Holocaust Memorial Speech

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Holocaust Memorial Speech

(He Korero Maumaharatanga mo te mate Kohuru Kino nui i te wa o te Holocaust)

Korero   whakataki Speech introduction
Tihei mauri ora! 

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o ngaa hau e wha, puta noa te ao, tēnā koutou.

Ngaati Whaatua, me nga rangatira o tēnei hui, kia ora koutou.

Hear ye!

Distinguished ladies and gentleman from the four winds of the world, greetings to you all.

Ngaati Whatua, and to the organisers of this gathering, greetings.

Tuatahi,

Ka mihi ki te atua me ngaa mate puta noa,

moe mai raatau ki roto i ngaa ringa o te atua.

Firstly,

Praise the Lord and in memory to our loved ones who have passed on into his loving arms.

Tuarua,

ko taatau tenei te hunga ora kua tae mai ki runga i te karanga o te kaupapa, ara,

Te “Ra whakanui mo te Runanga Whaka-kotahi i nga Iwi o Te Ao, hei mau-mahara-tanga ki nga taangata i whaka-kohuru nui-tia, i te wa o te Holocaust”. He hui-a- tau, 27 January.

Secondly,

We the living are gathered here in Remembrance to the call;

By the United Nations for; “The International Day of Commemoration of the Victims of the Holocaust,

which is observed each year on 27 January.

Tuatoru,

Anei taku Pepeha.

I te taha o ooku maatua.

Ko Tatra te maunga

Ko Vistula te awa

Ko Lipa Galler

Te tupuna.

Thirdly,

Here is my motto/proverb.

Referring to my parents.

Tatra is the mountain

Vistula the river

Lipa Galler

Is my ancestor.

Ko toku matua

Ko Aron Galler

He tangata no te whenua o Hurae

My father is

Aron Galler

Who hails from the land of Israel

Ko toku whaea

Ko Zosia Galler

No Poorana.

My mother’s name is

Zosia Galler from

Poland.

Ko Ema toku hoa rangatira

Ko David Galler toku ingoa

My wife’s name is Ema

My name is David Galler

He kai mahi ahau i te Hohipera nunui rawaatu, puta noa te Ao

Ko Tamaki ki raro teera, ara ko Middlemore Hospital.

Ko au tetahi o ngaa Rata ara, Taakuta Poka i roto i te ICU.

I work at the biggest hospital in the world – Middlemore (Comic statement)

 

I am one of the doctors, a surgeon in ICU

Kaati,

Ka hoki wairua taku whakaaro, ki ooku maatua, ki ooku tupuna mo eenei korero arohanui, i homai e ratau ki ahau. Waimarie katoa au.

Ka huri ki te reo Pakeha.

Therefore;

Spiritually I think back in memory to my parents and to my ancestors for their stories handed down to me. I am so grateful.

I will speak in English.

Holocaust survivors and your families; Members of Parliament; Hon Dame Silvia Cartwright; Hon Consuls; Mayor of Auckland, Phil Goff; Heather Harris, Acting Director/Chief Operating Officer of the Auckland War Memorial Museum; distinguished guests.

On this day, deep into the northern winter of 1945, Russian forces liberated the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

For several weeks prior, the extermination of prisoners had been accelerating. Ten days before liberation, the SS forced 60,000 surviving prisoners out of the camp on a brutal march into Upper Silesia. From there, on foot and in freight trains, they made their way into Germany. My mother Zosia Galler, the sole child of Hilary and Cecilia, an orphan at just 15, was one of them.

My mother’s number was 72154. I grew up seeing the tattoo on her forearm. The seven was written in the European style, with a stroke across it, which is how I write it now. She acquired it immediately on her arrival at Auschwitz by train, having been crammed into a freight car with her mother and so many others that many died of asphyxiation before they could be more formally killed later. Hilary, her father, had been shot in front of them at Gestapo headquarters in Katowice a few weeks before.

