Prime Minister John Key shared tales of his Jewish mother's escape from Nazi-controlled Austria at the United Holocaust Memorial Day event this morning.
Mr Key addressed a crowd of about 200 people, which included Holocaust survivors, politicians and Israel's Ambassador to New Zealand, Shemi Tzur, in Auckland.
His mother, born in Vienna, Austria, moved to the United Kingdom in 1938 with her brother. She moved to New Zealand after marrying a British soldier.
She did not speak any English and left her own mother in Austria when she fled, Mr Key said.
He spoke of his mother's pain over the Holocaust.
People often asked: "Why is it that I can't speak German?
"The simple answer is my mother refused to teach me." She "did not want to reflect on her history", Mr Key said.
The prime minister also remembered times his mother was "crying in the corner" after being confronted with news stories recounting atrocities from World War 2.
Several Holocaust survivors also spoke at the memorial.
Moshe Orgad, a Serbian Jew, was adopted by a non-Jewish family when Belgrade fell under German control.
His mother's decision to flee the city divided his family.
His grandfather argued that Germans would never harm the Jews, Mr Orgad said.
Despite this, he was sent to live with "Sava" and his family. He was eventually reunited with his parents, whom he barely recognised, at the war's end.
"I was lucky to be saved from the Germans by Sava and not to be deported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps."