is warmly remembered. Ralph McAlister and Danny Mulheron pay tribute to George on Radio New Zealand Upbeat.

‘Survivors of the Shoah’ oral history interviews

Before I started my own interviews with Clare, I watched the video interview she did in December 1997 with Jason Walker for the project ‘Survivors of the Shoah’ by the Visual History Foundation, the organisation Steven Spielberg set up in 1994, now called the USC Shoah Foundation. I watched the interview again from time to time in the process of writing The Violinistand finally I watched it the night before the book went to print. It still moved me. You can hear Clare online at http://worldupsidedown.co.nz/viewer/19-memories-of-father,-oil-business-in-1920s

Opening of Holocaust Centre of New Zealand

Congratulations to all involved in the opening of the new Holocaust Centre of New Zealand in Wellington last night. The beautiful room at 80 Webb Street features as the special opening exhibit the story of the Deckston children who were brought to New Zealand from Poland by Annie and Max Deckston. Few of their families in Poland survived the Holocaust.

Among the exhibits the story of Clare Galambos Winter is represented, along with those of other Holocaust survivors.  Especially moving is a display of buttons collected by the children of Moriah School in Wellington, each button representing one of 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust.

In his welcome, David Zwartz, Chairman of the Wellington Regional Jewish Community, paid particular tribute to Centre’s tireless Director, Inge Woolf. Inge in her turn said that she had led what must be ‘the best committee in New Zealand’. Their intention is that the Centre will never be finished but will grow and change as new material comes to hand.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford, in his formal opening address, spoke of the need to remember the Holocaust in terms that made it relevant to everyone of us: ‘If we are to stop anything like the Holocaust happening again we need Braver Kinder Stronger Smarter people in the world.  Every one of us can be Braver Kinder Stronger and Smarter.’

I thank David for allowing me to publish his full address below.

 

***

 

Shalom, Aroha, Peace

Thank you for giving me the honour of speaking this evening.  I would particularly like to acknowledge the survivors among  us and the Ambassadors of Israel and Germany.

On 27 January many of us here today met at the Kaori Cemetery and in the Grand Hall of Parliament to mark the UN’s international Memorial Day for the victims of the Holocaust, the genocide that resulted in the annihilation of 6 million European Jews, 2 million Gypsies 15,000 gay people and millions of others by the Nazi regime. 27 January was the day Auschwitz was liberated.

Today, Yom HaShoah is a day of remembrance of the Jewish victims and resisters of the Holocaust.  It is right that there is a special day to remember the Jewish people affected by the Holocaust.

Yom HaShoah was originally set down to be on April 19th the day of the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising nearly 70 years ago. Yom HaShoah remembers the holocaust but also the resistance of the Jewish people.

In Israel  it has since 1953 been observed as Israel’s national  day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its agents, and for the Jewish resistance in that period.

As a New Zealander I like the juxtaposition of Yom HaShoah and ANZAC Day on 25th April because ANZAC Day is the day New Zealanders and Australians remember their own resistance to Hitler.  The New Zealanders who fought against Hitler and his allies were told by their Government that they were fighting for freedom and they believed it. Few of them would have understood the extent of the terror in Europe which the Jewish people faced.

It is right that New Zealanders should remember how the world allowed the dignity and rights of the Jewish people to be stripped bare.  It appropriate that we should do that so close to the day in which we remember the sacrifice that our forebears made for freedom and for human dignity and rights.

If we are to stop anything like the Holocaust happening again we need Braver Kinder Stronger Smarter people in the world.  Every one of us can be Braver Kinder Stronger and Smarter.

Remembrance is  the key to being Braver, Kinder, and Stronger and Smarter people.  We must remember how the holocaust happened in order to stop it happening again. We must remember:

  • How it happened over centuries as Jewish people were demonised and dehumanised;
  • How it happened in Germany but could have happened elsewhere given the hold eugenics  had on governing elites across the western World;
  • How widespread anti-Semitism was in Europe;
  • How it could have been stopped if enough non Jewish people had stood with the Jewish people early on and said not in my town, my community or my country  – As the Danish people did in Denmark
  • How economic recession and depression can allow space for those who would divide the human race to prosper politically; and
  • How economic development and respect for economic, social and cultural, political and civil rights are important to removing the constituency of those who would divide us.

We must remember that men who are too certain that they are right are always the enemy of liberty and freedom.[1]

We must remember to respect all difference that is real but never forget our oneness. We must remember that the perfection of unity is not in uniformity but in the harmony of diversity[2]

If we do remember those things we will be:

  • Braver – because we will stand up for our rights and the rights of others.
  • Kinder – because we will respect the human dignity of every other human being.
  • Stronger – because we will be surer of ourselves and have greater resilience when the inevitable challenges come.
  • Smarter – because we do remember what happened and also because brave kind and strong people are smarter.

