By Holocaust Centre of New Zealand CEO Chris Harris…
When 18th-century Anglo-Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke said that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, he could not have imagined what the future would hold, and how his words would resonate for the world we live in today.
History is inexorably defined by the actions of those who live in the world, and the impact they have on generations that follow.
The Holocaust is one of these historical events. The murder of six million Jews and more than five million others who were seen as enemies of the Nazi ideology did not start with the plan of mass murder, but with words.
In recent times, we have seen an escalation of racism, discrimination and intolerance. This was the case in 1938 when the Nazi regime’s propaganda – literature, film and speeches – was used to discriminate against and isolate the Jewish people.
On November 9-10, Jewish people around the world will remember the events of the Kristallnacht? pogrom – “night of broken glass” – in 1938, when thousands of Jewish businesses, more than 1400 synagogues and icons of Jewish identity were destroyed, not by the Nazis, but by the ordinary citizens of Germany and Austria.
The aftermath of this event would see 30,000 men taken to concentration camps, and the public acceptance of what the Nazis and their collaborators were trying to achieve: the extermination of the Jewish people.
German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels used words to incite ordinary citizens to become murderers and to be complicit in these horrific crimes against humanity.
Did the people of Austria and Germany have a chance to say no, and to stand up for what they believed was wrong? The answer is yes.
Kristallnacht was the last opportunity for the citizens of those nations to stand up in support of the Jewish people who had lived and worked among them for centuries.
Holocaust survivor and historian Professor Zvi Bacharach wrote of his family’s experience of Kristallnacht: “They couldn’t comprehend it. It came as a blow. I remember my mother standing pale and crying … I remember her phoning her gentile friends – she had more gentile friends than Jewish friends – No answer. No-one answered her.”
This year is the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht. The Jewish community of New Zealand will pause, remember, but also provide hope through music that nothing like this shall never happen again.
With this year’s theme of unity, the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand, the Jewish community and the New Zealand School of Music –Te K?k? held a concert in Wellington, both to commemorate Kristallnacht, and also to celebrate unity.
HCNZ is determined that the world should be a place where we don’t hide because of who we are. That we are proud to represent our communities, and that we don’t stand by and allow words of hate, discrimination and prejudice.
Words can do great harm, but they can also heal, shape and embrace communities. We call on all New Zealanders to use words in a way that can effect positive change.
* The Kristallnacht concert was a joint event between the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand and the New Zealand School of Music – Te K?k?. It was held at Beth El Synagogue in Webb St, Wellington on Sunday.
This article was originally published in the Dom-Post. It is republished here with the permission of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand.