At Hamilton's first official Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration in the city on Thursday, community leaders condemned the common anti-vaccine narrative comparing Covid restrictions and vaccine mandates to Holocaust events in Nazi Germany.
At the event, Unesco Waikato youth leader Ethan Jerome-Leota, Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate and US Consul General Sarah Nelson affirmed that remembering the Holocaust was now more important than ever.
At anti-vaccine protests all over New Zealand signs showing the swastika and slogans invoking the Holocaust and Third Reich as well as comparing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to Adolf Hitler keep popping up. Some protesters have even been seen wearing the yellow Star Of David that European Jews were forced to wear.
Second-generation survivor Sami Cohen who was a guest at the Hamilton event is outraged by anti-vaxxers citing the Holocaust. Cohen said the only person that survived the Holocaust from his entire family, was his mother.
"It gets you upset..., annoyed.
"How dare people compare [the measures against Covid] to the Holocaust! You don't know what you are talking about."
Ethan Jerome-Leota said in his speech that we need to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day so it can never be repeated.
"This work of memory has never been as relevant as it is now.
"Because indecent and absurd comparisons drawn between the measures to fight the pandemic and the measures taken by the Nazis to persecute the Jews end up... downplaying the tragedy of the Holocaust."
He said whenever this history is questioned, whenever violence is done to the memory of the victims, the rise of anti-Semitism and hate speech is encouraged.
"More than ever we must therefore be vigilant. It is our shared responsibility to protect the truth and to keep alive the memory of all those who have suffered under the Nazi regime. To support research and documentation that can confront the fantasies of the fanatics with the reality of history.
"To honour the dead and protect the living."
Comparing vaccine mandates with the Holocaust has been used by Covid-protesters in several countries. Just on Tuesday, in the United States, anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy had to apologise after repeatedly comparing the vaccine mandate to the Holocaust.
This time, he claimed that "Things are worse for people today than they were for Anne Frank", the teenager who died in a Nazi concentration camp after hiding with her family in a secret annex in an Amsterdam house for two years.
Hamilton mayor Paula Southgate acknowledged the important work of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand.
"Right now with what's going on with Covid, we are seeing a resurgence of hateful speech that is misdirected and inappropriate.
"Let's not kid ourselves, we know, I certainly know from first-hand experience that hate-speech and discrimination do, sadly, exist here in Kirikiriroa [Hamilton] as elsewhere which is why the work of Holocaust centre is important."
The Hamilton commemoration was one of US Consul General Sarah Nelson's first public outings since starting her role.
In her speech, she quoted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who said last year it was no accident that people who seek to create instability and undermine democracy often try to cast doubt on the Holocaust.
"That's why it's so important that we speak the truth about the past to protect to facts when others try to destroy or trivialise Holocaust crimes," Nelson said.
"Sadly, Holocaust distortion which excuses, minimises or misrepresents the known historical background of the Holocaust is becoming increasingly widespread today. This distortion is often left unchecked and is a dangerous first step towards more radical forms of antisemitism, conspiracy theories and anti-democratic behaviour."
She emphasised that Holocaust distortion harms democracies, normalises anti-Semitism and fuels extremism.
"Remembering the holocaust matters. Truth matters. And resisting false narratives is our duty to uphold."