It was a crime committed by one group of foreigners against another on the other
side of the planet about 70 years ago. So why should children growing up in New
Zealand today care about the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust?
that question is the challenge facing Inge Woolf, the director of the Holocaust
Center in New Zealand. The head of the revamped museum, which will reopen in a
ceremony on Thursday, a date that coincides with Holocaust Remembrance Day in
Israel, said her aim was to show young Kiwis why the murder of six million Jews
by the Nazis during World War II mattered in their lives.
“We have a lot
of refugees in this country, some of them are from places like Somalia and
Ethiopia and are people who have been victimized by their race,” she said over
the phone from Wellington.
“[Jews] are a very small minority group in New
Zealand and we have to make the Holocaust relevant.”
in a country that could not be further away from the killing fields of Europe
and where Jews make up a tiny fraction of the population – about 7,500 out of a
total of 4.4 million – can be a struggle. Woolf said schools do not regularly
teach the subject and as a result awareness was relatively low. That is why, she
said, the Holocaust museum housed at the Jewish community center in Wellington,
directs its efforts toward teachers as well as students.
not taught about the Holocaust unless the teacher wants to teach it,” she said.
“Many avoid it because it’s such a big and difficult subject, but we have on our
website a curriculum showing how it can be taught.”
Woolf, who was born
in Vienna in the 1930s and whose family managed to escape before the war, is one
of the few New Zealanders with personal ties to the Holocaust. The country took
in Jewish refugees from Europe in small numbers before the war and some
Holocaust survivors emigrated there afterward.
Perhaps the most famous
descendent of Jews who fled Nazi persecution in the country is Prime Minister
John Key. The mother of the National Party politician, now in his second term in
office, was a Jew who escaped Austria before the Nazi invasion. While he
does not identify as being Jewish he has spoken about his heritage at the
Holocaust museum in Wellington.
“He has visited the center and reminded
people that his mother is a survivor,” Woolf said. “He has been to and speaks at
Woolf said her museum was in the process of putting
together profiles of Holocaust survivors in New Zealand, most of which have
either passed away, like the late mother of the prime minister who died in 2000,
or are ailing.
“We have very few survivors now,” she said. “We are now
recording their stories and we now have second generation people speaking about
the Holocaust. People like me.”
New Zealand’s Chief Human Rights
Commissioner David Rutherford, Wellington's Mayor Celia Wade Brown and the
ambassadors of Israel, Poland and France will attend the ceremony at the
Its new exhibit will be on display in a larger room and
include two suitcases belonging to children who were part of the
Kindertransport, a group of young Jews from Germany admitted to the UK before
the outbreak of World War II on humanitarian grounds.
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