A recent poll indicates a widespread lack of knowledge in New Zealand about the Holocaust, raising questions for educators and others.
An awareness of the Holocaust has been with me from a very young age. An aunt married a Polish Jewish survivor. Among their friends, when I was a child, was the beautiful young Zosia Galler (who became the mother of esteemed intensive-care specialists, Aucklanders Dr Les Galler MNZM and Dr David Galler). The story Zosia told my mother, who told me, is recounted in her memoirs, As It Was.
Every story of a survivor is a story of multiple losses, hazards, luck, chance, infinite suffering and endurance. Zosia was a teen r who lived a comfortable, middle-class life before the German occupation, her father's murder in front of her, her hellish transport to Auschwitz, and her mother's death, after Dr Josef Mengele's sadistic amputation of her gangrenous foot without anaesthetic.
Zosia recounted an SS woman officer coming to the barracks, holding a white-bread meat sandwich. She held it out to the starving Zosia. When Zosia moved hesitantly towards it, she beat her savagely and fed it to her dog. That is one of the drivers of my advocacy for children.
I've known a number of survivors in Auckland, some hidden as children by Christians, and others survivors of concentration camps.
Our son, Gerard, married in Melbourne. Three of his wife's aunts, as children, were in Auschwitz. One was murdered there. The Russian liberators took photos of the few children still alive in January 1945. Eva, then about 13, looks like a haggard old woman. Eva Slonim is still alive, the elegant, haunted, matriarch of a large family. Her memoir, Gazing At The Stars, is, like Elie Wiesel's Night, a wrenching memoir of a child survivor.
The History Channel shows images of skeletal corpses, or families on the "selection" platform, we knowing what they did not, that they will die in hours. I struggle to look, but I do, to somehow acknowledge them.
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Despite the availability of so much documentary material, Holocaust denial, revisionism, diminution and even ridicule, is worrying. Years ago I challenged on radio the Holocaust denier, David Irving. In Auckland, a woman accused him of misrepresenting the Holocaust. She had escaped the Warsaw Ghetto. He turned on her savagely and said the worst she'd suffered was having to peel potatoes. This woman, Alice Newman, recently recorded her testimony in the superb Shadows of Shoah series.
There seems to be a hunger to shake off the burden of the Holocaust, the culmination of "the longest hatred", the hatred of Jews. We are hated for apparently possessing "white privilege". Paradoxically, white supremacists don't see us as white, but as working to destroy the white race. That hatred, from left and right, spews out of comment threads in some media websites beneath virtually any item about Jews. Comments include conspiracy madness, slurs and "jokes", frequently about gas. And these comments, from apparently normal New Zealanders, are rewarded with applauding, laughing emojis by other New Zealanders. This just months after Christchurch. Are they ignorant and don't know what it is they mock, or morally bankrupt, because they do know?
The Children's Holocaust exhibition at Auckland Central Library is imaginative in its use of a million and a half buttons to represent the million and a half children, mostly Jewish, who were murdered.
I honour those I know for the dignified, productive lives they have lived since that hell, never demanding special consideration; wishing only that we know and remember.
• Dame Lesley Max is a member of the Auckland Jewish Community.