This is my mother’s memory as she recorded it for us in her memoir, As It Was:

My mother was holding onto me and when we came out we were standing on a platform in a crowd. On the opposite side from us, in a row, was standing the Gestapo, the SS men, and around were soldiers with dogs. The soldiers were armed to the teeth with helmets and guns and here was this little huddle of people, old men (because the young men were all gone), women, children, old women, fainting with hunger, filthy and holding on to their few possessions. And out from the row of SS men came this tall man in a black uniform, with shiny leather boots, white gloves and a beautiful black rod in his hand. He was the most handsome man I had ever seen in my life, as long as you didn’t look into his eyes. His eyes were unbelievable … this was Mengele. He started going through the crowd – he formed us into rows with five people in a row. And he started going through the rows with the guards on both sides and he was tapping people on the shoulder saying: “Liech”, “Reicht”, “Liech”, “Reicht” – “Left”, “Right”, “Left”, “Right”. Then he came to us and he looked at my mother. “Reicht”. I clung to my mother and I was lucky. I was very well-developed for my age and was already a bit busty and he looked at me and tapped me on the shoulder “Reicht”. My mother put her arm around me and we ran to the right and my mother looked at me. “Oh, Zosia,” she said to me, “I think we are lucky. We are between the younger ones.”

But then she looked up and I did too as, all of a sudden, a grey pall came over the sky – a yellowy grey pall coming out of huge chimneys. And then all of the stories we had heard seemed to come true. And my mother looked at it – and then I will never forget what she said to me – “Remember, you have to be strong because I will never come out of here.” We had arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

She was right; my grandmother, the beautiful Cecilia, died the following winter in Auschwitz at the hands of Joseph Mengele.

Unlike the many millions of Jews, Gypsies, communists, homosexuals and so-called ‘undesirables’ who were exterminated during that time, my mother survived. She said it was by luck. But how could life go on for her after what she saw heard and withstood?

She was forever haunted by those experiences but thanks to the enduring and patient love of my father Aron, Zosia Galler became a generous, loving, glamorous, liberal minded woman and a friend to many.

It is therefore a great honour for me to stand here today to speak on her behalf and that of her parents and their community. I also speak on behalf of my father, who escaped Poland in 1939 to join the Polish Army abroad; and for his parents, younger brother and sister, and her young daughter, all of whom were killed by the Nazis. And finally, I speak on behalf of my family, my brother Leslie on call in the ICU just over there at Auckland Hospital; my partner Ema, sitting in the Alcohol and Other Drug Court further down the hill; and finally our two children, Max and Petra, who are both here today.

I have thought about what my parents would want me to say this morning. My sense is that their very first thought would be to express their gratitude for the wonderful life they shared here in far off NZ but also to implore our government to immediately increase the quota of refugees we accept.

And secondly, I know they would urge all of us, individually and collectively, to seek practical ways to honour those who were lost and have suffered; and to turn the memory of that collective horror into positive action for good, because by now it must be obvious to all of us, that building Holocaust memorials and just simply remembering has not been enough to protect those who are still in peril.

To his dying day my father could not believe his luck to have ended up in NZ, Wellington to be exact. He seized the chance to start a new life so far away from the horrors of Europe and later, he felt luckier still to have met my mother in Israel in 1952.

For my mother luck was always a double-edged sword – she said she survived by luck because there was no other way to explain it. But with that came a lifetime of anxiety, nightmares, and the ever present question of, ‘Why me and not them?’, and as a result of that, the guilt that survivors so commonly feel.

Despite their devotion to one another, life in 1952 NZ was not easy for my mother– she had experienced things no human should ever experience. She knew no English, and spoke with a thick Polish accent. Everywhere she went people would stare at her and the tattoo on her arm. She ate different food, she dressed differently and for quite some time she missed the life she’d left in Tel Aviv – the place she had made her home since 1947.

Ironically, it was these very differences that attracted people to her; like her mother, she too was beautiful; in company she was gracious and funny and people flocked to her. Wherever she went she soon became the centre of attention but always, behind all of this, was an ever-present anxiety born of her past and a sense of worry about what might happen.

Having been told so often by the doctors that my mother would never have children, years later during his speech at my brother’s bar mitzvah, my father, not a medical person, once again, attributed our presence to luck!

Les and I used to joke that maybe this was one of the reasons why my mother had so little to do with doctors. Later in life she would repeatedly say, “What do they know, why would I ever want to go and see them, they will just tell me I’ve got cancer”. This was another manifestation of her anxiety; my mother was to the last a fatalist and believed that what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. In the end she was proved right about all those doctors, when eventually her own luck ran out. On her first visit to one in decades she was told just that – “You’ve got cancer”.

