This week, on Wednesday evening, we were honoured to hold an event in the Century Theatre to commemorate the United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day (UNIHRD).
The theme this year was "We are still here", focusing on the stories of the refugees who come here and those who continue to come to New Zealand, who from tragic circumstances start again and at the same time contribute greatly to our society.
This event, led by the New Zealand Holocaust Centre, acknowledged the 6 million Jewish people who died during the Holocaust – and other targeted groups, based on ethnicity, religion, sexuality, political views and other "differences".
As stated by Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, who was quoted on the night, "not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims".
Six candles were lit during the evening, each representing 1 million victims of the Nazi regime.
In keeping with the occasion being not just for Jewish people but for everyone, various representatives of our diverse community lit the candles and similar events were held around the country in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.
MC, Andy Wilson, from Napier Girls' High School, stated that having "the first UNIHRD commemoration in Hawke's Bay is heart-warming to the Jewish community".
He noted that: "We observe Anzac Day … not to glorify war, but to remind ourselves of its huge impacts on every country involved, and the tragic upheavals and losses that come out of war. In the same way, we observe Holocaust remembrance because it reminds us of the evil and tragedy of genocide."
In the keynote address given by Kristopher (Kris) Clancy, education director from the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand, he explained the significance of January 27, the date when "76 years ago, the Soviet Army marched through the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, coming in under those ironic works Arbeit macht frei (work makes one free). The world would soon come to know the extent of the lie to which the victims of the Holocaust were subjected to and the horrors they suffered. Torture. Starvation. Murder."
Kris went on to share how "Long before the first transports of Jews began to concentration camps and death camps, the hold of Nazi ideology took root in central Europe.
"Jews, seeing the danger on the horizon, looked elsewhere for refuge … By 1938, New Zealand had received, and rejected, 1731 applications from Jewish refugees.
"As New Zealand declared war on Nazi Germany and closed their borders, only around 1100 refugees would be granted clemency.
"Tens of thousands of Jews were discouraged from applying for entry, leaving them at the mercy of the Nazi regime that had stated loudly, and unequivocally, their intent to destroy European Jewry."
New Zealand has benefited greatly from the small number of Jews allowed to settle here.
"These new refugees did not just make New Zealand their home, they contributed to the fabric that makes up New Zealand society.
"From Hans Klisser, founder of New Zealand's famous bread Vogel's to Clare Galambos-Winter, a 30-year veteran of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the mark these refugees left on New Zealand is bright.
"The refugees that settled in New Zealand came from all walks of life, levels of religious observance, and experiences during the Holocaust.
"They are united in their hopes for a better, safer life here in New Zealand, and the mark they have left, both big and small on our nation.
"Creating new life, far from their shores of their birth, these refugees embody the best that is our country."
Rabbi JoEllen Duckor, performed El Male Rachamim and Kaddish memorial prayers, the first time for a female Rabbi in New Zealand, adding another important moment to the event.
However I will leave the final words to Kris: "The insidious beast that is antisemitism, hatred, and white supremacy have made their way here.
"On March 15, 2019, the effects of this hatred was brought to reality in the form of a terrorist attack against the Muslim community in Christchurch. This attack was not just an attack against an immigrant community or a minority faith. It was an attack on the very foundations of New Zealand democracy and cultural values. In the words of MLK, 'darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that'.
"Individually and collectively, we must reject the ideals that one race or one faith is superior to another. New Zealand is a better place because of our differences. It is a better country because of its refugees and those who have come here to rebuild their lives in safety and freedom."
• Laura Vodanovich is MTG director
· Behind the Scenes Tour – Hidden Art Deco Treasures. Ahuriri, Friday February 19 – Sunday February 21. Tickets available online at iticket or from the Art Deco Trust.