10 Jun 2019

Thousands view Holocaust buttons

From Voices, 7:00 am on 10 June 2019

Inge Woolf is a Holocaust survivor and a born fighter. She has made it her life’s mission to ensure people remember the past and is on task to give her voice to the voiceless.

 “You look at the faces of the children standing behind the barbed wire torn away from their parents,” says Inge. “I identify just so strongly -  as that could have been me.”

Children of the Holocaust

Children of the Holocaust Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

The photo Inge is talking about is up on the wall of the National Library in Wellington.

The portraits are part of the Children’s Holocaust Memorial exhibition which opened in November 2018. To date over 8,000 visitors have seen the exhibition, half of them tourists.

Lizzy Eaves, HCNZ education manager and Massey University's senior lecturer design, Matthis Silijee.

Lizzy Eaves, HCNZ education manager and Massey University's senior lecturer design, Matthis Silijee. Photo: RNZ Sara Vui-Talitu

Dutch designer Matthijs Siljee came up with the idea for different size tables to house the buttons.

“I spent two years working closely with the Holocaust Centre on this," he says.

"You do have professional ways to design things, but I spent a lot of time looking through the buttons and got a jarring in my neck when you realised all these buttons represent children.”

Matthijs says remembering the innocent children killed between 1939 and 1945 is even more important today.

“We have a large number of buttons weighing almost one tonne – the weight of a car.”

Matthijs, who works as a senior lecturer at Massey University School of Design, says his fellow native Dutch were placed under Nazi occupation throughout World War II.

Lizzy Eaves, who recently immigrated from England to New Zealand, is the education manager at the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand.

“Yes, it’s been emotional. Before we came to show groups, I came on my own. We have beanbags and books for children and I went through to look at all the children’s photos."

Lizzy has one son and one daughter.

"I found it very hard thinking about my own children and parents who lost their own children and children who lost their own parents. I’m getting emotional now. It’s about that emotional experience and people connecting with what they read and look at.” 

Button Memorial to remember children who died in the Holocaust.

Button Memorial to remember children who died in the Holocaust. Photo: Holocaust Centre of New Zealand

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The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand's founding director, Inge Woolf, is often invited to be a guest speaker as part of her work.

“No matter how many times I do it, it’s never easy. I always take a day or two to come down or get back to normal as it all runs around my head.”

She finds the button memorial very moving.

“I have lived with this exhibition for a long time, just trying to find a venue for it and all these buttons…each one means something to me,” she said.

“Each one of them.  I just find it so incredible that somebody could have killed children.”

The Holocaust, also known in Hebrew as the Shoah, was the mass genocide of six million Jews during World War II.

Inge was born into a middle class Jewish family in Vienna and a toddler when Hitler took over Austria.

“As a 3-year-old I was very scared. Even now when I think about it, my stomach churns and skin turns clammy.”

Inge credits her dad to finding them a way out as her parents realised early on what was happening and hatched an escape to England.   

Once there, he had joined the British Army’s Czech Brigade and served fighting around Europe until the war ended.

Sadly, Inge's dad passed away prior to her migrating to New Zealand in 1958 at 23 years old.

Inge Wolf, Director of Holocaust Centre of New Zealand

Inge Wolf, Director of Holocaust Centre of New Zealand Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

Despite her age now, this sprightly 85-year-old shows no signs of slowing down.

“There’s just too much work to do,” she says.

While the button memorial is hauntingly sad, Inge says teaching people about the horrors of war genocide and hate is a priority – especially for children today.

Inge hopes this memorial is one of several to serve as a reminder for Kiwis to stand up against prejudice discrimination and apathy today. 

But the Wellingtonian admits the Christchurch mosque attacks on March 15 has left her feeling on edge.

“So many communities now need more security, but we have often said that ‘oh in New Zealand we wouldn’t need it’. But here we are.”

“Here in New Zealand we are so very far away from where it all happened and so our challenge was to make it relevant to New Zealand children.”

Inge says history has powerful lessons for each generation and she wants young people, including her own three children and five grandchildren, to be upstanders.

“Whenever I talk to a school group, I say we have to guard against intolerance," she says.

"Whether it is in a playground, don’t stand around and let people be bullied. Whether it’s in religious circumstances or on a sportsground, people have to stand up.”

She encourages Kiwis not to allow bad things to happen here.

“I think New Zealand is the perfect place to lead the world in how to live in a multicultural society.”

Hongi at the launch of the Children's Holocaust Memorial in Wellington, November 2018.

Hongi at the launch of the Children's Holocaust Memorial in Wellington, November 2018. Photo: Holocaust Centre of New Zealand

The Children’s Holocaust Memorial is currently on in Wellington but it will soon be on display in Auckland from mid-2019 and then it will move to Christchurch. 

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