The 27th of January 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the “liberation” of the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. To honour this event there is a small exhibition of beautiful photographic images of this hideous place and superb portraits of now elderly survivors in the foyer of the Bethlehem College Performing Arts Centre:- “Auschwitz. Now”. This exhibition will be available for public viewing for several hours each day until the 1st February 2020. I would like to suggest that you take your children and grandchildren to see this creativity and then discuss how a group of human beings in such a business-like and professional manner could organise the extermination of other men, women and children.
We want to believe the Holocaust represents an unpleasant but long-gone event of our shared Western European past: that’s not true. International media regularly brings me images of political rallies in the USA “the leader of the free world” mirroring pre-World War II Nazi rallies. The hype, the identifiable branding, the chanting and a focus on blaming, denigrating and demonizing visible minority groups and that Nazi-flavoured theme of restoring national power, prestige and glory.
The event this evening, an evening which followed a perfect Bay of Plenty summer day, was presented by the Christian Education Trust and the Holocaust and Antisemitism Foundation Aotearoa New Zealand. The event featured five named speakers and an end of event exhibition opening by Tauranga’s Mayor Tenby Powell.
The venue is almost packed out but, it is packed out with people of my peer group – a peer group for whom the experiences of their parents, relatives and friends is drenched in memories of World War II. They are the people who understand what you mean if say “Auschwitz”. If you already know what “Holocaust” means there is an underlying thread of horror to the evening.
There are only a handful of young people. At first this perturbs me but later when I’ve sat through the programme of speakers and the beautifully curated video clips of elderly survivors, I’m relieved. This event does not speak to those who don’t know. They will need another voice, another pathway, a more contemporary medium and hopefully one which focuses on the calculated and systematic destruction of a multi-national ethnic and religious group and those categorized as social deviants and undesirables, without distorting the lens of horror with on-going negative comments about the current coalition government’s attitude to the state of Israel, UNESCO historical site categorizations, the United Nations, Hezbollah and Iran.
The Holocaust didn’t happen to the elderly survivors we see. It happened to babies, to children, to young people, to families, to those in fur coats with diamonds and rubies sewn in the lining, to the poor and the ordinary, to artists and professionals who had done nothing more than be themselves: to be Jewish or a minority group or a specific sector of society – like being a contemporary Mexican – that’s the information we need to be giving to the young.
And we need to make it clear that the programme of extermination was initiated by a “democratically elected” government of a “civilized” European country. And that this programme was able to be so widely and effectively implemented because of the direct support of so many communities and individuals and the inaction and indifference of so many more.
The evening’s final speaker Perry Trotter of the Holocaust and Antisemitism Foundation wants us to be aware that expanding the issue of “anti-semitism” to the wider issues of “human rights” and “discrimination” dilutes an appreciation of the reality of contemporary anti-semitism which is now inextricably intertwined with the existence of the State of Israel. As you would expect, I cannot agree. Dame Lesley Max had earlier shared being publicly told “to go back to where she came from”. But I know she’s not unique – and it would be an issue if we thought that she was. As Taiko Waititi has pointed out: this is a racist country. And on the 26th of January 2020 some people of our antipodean neighbour will acknowledge the 1838 massacre of the Gamilaroi people in north-west New South Wales.
When I see images of victims of the Holocaust, think about our inherent human inhumanity and see the faces and hear the words of the children and young people who have survived to an old age; I cry. Tonight I do not cry. Tonight only a small, silent tear appeared not because I’m over the Holocaust or I’m over persistent racism, oppression, exploitation or the general hideous behaviour of the world. Tears will change nothing. If there was an incredibly clear message from this evening it’s the same as it was in the 1930’s and 1940’s – if you see evil, speak out against it; if you see evil, act against it. Evil thrives because good people do nothing – you could hear Bonhoeffer and Niemoller speaking. No, you could hear them shouting.
The event at the Bethlehem College Performing Arts Centre was held on Saturday 25th January 2020 to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops. “Auschwitz. Now.” Shadow of the Shoah created by the Holocaust and Antisemitism Foundation, Aotearoa, New Zealand. For more information about the exhibition you can email email@example.com or Phone 021 141881 https://www.shadowsofshoah.com/home
Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.
Note: There is a significant amount of material available online about the development of the Nazi regime, their policies and behaviours and the concentration camps and extermination camps operated by them and their supporters. There is also significant material about those citizens in Germany and the countries it occupied who in their own ways opposed the Nazi regime and those who endeavoured to assist Jewish people.
When you understand how people were treated in these camps it’s difficult to believe anyone could have survived – but they did. Photographic work by the Duchess of Cambridge of Holocaust survivors is included in an exhibition commemorating the end of this particular genocide. The images shown online are again so beautiful it is impossible to believe the horror these people lived through. The use of the light and shadow exemplifies this. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-51258631
The contemporary re-emergence of anti-semitism https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/04/is-it-time-for-the-jews-to-leave-europe/386279/
There are numerous fictional and non-fictional books about aspects of the Holocaust. In 2014 ARTbop included a review of the graphic novel “We won’t see Auschwitz” which brings forward continuing anti-semitism. In 2015 “The Hotel on Place Vendome” and we also included the review by Kevin Newman of “Let me Go” – a disturbing read.
As a young student I was taken to my school class-mate friend’s home:
small dark and angry eyed
show her she said – hard demanding
The small and ordinary people
looked at each other but did not move
Show her she said – menace
entering her voice
Slowly they rolled up their sleeve
and exposed to their daughter’s school friend
the inked brand of the Jew
Thank you she said to her parents and led her
school friend out of their kitchen
music for Oz bushfire assistance
1st March 2020 at the Barrel Room 26 Wharf Street Tauranga
7th March 2020 at the Waihi Beach Hotel, Waihi Beach
14th March 2020 at The Black Sheep at Whakamarama
And while you’re waiting if you’ve got any great ideas to raise funds for our family and friends in Oz – let us know
If you can offer anything to support this fundraising project whether it’s straight up cash for the airfares, stuff for the silent auction, your time and talents to organise and promote the event, or your time and energy on the day contact Peta Clavis at The Black Sheep at Whakamarama firstname.lastname@example.org
and their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Bar—Grill/The-Black-Sheep-Bar-Grill-1521530954835376/
AND WHERE EVER YOU ARE AROUND THE BAY OF PLENTY
BE SAFE AND HAPPY AND ENJOY!