Home
Open daily from 10 am to 1pm except Saturdays and outside these hours by special arrangement. Contact us on +64 4 801 9480

Learn about the 1.5 million buttons collected for the Button Memorial project

Visit the Centre and meet our volunteers

Come Visit the Centre

The displays focus on the Holocaust and New Zealand:

  • Jewish life before and after the Holocaust.

  • Two parallel Timelines, events in Europe and the New Zealand responses.

  • The experience of the Holocaust told through the stories of New Zealand Holocaust survivors.

  • Powerful videos of Holocaust survivors telling their stories.

  • View the new exhibition 'Auschwitz to Aotearoa: Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps' about nine Jewish women, from different countries and backgrounds, who survived Auschwitz and later came to New Zealand.

  • Gain an insight into the experiences of Holocaust survivors based in New Zealand and their war-time lives.

  • Learn about the challenges refugees from Nazi Europe faced in New Zealand.

Subcategories

  • Holocaust survivors

    Holocaust survivors

     

    Each Holocaust survivor has a unique and individual story. Each survived against all odds, through a combination of luck, determination, and resilience. Every one of these stories is a testimony not only of those who were left alive, but also of those who were killed. Some survived because they were fortunate to be admitted to New Zealand before the war and could escape the atrocities, others survived concentration camps, labour camps, ghettos, yet others were saved by gentiles at great risks to their own lives. The survivors came from Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and all corners of Europe. The losses of homes, families, a whole world, a culture, are all integral parts of these stories, but they also tell of regeneration, starting a new life in a new country, adjustment, accommodation, assimilation.

    These survivors all ended up in New Zealand one way or another and made their contribution to life in this country. Stories also include accounts by New Zealanders who witnessed the Holocaust and stories of gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews.

    In Jewish tradition the command to remember, Zachor is absolute, but this memory must be accompanied by action of moral and ethical intent. These stories provide a human perspective to the experience of victims. They make the unimaginable tangible. It is up to the reader to draw moral conclusions about a historical event that almost defies understanding.

    • Frank and Alice Briess

      Frank and Alice Briess

      My parents, Frank and Alice (Lizzie) Briess, left their home in what was then known as Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the day before Hitler marched in. After six months as refugees in London they finally received permission, after three applications, to come to New Zealand on the condition that a bond of £2,000 be posted. 

      Frank Alice Claire

      They kept a diary of their experiences by keeping carbon copies of their letters home. These letters have been translated from German and give a warm and articulate account of their activities, their hopes, achievements and disappointments from 1939 to 1944.

      Lizzie’s father was a doctor, the only educated one of 16 siblings. Frank’s family had been in the spice and grain business in Moravia for many generations. Lizzie studied medicine at Prague University but married Frank just before sitting her finals. She never returned to medicine. Adele Briess, Frank’s mother, was the only close member of the extended family of over 60 who survived the Concentration Camps and she eventually came to New Zealand in 1947. She spoke seven languages.

      When I asked my father why he chose to come to this country he always answered that he turned the globe upside down to show which country was the most distant from Europe and chose that country as the place he wanted to come to. When they left Europe Frank was 31, Lizzie was 27. The letters began when they boarded ship:

      Here is an example of the letters they sent to their families:

      6th September 1939, 6.30 a.m. Where I don’t know, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, heading approximately south.

      Dear Mama, Dear Martuska,

      I don’t know if you received the last postcard we sent from European ground, which we posted on embarkation in Southampton. Most of all of course, we are glad to have our two tickets, but were upset two days after we left to see the telegram on the ship’s notice board advising that war had been declared…

      It must be a terrible feeling to have children heading for the other side of the world, without being able to get in touch with them. We have been on board now for six days and feel really good. The first few days we were seasick as the boat rocked quite a bit, but today the sea is quieter and we’re getting used to it. The ship is 15,000 tons, carrying 200 passengers; the rest of the space is for freight. Food and service are very good and if we weren’t worried about our family we could be very happy. We get the news over the radio though broadcasts are sparse. On board there are almost all English, Australians and New Zealanders. People are generally very nice, friendly and approachable. We will be celebrating Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur on board ship for the first time in our lives…On Friday they had the usual fancy dress party on board. It was wonderful, but we weren’t dressed up, though most people were. We would never have imagined that English people would be so pleasant and gay. We must say we’ve had wonderful experiences. We finished up by going to the Captain’s cabin with 13 other people. It was really great fun and we forgot our troubles. Altogether, it was like one big family. We feel accepted and are pleased that we are not treated as outsiders, rather as equals. Perhaps we are a little interesting, everyone asks question about our homeland. People only have a vague idea about it…

      We have had two days of terrible storm but weren’t seasick at all. The waves were as high as a house, the ship, despite its great size was tossed around like a rocking horse. Today, 9th October, we arrived at our destination, happy and excited and I am writing this letter from the hotel room. I cannot tell you how happy we are to have arrived. We remain, sincerely, with kisses, Yours L & F – Your children.

      Frank and Lizzi on their farm On arrival in Auckland they decided to go farming. Without any experience of farming, they took over their 42 acre farm, at Massey, just at haymaking time. They were impressed with the help provided by their neighbours and enjoyed the informality of life in New Zealand. Their letters contain many lovely anecdotes of farm life, recalling also their former lives…

      In Europe Frank and Alice had had a cook and maids, so life was very different. They were determined to make a successful life for themselves here, but always at the back of their minds was the intention of bringing as many of their family here as they could to escape the dangers in Europe and live in peace. In fact, only my father’s sister and her husband and daughter, of their immediate families, managed to leave Czechoslovakia in time.

      At the beginning of 1942 Frank and Lizzie received advice that due to a change in the regulations governing aliens, following Japan’s entry into the war, they had to sell the farm. Frank records his feelings in an undated letter…

      Then at New Year we received the well-meant but firm notification that we had to sell the farm. This hit us like a thunderbolt! I can’t repeat the exact state of affairs – I’ll only be able to tell you after we’ve won the war. I saw all our hard work of the past two years with all the effort, love, enthusiasm and energy that went into building up our lives topple down like a house of cards. Now, we’ve already come to accept the standard often repeated New Zealand expression ‘She’ll be right!’ So we went like obedient citizens to list our farm for sale with various land agents. I had my hands full, trying to cancel the building materials, poultry, plants and seeds that I’d ordered and where we had already taken delivery, to send the goods back. As things stand at present on the sale of the farm, we should not only get back what we paid but perhaps the capital we invested as well. We don’t know yet when we will have a sale. We don’t want to go farming in the back country or in the bush so we’ll head for Auckland and start up there with something new. I’m not worrying about it yet. I’ll take life easy for a bit…

      Under the Alien Control Emergency Regulations of 4th September 1939, every person over 16 who had been the subject of an enemy state had to register with the police, thereby acquiring a certificate to be produced on demand. Any change of address had to be notified. Aliens were subject to certain restrictions regarding possessions such as maps, cameras, etc., and permitted occupations and places of residence. No distinction was made between refugees from Hitler, and Nazi sympathisers. The Aliens Emergency Regulations of 1940 and the Aliens Land Purchase Regulations 1942 further restricted the position regarding aliens. The particular veto which affected Lizzie and Frank was that aliens were not permitted to own land within a 15 mile radius of an airport. It was their misfortune that their farm came within this limit and therefore they were forced to sell up and move. About that time New Zealanders’ paranoia about foreigners reached a peak, particularly with Japan having entered the war. New Zealanders were afraid that refugees might be spies, or that they would be successful and deprive New Zealanders of jobs and many were subjected to discrimination and even harassment.

      In 1942 Frank and Lizzie moved into Auckland to a flat in Mt. Eden and for some time Frank worked at the freezing works. Lizzie did piece work, like many of the refugee women. They were always on the lookout for ideas for things they could make to earn a few extra shillings. Later during the war years they, together with another couple, directed by the Manpower Office, operated a restaurant in Queen Street, ‘The Centreway’. This was frequented by American soldiers and their girlfriends. The restaurant was sold in late 1944.

      After the war the naturalisation of foreigners, which had been suspended during the war, resumed. In December 1946 my parents were naturalised and at last felt as if they belonged. In 1947, the year that I was born, Grandmama Adi came out from war torn Europe, having survived the years in a Concentration Camp.

      My aunt and uncle and only first cousin arrived also in that year to make their home in Auckland.

      During the final years of the war Frank learnt the butchery trade and after the war he acquired two meat shops in Karangahape Road, so beginning his own business. 

      My father’s eternal optimism stood him in good stead and he often remarked that he was one of the few lucky people whose work was also his hobby. Frank had a lifelong interest in sport especially soccer which he followed avidly. He skied at Mt Ruapehu long before the first chairlift was installed and the family joined a ski club in 1957. Frank was involved in the local tennis club for over 30 years as a club official and for many years he coached the juniors on Saturday mornings. He last played tennis not long before his death in 1979 at the age of 71 years. Bridge was his particular passion and he was a keen and active club and committee member. His interest was also directed to the B’nei B’rith Lodge of which he was a foundation member. His enthusiasm and easy relaxed manner enabled him to fit in wherever he went.

      Lizzie worked in the business with Frank during the formative years, less later on. She put her considerable energy into homemaking and into transcribing books into Braille for the blind. She was a great reader and always maintained an interest in the theatre, concerts and the arts generally. For the last 20 years of her life she struggled with Parkinson’s disease. Moving out of the St. Heliers home which she and Frank had built in 1945 was the last straw and she died in 1986 after a two year stay in a geriatric hospital.

      About the author

      Claire Bruell is the only child of Frank and Alice (Lizzie) Briess and was born in 1947. She grew up in Auckland, completing her education with a B.A. in History and Languages from The University of Auckland and a Legal Executive's Certificate from the Auckland Technical Institute. Her husband is Peter Bruell.

      First published in more detail in  “Identity and Involvement: Auckland Jewry, Past and Present” edited by Ann Gluckman published 1990 by Dunmore Press

       

  • The Button Project
  • Connecting the Generations
    • Auckland Second Generation

      About the Auckland Second Generation Group

      Deborah Knowles explains what it means to be a member of the Second Generation. Her personal view first appeared in the book, "Mixed Blessings: New Zealand children of Holocaust survivors remember" published by Tandem Press in 2003.

      In our Auckland Second Generation Group, we are all children of survivors and refugees from the Holocaust and we try to make sense of our unique family backgrounds.

      The idea for the book Mixed Blessings came about during one of the meetings of our Second Generation group. We had all brought along a favourite family recipe, and a memory that went with it. As the evening progressed, it seemed that the schnitzels and schmaltz were just the starting point; quite soon it was the memories that took over.

      Making sense of it all

      The recipes, the sharing of our growing-up-in-New Zealand-stories, the constant reading, and the trips to Europe, all help us to make sense of our background. However, most of all I’ve loved hearing the stories of the survivors themselves. Every time I’m told an escape story or hear about the difficulties of settling into such an alien land and language, I am reminded of these people’s tenacity, their presence of mind, their energy, their resourcefulness, and their belief that despite the humiliations and loss, life was precious and the future was a gift. I have felt privileged to listen.

      Who can belong?

      If one or both of your parents lived in Europe in the 1930s and Hitler decided they were Jewish, they were persecuted, hunted down and robbed of their assets and citizenship. Either they were forced into hiding, sent to concentration camps to be murdered or if they were lucky enough to get away, they had to leave their homes and families to become refugees. If some or all of these things happened to your parents, you are a child of a Holocaust survivor and therefore may wish to identify yourself as a member of the ‘second generation’.

      Your choice

      Of course, you can choose whether or not you acknowledge that you belong to the Second Generation Group, or whether you feel the need to share the experience, but the criteria for your membership were set in place in Germany in the early 1930s and, as such, were nothing to do with you as an individual. Nor is it anything to do with your religious affiliation. It doesn’t matter if you or your parents were Orthodox Jews, Liberal Jews, completely or partially assimilated Jews, communists, atheists, or converts to Christianity or Lutheranism, or any combination of these.

      An international club

      Second Generation groups have been formed all over the world. I’m sure there are several in New York alone, as well as in many other large American cities. The London group is extremely active and articulate, and even produces a regular magazine. Groups also exist in the larger English cities, as well as in Canada, and in Melbourne and Sydney. In fact they have appeared wherever there are enough people who share this same background. Their purpose is to provide a place where members can listen to each other’s family stories, to see the connections with their own and then, when they feel ready, to talk. If you have grown up outside the Jewish community, as I did, the group is also a great opportunity to make a few connections with all the things you missed out on.

      Our European inheritance

      We all grew up with a hazy knowledge of the country which had been ‘home’ to our parents, whether it was Hungary, Germany, Russia, Czechoslovakia or Poland. Some of our parents had escaped from these countries to New Zealand during the thirties, others came just after the war, and a further group immigrated at the time of the Hungarian Revolution.

      Our parents were refugees in New Zealand

      All were grateful for refuge in New Zealand because at that time it was hard to gain an entry permit to come here. The government was mostly interested in attracting British immigrants and it was felt that Jewish Europeans, despite their difficulties, did not have the right qualifications and would not be easily absorbed into New Zealand society. Consequently, between 1933 and 1945 New Zealand accepted only about 1000 refugees from Europe – a rather paltry few considering the serious nature of the problem. This time, to be among “the chosen,” Jews needed to have had a combination of luck, money and good contacts.

      The majority of refugees eventually settled in Auckland or Wellington and most of them made a living (according to the official statistics) in manufacturing, trade or business. All had to make adjustments to the different way of life here; it was such a long way from the cultural liveliness they had been used to, but on the other hand, it was also a long way from the danger.

      Our parents seemed different

      New Zealand society of the 1950s and 1960s appeared to be very mono-cultural. As children, we couldn’t help noticing that everybody else’s school lunches were very different from our own. They all seemed to have white bread and peanut butter, and their parents seemed so much more circumspect – they didn’t wave their arms in the air, argue loudly in a foreign language in public, or kiss and hug each other vigorously when they met. We all remember feeling, with varying degrees of sensitivity, that our parents were different.

