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Ian McKinnon on 27 Jan 2015

Read at the Parliamentary Reception, Grand Hall, Wellington

UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2015 – 27 January:

Minister the Hon Maggie Barry; Their Excellencies the Ambassadors for Israel and Germany, both of whom most effectively represent their countries and, as with their predecessors, have always supported this Day, and other Ambassadors and High Commissioners present today at this international commemoration; the Mayor of Wellington, Celia Wade-Brown, and the Chair of the Greater Wellington Regional Council, Fran Wilde; leaders and members of our Jewish Community and, of course, survivors of the Holocaust; Dame Susan Devoy, the Race Relations Commissioner; Ladies and Gentlemen.

E nga mana  E nga reo    E nga iwi

Nau mai,    haere mai,   

Tena koutou

Tena koutou

Tena tatou katoa 

UNESCO and the NZ National Commission of UNESCO, of which I have the honour to Chair, is privileged to support this Holocaust Remembrance.  It is the 70th Remembrance Day and such a Remembrance is as important as ever.

The Greek gives us Holokaustas: the whole – burnt; in the more preferred Hebrew though, the word is Shoah: catastrophe - destruction … with these words we are able to understand the reason for this Remembrance Day but it doesn’t make it any easier to comprehend that ‘catastrophe of destruction’.

The Shoah:    it occurred in Europe, the ancestral home for many of us here, and on a continent not developing but developed, not embarrassed by barbarism but seen to be a centre of civilisation … and yet?

Rightly, In 2005 the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolutions on a Holocaust Remembrance:

  • It designated 27 January as that day, marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau
  • Secondly, it urged states to develop educational programmes so that the lessons are never forgotten.

… there is absolute commitment to the first resolution – there must be Remembrance - but a degree of disappointment in the implementation of the second.  These resolutions focussed on both the importance of Remembrance while also indicating ‘never again’ – we assume that member States had a real desire and determination to ensure that the Holocaust and such similar atrocities are never repeated - but they have been.

The theme of this year's commemoration is 'Liberty, Life and Legacy … ‘.

The purpose of today then is an ongoing recognition and tribute to those who were victims of indescribable acts and also as a mark of deep respect for those who survived. 

Here, the thanks of UNESCO must be recorded: 

To the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand and to those there who contribute to its important educational role and, also, in this 70th year of the liberation of Auschwitz, the moving publication edited by David Zwartz, 'Auschwitz: 70 years later'. 

Whichever book one reads on the Holocaust though, be it the diaries, and not just those of Anne Frank; ‘The Violinist’ by our own, the late Clare Galambos-Winter; ‘The Righteous Gentile’ – Raoul Wallenberg; and more recently ‘The Train in Winter’; there are so many …

… and whichever the photographs one studies … the horrific nature of this crime against humanity is before one and forever a blot on all our history.  Yes, for those who were victims and for those victims who survived, there must be this day of Remembrance, whether seven years after the liberation or as today, 70 years, or in the 70 years following.

But what of the second resolution (‘… never again … ‘)

- for while we must remember them, we must also not forget the legacy they left us, the legacy of those who died; the legacy of those who survived:

Holocaust survivor, Samuel Pisar, expressed his concern here that there could be the loss of that ‘awesome legacy’ … that the lessons of the legacy will be lost through the passage of time.

Again, what is that 'legacy'?  What is it that those of us who didn’t suffer should reflect on and learn from, these 70 years later - and have we?                           

I fear we the peoples who have come after have not - while we have remembered the Holocaust, and rightly mark it on 27 January, we can’t as easily claim to have accepted and given clear expression to the legacy – the legacy bequeathed to us by those there.

This is not to say, as the DomPost expressed today in Leader article and was further emphasised by David Zwartz in his words at Makara when he said that there must always be hope and optimism … that there hasn’t been change arising from the horrors of the Holocaust:

powerful movements against racism have arisen; this Day of Remembrance itself serves as an ongoing reminder of what can happen when acceptance of differences is abandoned, with hatred and prejudice taking its place.

But I think we all know on this Day what those six million might well think –

‘ … do remember us but  also remember us so that others who come after us do not suffer the same atrocities … for this is the legacy we left you.’

Here, I'm not only speaking of the indescribable acts this month in France and elsewhere but also in recent memory of acts of genocide in Rwanda, in Bosnia, in Syria/ Iraq.  Those who died in the Holocaust in those bleak years from the late 1930s must not be allowed to have suffered and died in vein – we must constantly remind ourselves and educate our young: ‘ … it must never happen again …’.

One role of UNESCO is that of education in the broadest sense, relating to such issues as cultural respect, the understanding and appreciation of others - citizenship.  But as the Director General, Dr Irina Bokova said this week to mark this Remembrance Day:

Education on the history of the Holocaust is a vital part of this struggle, which requires total commitment from teachers, the media and all social actors. It must help us to prevent future genocides. It must enable young people to protect themselves from hate speech, racism and anti-Semitism and to not be misled by the many guises they take today.

Seventy years after Auschwitz, this struggle continues to this day, because racism and anti-Semitism, based on ignorance and prejudice, continue to kill men and women.

I call upon all Member States to teach the history of the Holocaust in schools and to make the prevention of genocide and mass crimes an educational priority.

In the fight against fanaticism that killed in the past and continues to kill today, I call on all to reaffirm, more than ever, UNESCO’s founding credo:

“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.

So while on this further 27 January we reflect, and rightly so and with sorrow and shame, on the suffering and death of those in the Holocaust, let us also commit ourselves, let the world commit itself, that they will not be forgotten and nor will that lesson, their legacy. Their legacy was that we should be ever vigilant: that there be no further persecution of people because of religious beliefs, ethnicity and race ... surely we owe them that; in fact, we owe them so much more.

The Holocaust must be ‘living history’:

That the dignity of all peoples, whatever their beliefs, their ethnicities, their place, they must be respected … this ensures the legacy, while we also remember their suffering.

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