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Chris Bishop's Speech

Chris Bishop, MP for Hutt South

Speech at United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Grand Hall, Parliament

26 January 2018

It’s an honour to deliver this address, commemorating the 73rd Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27th 1945, a day which has come to be known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Today we remember the death of six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, and the death of millions of Poles, Russians, Roma, the disabled, political opponents, and homosexuals under the Nazi onslaught.

We recall their vibrant lives—as scientists and authors, lawyers and craftsmen, teachers and pupils, parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters.

And we reflect on the barbarity and sheer despicableness of the Shoah; how it came to be and how it should never happen again.

In 2002 I travelled through Eastern Europe and visited a small village named Ilya in modern-day Belarus. After the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact when Poland was carved up by Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, the area was annexed to Russia. It was home to a large Jewish population until 1942, when the area fell to the Nazis and nearly all its Jewish citizens were murdered in the town square.

The Jews of the village were marched to a pit in the middle of the town. There, German soldiers lined them up three or four at a time at the edge of the pit and shot them. It was said by the locals that they then had oil poured over them and set alight. Some – still alive. In 1944, the village was burned to the ground.

I will never forget visiting this site. I remember trying to fathom the fear and horror. I left the village with stories that could not be stomached, and a sadness that goes much deeper.

Why we remember today

Today, New Zealand is home to 7 synagogues, up to 20,000 Jews, and many other minorities with whom we must take the lessons of the past, and embrace the motto, “Never again.”

While our generation has been touched by having heard, met and loved those who lived through the Holocaust, there is a danger for the coming generation without the survivors, the Holocaust will seem as long ago as something like the Roman Empire.

It is our collective responsibility to pass the memories of the survivors onto the next generation. The memory of the survivors must become not their story, but our story, and the Holocaust must become not just a Jewish story or a Polish story or a Russian story or a Hungarian story but the story of all humanity.

It is very appropriate that this year’s theme for Holocaust Remembrance Day from the United Nations is Holocaust Remembrance and Education: Our Shared Responsibility. These words reflect the importance of our being here today, sharing the past, and the important work of the Holocaust Centre in New Zealand. This year we have our 11th commemoration of the Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Lessons for today

Sadly anti-Semitism is again on the march worldwide and New Zealand is not immune.

Anti-Semitism is like a virus – its form mutates and evolves from generation to generation but the core of it remains: the irrational, unbending, hatred of Jewish people for no other reason than they are Jewish.

The Holocaust did not start with the death trucks or the gas chambers.

It started with the identification and singling out of the Jews. The deliberate targeting of their homes, families and businesses. The spreading of lies and hate-filled propaganda. The constant and persistent refrain that the Jews were to be “othered”; that they were sui-generis, beyond the pale, not to be tolerated.

It started with people too willing to listen to that message; to accept it and embrace it.

We need people more than ever to call out anti-Semitism and discrimination when they see it.

Events of the past twelve months are troubling.

Recently a Jewish singer who is due to appear at a world music festival was lambasted publicly for daring to come here, and told she was a “representative of the Zionist regime.” She sings modern-day versions of traditional Jewish fables.

A prominent singer-songwriter who has just visited has floated giant balloons in the shape of a wild boar, with the Star of David on it, as well as dollar signs. He has likened Israel to Nazi Germany. As far as I can see, his visit has attracted no opprobrium or even public comment.

It truly is not time to be a bystander, a passerby, nor is it time to say prejudice is a problem of someone else, because it is all of our problem. Politically aware citizen engagement is key to keeping these atrocities from happening again.

In the words of my colleague, Chris Finlayson:

“The world was so traumatised by the horrors of what happened in Germany in the years 1939 to 1945 that no one ever believed it could possibly happen again. But look at the events of the past 12 months: all across Europe we see the rise of far-right parties who have anti-Semitism at their core. The phrase “never again” rings hollow. The lethal obsession with Jews changes its form every generation but the essential irrational hatred is still there. An understandable response would be despair. That is unacceptable. The beast needs to be confronted by all decent people year in and year out, decade in and decade out.

History has shown anti- Semitism will never be defeated but it must always be challenged and contained”


The Holocaust is not just a Jewish tragedy, nor is it just another dark sheet from a World War 2 textbook, but a lesson to all of us, no matter the faith, and no matter the time. This Memorial Day we spend together is not just a memorial for the millions of innocent people who died, but it is also universal because the people in this story represent all of us.

If “Never Again” is meant as anything more than a slogan, it must be an active component of our lives. A democratic system can always be vulnerable, and during our parliamentary history in New Zealand, we have learned to rely on our system and its functionality. However, one must work on it every day, and have the courage to defend our minorities and democratic foundations when they are threatened.

In the memory of those who did not live to see the future, we must not fail to learn from history, and what their experiences teach us.

I could have read from a multitude of touching accounts and quotes from survivors’ experiences, but something I feel so deeply poignant and powerful are the three sentences scratched anonymously into a wall by a victim of the Holocaust, which read:

“I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.

I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.

I believe in God even when He is silent.”

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