2017 UN Holocaust Remembrance Day: Speech by Dame Susan Devoy

2017 UN Holocaust Remembrance Day: Speech by Dame Susan Devoy

January 27, 2017

Makara Cemetery, 237 Makara Road, Wellington
Race Relations Commissioner
Dame Susan Devoy


I have been coming to annual Holocaust Memorial services since I was appointed Race Relations Commissioner.

A year ago I shared a taxi van up here with Vera Egermayer and several other women who are here today.
Our driver was a rude man. Impatient and grumpy.


And yet at the end of our trip, instead of moaning about him Vera turned to me and said:
This is clearly an unhappy man. I feel sorry for him and his sadness.


I’m sharing this story with you all today because Vera’s empathy for a stranger is the kind of thing the world needs more of today.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of meeting New Zealanders who were just children when they were rescued from Hitler’s concentration camps.  New Zealanders like Vera.
We are so honoured some of you are with us this afternoon.
Remarkable, unforgettable people who are our living treasures.
Our Kiwi Holocaust survivors are some of the bravest New Zealanders I’ve ever met.
Their lives are a celebration of the human spirit and a lesson that the world ignores at our peril.

So last year when I opened a copy of a local newspaper and saw a New Zealander wearing a Neo Nazi uniform staring back at me I was shocked. And disgusted.

The story was about how he and others like him were going to take part in a march against child abuse.

When we got in touch with the newspaper they asked us why we opposed anyone taking part in a march against child abuse?

I told them that it is not OK for New Zealanders to wear Neo Nazi uniforms full stop - let alone to wear them at a march against child abuse.

Why?

Because people wearing Nazi uniforms murdered 1.5 million children in World War II.

They did it on purpose and they would have kept murdering children if they had not been stopped.

A few years back the children from Wellington's Moriah Jewish School began collecting buttons - one button to represent every child who was murdered by Germany's Third Reich.


Buttons arrived at the school from all over the world, along with them stories of children.
Some murdered, others left orphaned and some vanished.


The students ended up collecting 1.5 million buttons - one button for every child murdered.


When asked why they started the button project, one of the students from Moriah School told the reporter: We wanted to make sure the murdered children weren't forgotten.

And that’s what all of us need to do.

We need to not let ourselves normalise hatred.

Where do we start when it comes to challenging hatred and racism?

I believe online hatred is something we can get better at calling out.

I believe we need better restrictions when it comes to the online forums, comments sections on some media outlet websites as well as their social media accounts.

I am keen to see our Police begin to gather hate crime statistics – at the present time this is not something they collate when responding to call outs.

Free speech is one thing.

Hate speech is another.

Those things do not belong in my country.

Not in New Zealand.

I went public in our media to call out that man and his friends who wanted to wear their Neo Nazi uniforms on the child abuse march.

We wanted to let them know that we would not stand by quietly and allow them to parade down the street.

In the end he decided not to march that day.


He said he felt intimidated by my article.


And my response to him feeling intimidated is:


Good. That was the point. We do not want you to feel comfortable, we do not want you to feel welcome wearing your Neo Nazi uniform. 

Some say we should ignore these kinds of extremists but as our survivors will tell you: Hate starts small.

Ignoring the hatred and normalising it is how it starts. 

As I looked back at the man in his Neo Nazi uniform I wondered if he'd ever had the guts to meet any of those brave men and women, fathers, mothers, grandparents I have met who survived the Holocaust 

Unlike him they have seen a real Nazi uniform up close. Not just a dress-up one.

If we are to cherish and protect our humanity: we must never forget our inhumanity.

Hate starts small: but so too does hope.

Human Rights Commission

The Commission works for a free, fair, safe and just New Zealand, where diversity is valued and human dignity and rights are respected.