Bravery, Kindness, Strength and Smartness are for everyone not the so called intelligent.

My time in Special Olympics has made me very conscious of the power of cognitive diversity.  I have seen people with intellectual disability hold their own in a Boardroom they shared with some of the world’s greatest business leaders.

The Nazis killed disabled people – the first disabled person killed was killed by Hitler’s personal order after a request from the disabled person’s parents!

Modern Germany’s Basic Law is a sign of a lesson learned by a nation but the hearts and minds of the young Germans that I taught at law school here in Wellington are a better sign.  Those young Germans understood the importance of human rights law but they also knew enough of what happened to understand their personal responsibilities.   We must ensure that all New Zealanders accept their personal responsibility – laws are not enough.

Today the first two paragraphs of Article One of Germany’s Basic Law state:

  • “(1) Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.
  • (2) The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world.”

I would feel safer in this world if more people understood that while the State has a duty in international law to respect and protect human dignity the real people who can do that are you and I and all of us in our daily lives.   The key to that is to remember.

We are in a year of 70ths that we must remember:

On January 1st 70 years ago the Declaration of the United Nations was proclaimed.  In that declaration New Zealand with 25 other countries declared the commitment to the principles of the Atlantic Charter.

They said that they were convinced “ that complete victory over their enemies is essential to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands, and that they are now engaged in a common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world.”

Each Government pledged itself to employ its full resources, military or economic, against Hitler and his allies. Each Government pledged itself to cooperate with the other Governments that signed the Declaration and not to make a separate armistice or peace with Hitler or his allies.

The sixth article of the Atlantic Charter said that: “after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, we hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want”

70 years ago in July 1942 New Zealand’s commitment to the war reached its zenith with 154,549 men and women under arms.

70 years ago in North Africa young New Zealanders led the way in the battles that defeated the Afrika Corps. So valuable were they that Churchill did a deal with the New Zealand and US governments and 70 years ago in July US Marines arrived in Wellington and the US Army in Auckland so the New Zealand troops would remain in Africa and Europe.

Most darkly though 70 years ago after about one million Jews had been killed the plans to eradicate the entire Jewish population were made. The extermination camps were built and industrialized mass slaughter of Jewish people began in earnest. This decision to systematically kill the Jews of Europe was made in Berlin on January 20, 1942.  In Germany and Poland by the end of the war over 90% of the Jewish people who had lived in Germany and Poland at the start of the war were dead.

Next year we will remember the 70th anniversary of the uprising in Warsaw.

As Peter McKenzie reminded us at Parliament earlier this year, the decision made in Berlin in 1942 was not the start of the Holocaust:

It began when the majority within a society acquiesced in acts of discrimination against minorities that were unpopular and vulnerable.

The poison so released continued when that discrimination was institutionalized, and the state began to sanction hate against that minority and suppressed opposing views.

The poison spread when those with responsibility in society closed their eyes to what was happening. This is particularly the case with professionals to whom society looks for truth and integrity. As Nuremberg shows us judges, lawyers, doctors and scientists became to a greater or lesser degree accomplices in a regime that treated minority groups as objects and was prepared to use brutality and torture and, in the end, extermination to achieve its aims.

We must remember the Holocaust. We must remember why it happened.  We must remember those who fought for freedom, for their own liberty and the liberty of others.

We must also remember that one of the most important lessons of history is not to put too much faith in constitutions, laws, courts and that freedom is not freedom to do as one likes.  As Justice Learned Hand said in 1944:

These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few – as we have learned to our sorrow.

Never forget the Holocaust when the savage few were allowed a free hand by the many that enabled the savagery.  Be so grateful that there are places like this to help us remember. Remember to be Braver Kinder Stronger and Smarter and to help others to be so as well.

Remember too that we are in the easiest part of remembering because the survivors still walk amongst us. We have remembered for 70 years but we should not be complacent.  It will be at least 100 more years before we know if the memory has stuck. We must dedicate our lives to making sure that people remember. If we do not do this it will happen again.



[1] Justice Learned Hand

[2] Rabindranath Tagore

Vera’s Story

In my post about International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2012 I referred to the opening in Parliament of the children’s poster exhibition inspired by the theme ‘Keeping the Memory Alive’.  The posters can be seen at Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies. Closing the exhibition on Friday 16 March, my friend Vera Egermayer, who organised the exhibition, gave personal meaning to the art works, and to the day itself, in the context of her own story:

I was startled to realize that today is the 16th of March. On that very date 67 years ago – the 16 of March 1945 – I was transported to the concentration camp Terezin.  Then, I was one of the youngest victims of Nazi persecution; now, I am one of the last witnesses of the Holocaust. A new identity born from fragments of memory strung into narrative.