Looking back, fate, luck, call it what you will, the bizarre turns in my parents’ lives, delivered them generous helpings of both horror and happiness.

I have been luckier still. As a result of my parents’ sacrifices and thanks to the beneficence that was part and parcel of growing up in a different NZ, the one we were so proud of when I was a child and student, I have been spared the hardships suffered by my parents’ generation and that of many today. I have been free from poverty, homelessness and even student debt, and certainly endured none of the misery that continues to afflict survivors and refugees of countless conflicts around the world.

But my parents taught me that with good fortune comes responsibility – in practice that seems to have been translated into an ongoing desire to engage with people; in recognising the many more things that bind us together as people than divide us, and how our trajectory as people and a nation is so intimately tied to the fate of the environment around us.

In the last decade of her life, my mother and I spent a lot of time together – usually over dinner at her place – eating her fabulous spinach and chicken crepes or occasionally the less fabulous chicken goo or on occasions, working our way through a mountain of Chinese takeaways. In truth it was me who did most of the eating – mum never ate much, preferring a glass of wine and a cigarette to food, but she was a great conversationalist and around her kitchen table, we talked about all sorts of things.

One evening she recounted a discussion with her closest friends – a wonderful group of women, almost all widows like her. All of them got their news from the same place – from the radio, the television and the Dominion newspaper. As a result they were steadily becoming increasingly fearful and anxious, obsessing about all the bad things reportedly happening in their own community and the wider world and with that they were overcome with a debilitating sense of hopelessness and gloom. “NZ and the world were going to hell in a hand-basket” was how they described things.

Our conversation, though, took a different direction – a more positive one. We spoke about the 1000 acts of kindness and love that everyday bound those terrific women together and them to their other networks of family and friends: the morning phone calls to check up and see that each other was OK; the visits; the dinners; the constant “What can I do for you?”; the genuine interest they had in each other’s lives; the endless and lively chatter. We thought, if only we could bottle that positive energy so we could send it where it was needed, when it was needed.

Of course, we also talked about those dark times in the 30s and 40s, how ordinary people could so easily have abandoned their humanity and stood by while such atrocities were committed.

We talked a lot about the world today – and wondered whether there will even be a tomorrow for much longer, and if there is – what it will be like for our children and their children. We confronted that terrible feeling of helplessness in the face great challenges: poverty and desperation at home; global warming and the impact of climate change; the turmoil and conflict elsewhere; the horrors of places like Aleppo, and so many other instances of cruelty and hate that seem to be on the rise – all things that scare us and turn us inwards, away from other people.

Looking around today we are surrounded by it more and more thanks to the likes of Putin, Trump and the European far right of Le Pen, Wilders and others who ban selected media outlets and accuse the mainstream media of telling lies; just between you and me, my mother would add Benyamin Netanyahu to that list. There are so many pressure points that could easily lead to an even greater conflict that will consume more and more of us, and our planet.

So, how should decent people act? What should we do?

When we talked about those things at the kitchen table we always came back to the same answers – the need for each and every one of us, individually and collectively, to reaffirm in the most practical ways our commitment to truth, to dissent and to each other:

  1. To truth, because the ideal subject of the slide down to totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or dedicated communist, it is the ordinary person for whom the distinction between true and false, fact and fiction no longer exists. As President Obama said recently: “This practice of selectively sorting our facts is ultimately self-defeating and more perilous to our democracy than any bomb.”
  2. To dissent, because as annoying as it can be to those who pull the purse strings or hold the power, dissent can be the highest form of loyalty and indeed, for a nation, the engine room of a healthy democracy.
  3. To each other, ultimately. As put so well by the protestant pastor Martin Neilmoller, himself a holocaust survivor:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

 Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

Sadly the lessons from those dark times seem to be continually lost on many, confirming that the one thing we learn from history is that we may never learn. The dangers of indifference, the fragility of our democracy and an ongoing absence of moral and ethical leadership are still prevalent today and together, they permit the suffering of millions to continue, stopping them reaching their potential as citizens of our world.

Today of all days should be a time for self-reflection, to question ‘the inevitability’ of what history delivers and to examine our role in making our world a better place.

 – speech presented by David Galler at the UN Holocaust Commemoration Service, Auckland War Memorial Museum, 27 January 2017.