On being an ‘upstander’

Published on 9th May, 2021

Published in WelCom May 2021

Mary Eastham

Chris Harris, Chief Executive, Holocaust Centre New Zealand, spoke to Palmerston North’s interfaith group on Holocaust Memorial Day, 8 April, at Te Manawa Art and Science Centre, where the Children’s Holocaust Memorial is exhibited until 27 June.

Remembrance, Understanding, Action. These principles underpinned the message of Chris Harris, CEO of the Holocaust Centre in New Zealand to the Palmerston North interfaith group on 8 April – Holocaust Memorial Day.

Chris addressed us at Te Manawa Art and Science Centre where the Children’s Holocaust Memorial is exhibited until 27 June, 2021.

We learned that Chris’ ancestry is Polish. He grew up in Ireland where his Polish great grandfather had got a job in 1938. He took only his youngest child with him – Chris’ grandmother – because the other children were in school. His wife and other children were to join them later. The Nazi invasion of Poland prevented their departure and they perished in the death camps. For safety reasons, Chris’ great grandfather and his grandmother became Catholics in Ireland.

As we sat with that story, Chris showed us a video of Jewish culture in Czechoslovakia before the Nazi occupation: happy people dancing and singing, earnest young people studying.

Chris also described how Jews were scapegoated for the suffering of the German people after World War 1, and how Nazi propaganda drew on the anti-Semitic elements of Christianity, such as ‘Jews were Christ killers’, to intensify sentiment against them. In 1959, Pope John XXIII removed the phrase, ‘those perfidious Jews’ as part of the Good Friday liturgy.

Being an upstander, that is, standing up for justice, is very important. Chris pointed out with great enthusiasm all the ways Catholics and other Christians had risked their lives to rescue Jews. If being an upstander for justice was important during the Nazi occupation, it is just as important now.

Chris shared the alarming statistic that 70 per cent of high school students in New Zealand had never heard of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust must always be a ‘Dangerous Memory’, to use German political theologian Johann Baptist Metz’s phrase. People must never forget the scale of this catastrophe, lest we come to accept as normal the suffering that human beings can inflict on one another. We must remember, we must understand and we must act.

For Holocaust education in your high school, contact Holocaust Centre of New Zealand, [email protected] or (04) 801 9480.

During the years of the Holocaust, the Nazi regime in Germany oversaw the killing of six million Jews and millions more Romani, Poles, Russians, LGBTQ people and disabled people. The Children’s Holocaust Memorial exhibition at Te Manawa Museum, Palmerston North, remembers the 1.5 million of these victims who were children.

The memorial is a collection of 1.5 million buttons, gathered from all over the world. Each one represents a child who perished. It illustrates the sheer vastness of the number of children killed and to ensure they will not be forgotten. It was established to honour and give a voice to the children and serve as a reminder to stand up to prejudice, discrimination and apathy.

Photos: Te Manawa


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