Kia ora katou:
I begin by expressing what a breathtaking honour it is for me to speak today in
the presence of survivors and families of survivors, on this the anniversary of the
Holocaust and the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
I would also like to thank the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand for your kind invitation.
It means a great deal to me to be included in this profoundly
important event, and to be able to contribute in this small way to the work of the
Centre, which is to keep alive the memory of the victims of the Holocaust – but
also the lessons to be learned, re-learned, and never forgotten about the
unacceptable dangers of prejudice, the politics of hate and division wherever
they might arise.
For me personally the memory of the Nazi Holocaust against Europe’s Jewish
community – and all the violence of that regime – but in particular that genocide has
The most chilling moment in human history for me, if I had to pick one, has
always been Kristallnacht. Which, of course, was the night in November 1938
when throughout Nazi Germany synagogues were torched, Jewish homes,
schools and businesses were vandalized – broken glass, was everywhere- and
almost 100 Jews were killed.
For me this represents a uniquely terrifying moment because it was when
rhetoric, that dehumanising language used over and over again by Hitler and his
people against the Jewish community, suddenly made physical violence possible.
The Jews of Nazi Germany, were now considered less than citizens, without
rights to property, the protections of law, without human dignity. And that
moment, should be deeply frightening to us today – as we hear similar rhetoric
used against minorities, based on race, religion, ethnicity, disability, and against
the Rainbow community – including as we witness the rise of anti-Semitism in
Europe once again. When I hear this kind of rhetoric used, by which ever
government, religious leader, or media personality, on social media – I remember
that this is exactly what made Kristallnacht and the horrors that came afterward
I remember reading accounts from that night when I was in high school. Even
though these events happened in a different time and different place, I felt deeply
connected to them, in great part because I had lived under a brutal regime that
targeted minorities when I was a child.
The Iranian regime also openly dehumanised it’s minorities and political
dissidents – from Jews, who have lived in Iran for millennia, to the Baha’i, one of
the most oppressed religious minorities in the world today, even democracy
campaigners. I knew what it might be like to have your home raided by a brutal
regime for your religion, or to be made to feel like an outsider in your own
country. This is still happening, under all sorts of regimes all over the world,
So I speak out when the Holocaust is minimised by representatives of that
regime, because we have a special obligation to call out our own people to
protect the oppressed, no one else is better placed to do it.
I think the second reason I felt so deeply connected with the victims of
Kristallnacht, was that I was by then very much a member of a minority group in
our adopted homeland, New Zealand – as a Middle Eastern refugee, perceived as
Muslim, even living as much an integrated Kiwi as possible in my own mind.
I could imagine my own dad being on his knees begging for his life. We had made
friends, I for one didn’t even have an accent anymore, and we loved our new
homeland with deep gratitude. But, of course we also knew that others saw us as
different, less than Kiwi, less than deserving of equal protection, rights, or
opportunities. And I certainly experienced a bit of that backlash when I stood for
parliament last year. There was and still is persistent distrust and hate, based on
my ethnicity and again, perceived religion, on social media. There were threats of
violence, calling for shotguns to be loaded.
So we must pause and remember that it is the work of organisations like the
Holocaust Memorial Trust that make it so much easier to call out hate speech and
discrimination today, and for that we must be deeply grateful.
Touched by the grave injustice of the Holocaust, making sense of atrocity crimes,
committed by regimes against minorities has been the driver of my work all over
the world – in particular genocide and it’s aftermath.
I don’t think it’s well known but genocide as a crime was borne out of the Nazi
atrocities against the Jewish people during the Holocaust. The Nuremburg trials
that followed recognised that these acts were so egregious and so unique that
they were like no other crime. While most people colloquially use the term
genocide to denote a large number of victims – genocide is actually all about the
targeting of a group to wipe them out, based on their race, religion, ethnicity or
nationality. It can involve just one killing, or none at all, it can be committed
through sterilization, alienation of children, what matters is the motive. Genocide
is a crime with prejudice at its heart. It was the Holocaust that woke us up, as
humanity, to this particular brand of evil.
The other world changing thing that forms the legacy of the Holocaust, in human
rights terms – is something that has touched my life personally – that is the
advent of the Refugee Convention. I’ll never forget the account of Golda Meir at
the Evian Conference in 1938, recalling how she was forced to watch as
representatives of nation after nation stood and expressed concern for the plight
of Holocaust victims – as it was happening – but in the same breath declined to
provide them with refuge. In memory of the ships turned around then to face the
death camps, the international community now recognises a universal right of
persecuted peoples to asylum, even those arriving by sea. It is deeply moving as
a legacy, and one that I hope will live on in the face of the rise of populism at this
moment in global history.
So we stand here today, recognising that the Holocaust amounted to genocide, a
crime so harrowing that it harmed all of humanity alongside its direct victims.
But as we collectively feel the pain of the victims, we must also share in the guilt
and shame of the perpetrators, and those who stood silently by – some profiting
personally or politically. Those of us who have studied the Holocaust have
inevitably asked ourselves “what would I have done if I were there?”. Those of us
here today can answer that question. We would not have turned a blind eye. So
we say, as we feel the pain and the guilt and the shame of that chapter in human
history, we promise – and this promise has proven challenging to keep – but we
must promise: never again.
[Reproduced from The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand]
SEE MORE ON UNIHRD 2018 IN NEW ZEALAND HERE.