By Keren Cook for J-Wire…
Wellington resident Steven Sedley [pictured above] has been named in this year’s New Zealand Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Sedley has been awarded the Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to the Jewish community and music.
Sedley survived the Nazi occupation of Hungary in the Budapest Ghetto from 1944-45. A child survivor, along with his brother, of the persecution of Jews in Hungary, he migrated to New Zealand shortly after World War Two.
As founding Chair of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand in 2006, Sedley has been a long-serving volunteer and educator.
The Centre tells the history of the Holocaust through the lives of the refugees and survivors who came to New Zealand and seeks to empower individuals to stand against prejudice and apathy.
Sedley has contributed significant thought leadership around the relevance of learning about the Holocaust – particularly for the next generation in New Zealand.
Over the past decade, the Centre has received more than 15,000 visitors and Sedley has been involved with the education team and acted as a role model for new volunteers.
In 2017, he led the first adult education programme on the Holocaust in association with Victoria University, Wellington.
Sedley was also the inaugural President of the Hutt Valley Chamber Music Society. He helped to organise a series of Kristallnacht concerts, which have attracted audiences from the wider Wellington community.
He is also recognised as a key Jewish community contributor: From 1998-2003, Sedley served as President of the Wellington Jewish Community Centre (formerly known as the Wellington Hebrew Congregation).
Previously, Sedley trained as a teacher and attained a Masters Degree in History from Victoria University. He spent his working life as a bookseller and authored books and articles. Sedley is known for his exploration of the borderline between fact and fiction – and also explores displacement narratives.
Sedley’s story about Lili Kraus, the Hungarian pianist who lived in New Zealand, was accepted for broadcast. The story explores her life in New Zealand in the post-war years and her fictitious admirer.
While researching documents relating to Lili Kraus, Sedley discovered correspondence between the New Zealand Chamber Music Society and German Jewish composer Richard Fuchs whose music was banned by the Nazi’s.
The composer immigrated and lived out his life in New Zealand. However, he was ignored and viewed as an enemy alien in wartime New Zealand.
In the Richard Fuchs Biography, Sedley brings to light Fuch’s immense, unacknowledged talents. Among themes, the author examines the Chamber Music Societies lack of appreciation for Fuch’s past, cultural heritage and complex compositions that Sedley discovered in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.
Sedley has written about Jewish philanthropists Anne and Max Deckston, and wrote a chapter on Jewish writers in New Zealand in the major publication Jewish Lives in New Zealand (2012), edited by Diana Morrow and Leonard Bell. He has also contributed articles and reviews for The Listener.
Sedley challenges and provokes thinking as seen in his blog Witness to turbulent times, asking poignant and probing questions for the next generation.
“Seeing DVDs of old people in distant lands talking about their terrible experiences will hardly be the sort of thing young people will be interested in,” writes Sedley.
Sedley stands firm in the unique characteristics of the Holocaust and suggests the Holocaust is “significantly different” from genocides and the human rights basket.
Among his many contributions, Sedley is a trained Volunteer Support Worker for New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Services.
Steven Sedley told J-Wire: “What can I say about my appointment to the NZ Order of Merit? I am stunned, flattered, flabbergasted. I have been involved with the Wellington Jewish Community for many years. I went on the Board for the sake of my children to ensure that we continued to have a Jewish community I would want to be part of.
“This was over forty years ago, my children are in their forties. The community is still here, still faced with the same problems, but still active, perhaps more tolerant, welcoming and dynamic than it was in the past.
“I refused to side with the pessimists; where others saw problems I saw challenges, opportunities and solutions. My strength is thinking outside the box. This is how I ended up starting the Hutt Valley Chamber Music Society when the national organisation closed down the Hutt Valley series of concerts.
“This is how I got involved with the establishment of the Holocaust Centre of NZ. I tapped some outstanding people with complementary skills on the shoulder, and the success of the Holocaust Centre has far exceeded over the last ten years our wildest dreams.
“I greatly value the honour confirmed on me, but I acknowledge the support of all who worked with me.”
Steven and Judy Sedley have several children living in Israel – one is a Rabbi.
-This article was originally published on J-Wire here.