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Community marks Yom Hashoah

The Wellington Jewish community marked Yom Hashoah at an event held at Temple Sinai last week, this year coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen Belsen by the British 11th Armoured Division on 15 April 1945.

The event was attended by members of the local community and representatives of the British, American, and Israeli governments.

After community representatives lit six candles, symbolising the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah, the gathering heard addresses from Holocaust Centre Director Inge Woolf QSO and Israeli Deputy Chief of Mission Avital Mimran-Rosenberg. We reproduce their addresses below.

Address from Inge Woolf QSO

Inge Woolf QSO is a survivor and Director of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand.

I was a child of 11 when Auschwitz was liberated. My mother took me to see the news films, but she covered my eyes to shield me from the horrors that were revealed.

She also shielded me from the realisation that members of my family had been taken there and no-one really knew what had happened to them. Did they live or die?

When my father was demobilised in Czechoslovakia, he contacted the Red Cross but could not find out anything through those channels at that early stage. It was only in recent years that we found out that his sister Ruzenka was among the first group of young women sold by their government to the Nazis and transported to Auschwitz for slave labour, and that a month later his parents were transported to Sobibor and certain death there.

This tragic family history informs my work at the Holocaust Centre, and I will always be grateful to first George and Hanka Pressburg and later Steven Sedley, who drew me into this work of remembrance and education for a better future.

So where are we all now 70 years later, here in New Zealand?

There was a gap of about 40 years after the war when no-one wanted to remember or talk about a time that was so painful, or remind the world that once again it had stood by and allowed a terrible genocide. Now we, who were the witnesses, have been slowly standing up, making our voices heard, and educating young people about the dangers of racial and religious intolerance wherever it takes place.

In New Zealand we thought we have been doing quite well.

In Wellington, Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch solemn commemoration ceremonies on UN Holocaust Remembrance Day were well attended. Increasing numbers of Year 10 children from schools all over New Zealand are engaged by the programmes delivered by the Holocaust Centre. In January the second group of History and Social Study teachers from all over New Zealand went to Israel for an intensive 14-day course at Yad Vashem’s School of International Studies, and returned inspired to develop teaching modules to share with their colleagues. In January the compelling Auschwitz to Aotearoa exhibition attracted record numbers of visitors to the Parliamentary Gallery at Bowen House, and this week it opens in Whangerei.

However as recent events all over the world, and some quite close to home have shown, we were wrong about “doing quite well”. It is obvious that the lessons of the largest and most industrialised genocide the world has ever known have not been heeded.

Religeous intolerance and barbarism are on the rise, and the United Nations, so bound up with political factionalism and riddled with bias, seems powerless to take leadership.

It falls to governments of countries like ours, who believe in human rights and respect for all, regardless of race or religion, to stand up, speak out, and act to protect the minorities both here and world-wide; and support those organizations, such as the Human Rights Commission, the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand and the New Zealand National Commission of UNESCO who do the work on the ground in educating our young to be better New Zealand and world citizens.

And we must all take more responsibility. It is simply not enough to remember once or twice a year. Jewish people in particular have an obligation to their martyred millions to take an active part in ensuring that future generations understand the importance of respect for difference and the value of human life and dignity.

As the generation of survivors passes on, there is a need for younger people to step forward and carry on this important and rewarding work. Please think carefully about what you can do to contribute, be it in governance, education, research, hospitality or in any other field of expertise. Step forward, volunteer your time and talent for a cause that I guarantee will bring you great satisfaction and respect.

Let this Yom Hashoah, 70 years on, be the turning point – the time we remember the terrible past and dedicate ourselves to a better future for all.

Address from Avital Mimran-Rosenberg

Avital Mimran-Rosenberg is the Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Israel.

Dear friends, here we are again, a few days following the joy of the Exodus from Egypt and the sublime atmosphere of Pesach, coming together, as one with one sole purpose: never again. Be it in New Zealand or in a far away community in the former Soviet Union, Jews turn their minds and souls to remember and vow. We remember the destruction and the violent death of 6 million and we undertake to ensure that it will never happen again.

This year marks the 70 anniversary since the defeat of the Nazi monster. For Jews these dates bring back to our collective memories one strikingly cruel fact – the slaughter of 6 million or one third of the Jewish people. We have set aside as a day of remembrance a day that is associated with the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto. We have chosen to unite with the memory of this tragedy on a date that for us, at least, symbolizes the victory of the human spirit even at the face of a certain defeat in battle. We remember and we try to find solace in the fact that despite the bestiality of the Nazis and their collaborators, the Jewish people and the State of the Jews are flourishing.

Seven decades on and those who have survived the horrors of the Holocaust are silently fading away. In the not so distant future, all we shall have will be the memories and the stories the survivors leave behind. We and the coming generations will face the task of ensuring that the story of the Shoah does not find itself relegated to dusty archives. It behooves us to raise our voice when somewhere around the Globe Jews find themselves threatened by demented anti-Semites.

As we survey the current reality, we cannot remain indifferent. Unfortunately the plague of anti-Jewish acts of violence did not vanish with the demise of the Nazi regime. In recent years, there has been a measurable rise in anti-Semitic violence directed toward Jewish individuals, communities, institutions, schools and synagogues in Europe and elsewhere Jews have been subjected to ugly hate speech and physical attacks while their synagogues and cemeteries have been desecrated.

The summer of 2014 saw an eruption of protests permeated with anti-Semitism in major European capitals in magnitudes not seen in decades. Today, in many communities, Jews can no longer publicly identify themselves without legitimately fearing for their safety while in parts of Europe, Jewish religious practices are under legislative attack. The return of jihadi terrorists with EU citizenship presents a major security threat, first and foremost for Jewish communities. Most horrific of all, recent terrorist attacks have effectively targeted Jews for death in Paris, Brussels, and Copenhagen. Even here in this country there have been cases of acts of violence and vandalism.

Last year saw many world leaders step up to denounce these developments, including strong condemnations of anti-Semitism issued by heads of state and the foreign ministers of Italy, France and Germany. International organizations also acted, including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which last November reaffirmed its 2004 Berlin Declaration on Anti-Semitism. In August, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that he deplores the recent upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks, particularly in Europe. These positive developments continued in 2015: on 22 January, the General Assembly of the United Nations held a Special Session on the subject, calling on all its members to take action to stop the spread of anti-Semitism.

These and other activities such as the meetings of the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism are essential in our ongoing effort and commitment to combat this poisonous phenomenon.

Let there be no mistake! The fact that those who attack Jewish boys on their way to school, those murderers who attack Kosher stores cannot claim immunity because of their hatred of Israel. Though they do not wear black uniforms or brandish swastikas, their goal is the same-death to the Jews. The voices that we hear may not be in German, but their message is not different. And above all, how can any decent human being ignore the threats that emanate from Teheran and its lackeys to bring about the disappearance of Israel from the map.

In the face of these aggressions we shall respond in a clear and strong voice – never again!

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