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.