Shalom, Kia ora koutou katoa and good evening. I bring greetings to Yom HaShoah 2018 from the Prime Minister the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern and the Minister for Ethnic Communities the Hon Jenny Salesa.
I’m pleased to be here after making it through from Wellington this afternoon given that a number of other guests were not able to make it due to flight cancellations, including the Ambassador and Hon Alfred Ngaro. I didn’t speak to Alfred but I do know that he would have dearly loved to have been here so I pass on his apologies and best wishes.
Can I acknowledge:
- The organisers of tonight’s commemorations, the Zionist Federation of NZ
- Members of the Diplomatic Core
- Past and present Synagogue Presidents
- Rabbis in attendance
- Community leaders and members
- And most especially tonight, survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants
Tonight is about remembrance. Recalling the evil barbarism of the Shoah. Remembering the courage and humanity of those who suffered and were murdered, along with those who heroically resisted. Also I think, it is about remembering and acknowledging the collective bravery and will of the Jewish
people to see light from even the darkest of places. Allow me to speak briefly about each of these points of remembrance in turn.
1. Speaking about the events of the Holocaust is hard and confronting. The calculated and systemic barbarism that was unleashed on your people by the Nazi regime was historic in its scope. I don’t believe that it diminishes other awful acts of genocide to acknowledge that the all-encompassing, ruthless, and mechanised attempt by an authoritarian state to exterminate, to ‘burn up’ as the term Holocaust implies, the Jewish people, was one of the gravest atrocities in human history.
Remembering and speaking about this matters because the bigotry, racism, and anti- Semitism that underlay the Holocaust still sadly exist in our world. Bearing witness and speaking up about the ultimate consequences of intolerance and hate are necessary actions to combat those dark forces and ensure that our civilisation is never again blighted by the scenes that greeted the liberators of places like Dachau and Auschwitz.
On behalf of the Minister I affirm the government’s commitment to working with you to build an open and tolerant New Zealand and to fighting against racism, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust denial whenever they may rear.
2. Remembering the people who suffered, died, and resisted matters too. The industrial scale slaughter of the Holocaust with six million Jewish people killed shouldn’t obliterate the memories of the individual men, women, and children who lived and felt love, hope, fear, and despair as persecution and oppression grew around them.
I visited Europe recently and while in Brussels and Cologne I came across a project that I am sure some of you will be familiar with. Erected in the pavements and walls of those cities and others are small plaques that simply record the name, occupation and date upon which individual victims of the Holocaust were taken away and murdered. This project, started by one man who was determined that we should never forget, embeds the lives of those people into the fabric of each city and says to all future citizens that these people lived here and were sinned against, right here in the place in which you live.
On this note can I acknowledge the work of the Auckland Holocaust Memorial Trust in
keeping alive the memory of those people through the Garden of Humanity Project which is to be based around a gift of cobblestones, taken from the Warsaw ghetto, a site of valiance beyond belief during the uprising of 1943. I met recently with Bob Narev about this endeavour and I offer my fullest support for a project that I believe will be important not only for the Jewish community, but many others in our diverse society.
3. Finally, tonight is a time to remember that even at the end of an unprecedented campaign to annihilate your people, the Jewish people survived. In the bleakest of circumstances people held together, helped one another, sometimes found protection in decent people around them, held on to faith, and at the end, looked forward and walked into life again.
Your community should take immense pride in this, and to those of you who witnessed, survived, and rebuilt, you have my awe and respect.
In this vein I would like to end with the famous words carved into a cellar door in Cologne by Jewish people sheltering from the evil cloud that had descended upon them:
“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining
I believe in love even when feeling it not
I believe in God even when he is silent”
It’s an honour to be with you this Yom HaShoah. Shalom.