      Painful family memories

      Growing up with European parents meant that we grew up not only with a penchant for European food and culture, but also with extremely powerful family memories. Some parents spoke of their memories, but most tried to protect their children from them. Ironically, whether they were spoken or unspoken, these memories were part of the family atmosphere – we breathed them in.

      The Czech psychologist Helena Klimova used another metaphor to describe the enduring quality of these second-hand memories:“It’s as though the experience of the Holocaust was so unbearable that it has taken more than one generation to digest it.”

      “Possessed by a history they never lived”

      Helen Epstein, writer and researcher on the Second Generation experience, published her first book, Children of the Holocaust in 1979. In it she sets out to “find a group of people who, like me, were possessed by a history they had never lived.” Most of them were not told any details of the terrifying and humiliating experiences of their parents and yet they were still affected by them in one way or another.

      One interviewee, who was brought up in Canada, put it like this: “I always had a feeling of something different in our house, but I could never pin it down. I sensed there was something mysterious, something peculiar about the past.” His mother had chosen to tell him nothing, saying, “Why should they find out? It has nothing to do with them.”

      Family silences

      Despite the family silences, the children, as they grew up, were compelled to find out more about their parents’ past. They wanted to know what it was that could not be spoken about, and they also wanted to know about their grandparents, and the aunts and the uncles – the family they didn’t have, the unknowable people whose names they bore, whose faces looked out from those precious old photos. They wanted to know what had happened to them all and yet they didn’t want to ask because they knew it was painful for their parents to remember.

      Breaking the silence

      I recognise many of these feelings, and I know that other people in our group would, too, because these are the things that we have talked about. I can still remember the relief I felt when I listened to the family stories of other group members. Suddenly I could see that my family was not the only one to be propelled towards misunderstandings of each other and eventual tragedy. I could see now that it wasn’t because we were careless or crazy but because we couldn’t talk about or ‘digest’ the events of the past.

      The lack of extended family

      Another thing that we all have in common is a lack of extended family. Many of us have felt the absence of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and their accompanying stories. For example, I am fascinated by the fact that my mother-in-law, a fourth-generation New Zealander, has 99 cousins; my husband, on the other hand, couldn’t be less impressed by the abundance of his family. Curiously, he understands my interest and he was more than happy to explore Slovakia in search of the remnants of my family.

      Our need to go back to Europe

      Of course, there is very little left of the world that our parents knew – Hitler made sure of that – but still the old buildings and graveyards are better than nothing, and occasionally there is even an elderly local who remembers a detail or two about our parent or grandparent. They did exist, because they live on in an 80-year-old memory, and in finding this person, the owner of the memory, we have found a little bit of our absent relatives. We have made a connection with our missing families.

      It is important for us to try to understand what Jewish life had been like before Hitler, so that it becomes possible to build a bridge over the void that divides the time before the war from the time after the war. Maybe then we can establish a feeling of continuity and see ourselves as part of a group of people who lived before the Holocaust, who kept themselves alive during it and came out on the other side. It has been called by some academics the creation of “a usable past.”

      And what could be more “usable” for us than our families’ recipes? They are the perfect link between the time before the Holocaust and the present. These useful little bits of home proved to be wonderfully portable, easily recreated and shared in the new land. The essential foods that didn’t exist here (like yoghurt, brown bread or salami) were soon produced with a bit of refugee know-how, and New Zealand cuisine has never looked back.

  • Righteous Gentiles

    Righteous Gentiles

     

    Righteous Gentiles are non-Jewish people who risked their lives to save Jews from Nazi genocide during the Holocaust. Granted the Medal of the Righteous Among the Nations of the World, each has a tree planted in their name in the Avenue of the Righteous on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, Israel.

    We know the stories of the following Righteous Gentiles that eventually made their homes in New Zealand.

  • Refuge in New Zealand

Upcoming events

09
Nov
Date: 09 November 2017, 19:00

Get Directions to the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand

The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand is located at the Wellington Jewish Community Centre,

80 Webb Street, Te Aro, Wellington 6011.

Open Sunday - Friday 10am - 1pm, and outside these hours by special arrangement.

Get in Touch

phone iconPhone us: +64 4 801 9480

email icon Email us: info@holocaustcentre.org.nz

facebookiconFind us on Facebook

Join our Events mailing list

A Member of AHO

The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand is a member of the Association of Holocaust Organizations - an International Network for the Advancement of Holocaust Education, Remembrance & Research

A Registered Charity

The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand is a registered charitable entity and donations are tax deductible. Charity registration number CC48551.