When I visited Yad Vashem and discovered these posters I felt an instant emotional connection and a resurgence of memory. Yes, they are works of art – beautifully designed-original-arresting. Yet their immediate appeal to me personally was more emotional than aesthetic. They brought my own experience back to me in images. An experience that I have been struggling to shape and put into words for many years  (both for myself and for others) had been translated into a visual dimension – and this by young artists of today who have managed to capture the essence of something that they did not live through themselves. That is the power of the artistic imagination. It is perhaps paradoxical that I will now have to resort to words, which are my way of telling, to talk about some of my memories which have been triggered by these posters.

In this poster we see a child-a little girl – probably my age at the time- standing at the end of a railway track. She is standing there alone. No one is holding her hand. She is carrying a large suitcase and wearing lace-up shoes.  Separated from both my parents, I was transported to Terezin on 16 March 1945 in transport AE9 – the last train carrying  Jews from Prague to Terezin. The last round-up. By that time Auschwitz had already been liberated – it was clear that the war would soon be over, yet the infernal machine could not be stopped, it had its own blind momentum, and Jewish children were still being sent towards death. I don’t recall what was in my suitcase or who packed it for me but when I look at this little girl’s shoes I remember how I had to struggle to do up my shoe laces.

The Nazis murdered one and a half million children. Of the fifteen thousand who went from Terezin to death camps, only one hundred survived.

In another of the posters we see a child being thrown in the air by her father – it is a game – the child is joyful, laughing expecting to be caught, but her father will not be able to catch her because his own legs have disappeared in smoke. I can now see why my mother and father were not able to do what parents are supposed to do – look after their children, keep them safe from fear. The ground had been cut from under their feet too. They were disempowered and living in fear and degradation. My father, who was not Jewish, suddenly disappeared one day. I kept asking where he was and no one could tell me. . He was sent to a forced labour camp for refusing to divorce my Jewish mother. Divorce would have spared him persecution but removed from us the relative protection a mixed marriage provided. His resistance to Nazi pressure delayed our transportation and saved our lives. When my mother was called up for a transport, she asked my non-Jewish relatives to take me in. I now understand why they said “no”.  The ground had been cut from under their feet too – they were simply terrified and who can blame them for not putting their own families in danger.

Trust in the adult world shattered in childhood is not easily restored, even in a lifetime. That, too, is the legacy of the Holocaust and those are the memories that this poster brings back to me.

I look at the poster with the hopscotch and the Jewish star and it makes me remember how I watched other children play and I was not allowed to join them because playgrounds were forbidden to Jewish children. I was too young to be branded with a star but my mother had to have one. Once, she managed to persuade a playground attendant to let me in to play and I can still see her standing on the other side of the wire fence, looking in, with her yellow star sown on her winter coat. Little by little, the Nazis passed wide-ranging discriminatory laws designed to make Jews outcasts- pariahs in countries where they believed they were citizens. I remember how our neighbours in Prague looked the other way when my mother passed by with me at her side.

The poster with the shirts neatly stacked up with the striped and numbered one on the bottom – the object kept – strikes a cord. I had no toys to take with me to Terezin but my mother made me one by folding a handkerchief into a mouse – with big ears and a long tail. I still have that pink mouse. It is my equivalent of the shirt at the bottom of the stack in the poster, a remnant which brings back memories of a lost childhood.

There will always be such a remnant. Nothing ever disappears completely – there will always be a fragment, a thread left somewhere. Even if all the letters in a text are deleted, the punctuation marks will remain, as one of the posters displayed here today reminds us. Even if a life is extinguished, someone may want to pick up a person’s story or his photo and keep his memory alive.

Acts of kindness during hard times are never forgotten either. A Dutch couple who emigrated to New Zealand often spoke to their family about a little Jewish girl they had sheltered during the war. Sixty-five years later they found her living in Brazil. We have just learned that Yad Vashem, which provided these posters, has posthumously awarded the rescuers the title of Righteous and the ceremony will soon be conducted in Wellington by Ambassador Shemi Tzur who we have here with us today.

The past is not the past. The past does not go away. Our personal memories are etched inside us and when released, they add to the collective memory of things we must never forget as human beings. I believe that this exhibition has succeeded in its mission of Keeping the Memory alive.

In conclusion let me thank Michelle Janse and her assistant Casimar Larkin for hanging these works so effectively in this space and for attaching the accompanying texts to help our understanding. Finally sincere thanks once again to Chris Finlayson for hosting this exhibition in Parliament and for his ongoing support.