Rabbi Mizrah
Wellington Jewish Community

Last month I was invited to attend a reception in the Holocaust Center of New Zealand in honor of Joy Cowley, who became a patron of the Holocaust Center. Joy Cowley is in her 80′s a great grandmother and an author of over 1,100 books, most of them for first readers. Her name is well known to all New Zealanders who have children over 5 years old.

A feature of the reception was the button collection, a project by the day school to commemorate the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust. Inspired by the Paper Clips project, the school had decided a number of years ago to build a similar project. In order to give some kind of grasp to the children of the meaning of millions they began collecting buttons, one for each child. The project gained publicity and the buttons began coming in. It took many, many months to eventually accumulate that number, and the buttons came from all over the world as well as from within the country. 5 students, who had participated in the project, were at the reception and they discussed the project and the impact that it had upon them. They described the laborious counting, the hours and hours of sorting, numbering, labeling. They spoke of the drudgery, the counting that became almost mechanical over the months. They would take home packages of buttons to count as homework. They mentioned the sense of relief when a box of buttons arrived in the mail pre-counted.

There were individual buttons with stories, buttons that came with unique backgrounds, even buttons that came off clothing from the camps. Slowly it dawned on the students the magnitude of the holocaust and the staggering number that is a million and a half. 

I listened to the students describe the process of counting buttons, and counting more, and more…  It was a drab experience, draining and monotonous, yet so powerful and significant. Most adults would not be able to complete such a task unless there was a numbing of the mind. Every button represents a child, someone’s baby, an innocent life cut short so cruelly. The pain and aching of the heart could only grow stronger and less bearable. Eventually one would not be able to count, would not be able to see past the blur of the tears that cloud the eyes.

Large buttons, small buttons, buttons made to look like flowers; round buttons, square buttons, buttons shiny and buttons textured. Buttons of all colors, buttons that looked simple and white. A broken button with a jagged edge, buttons set with false diamonds. Buttons with wool still knotted to its holes. Plastic buttons, hand sewn buttons and buttons carved from wood. Boxes and boxes overflowing with buttons. A button overlooked, rolled into a dusty corner.

Every button a child.

Like everyone else in the room I had heard about the button collection, seen the boxes and knew about the campaign to build a monument in the city with the buttons. But hearing it again, hearing of the process and collection, we all felt the profound impact of the project anew.

In my mind I heard the word ritual, over and over again. That is what the process described. Ritual. Buttons, ritual. Counting, ritual. A numbing, monotonous act of ritual. A sensational act, the handling of sacred lives of children, running your fingers through a carton and hearing the jingle and clatter of buttons rippling and cascading over other buttons. And doing it meticulously for months and months.

A good part of religion is made up of ritual. Numbing, meaningless ritual. We go through the motions, we do what we did yesterday, last month, last year. We mumble a blessing with a blank mind we wave the four species without a second thought – because that is what we do, its what we have done every year for millennia.

The tone of the Pesach Seder is defined by ritual. Of all Jewish events none is beset with ritual as the Seder is. And these rituals differ slightly from community to community and family to family. The rituals triggers memories, sentiments, “In every generation one is obligated to feel as though he / she had just been delivered the the slavery of Egypt.”

Every ritual is a button, a precious reminder of something of great importance. Over time we lose the feeling and we need to be reminded of what these represent. Ritual is the texture of Jewish life, the ‘buttons’ that must not be forgotten. But we do forget. We toss aside buttons, allowing them to gather dust in the corner. The children, the products of these rituals remain of profound significance. We must never forget the million and a half.

Benya Klapaukh - 
United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Monday 27 January 2014

My name is Benya Klapaukh and I am a youth representative of the New Zealand Children’s Holocaust Memorial. This inspirational project began 7 years ago in a small, Jewish school in Wellington, Moriah School. Our principal had this crazy idea to collect 1.5 Million buttons, one for each Jewish child that died in the Holocaust. And so the New Zealand Children’s Holocaust Memorial began, collecting, publicising, counting buttons, and counting and counting some more. 3 short years later we reached our goal, 1.5 Million buttons. Now I can look back and see how inspirational this whole project was and still is. There were approximately 25 children in our school and we collected 1.5 million buttons, which is 60,000 buttons per child.

When children, or even adults, hear a number like 1.5 million, it is so hard to comprehend just how enormous the number is, that is where the buttons come in; they help you understand just how many innocent children were murdered by giving you the visual aid of being able to see one button for each child, all 1.5 million of them.

Now we plan to build a memorial from all the buttons somewhere in Wellington city, although we haven’t finalised a location yet. The memorial will allow the public to see every single button, which will hopefully emotionally impact many people and give them a starting block to begin their holocaust remembrance learning.

That is where this year’s theme comes in. I think the memorial, once completed, will assist children and adults to understand the magnitude of the horrors that occurred on the other side of the world, just as the buttons have taught the children of Moriah School. And that is how the memorial will pass on holocaust remembrance onto the next generation, by making it interesting to learn. And that is just what the New Zealand Children’s Holocaust memorial will do. It will give children an interesting way to learn about the Holocaust as well as inspiring them by the sheer number of buttons they can see with their own eyes that 25 primary school children collected.

The memorial will also ensure that the 1.5 million innocent lives that were lost are not forgotten but remembered and honoured. It will ensure they did not die in vain, but their passings can be used to teach the next generation what happened, so firstly the next generation can see what discrimination, racism, anti-Semitism can all lead to, so they can each do their part to stop prejudice in their little part of the world. This in turn will ensure that nothing like the holocaust ever happens again.

Thank you.

Anna Paquin:  12 November 2013

Although I had knowledge of the Holocaust I had never heard of Irena Sendler until reading the script for this film.  The nature of the work she was doing made invisibility essential for the safety of everyone rescuing and being rescued.  She risked her life every day for a cause that she never expected to receive any credit for.  And it wasn't until much later in her life that her extraordinary story became known. 


I was deeply honoured to have the opportunity to portray Irena.  Exploring this period of history through her eyes allowed me to gain an understanding of the events of the Holocaust that felt personal and visceral. 

Irena was quoted as saying 

“You see a man drowning, you must try to save him even if you cannot swim.”

She refused to concede that her work made her some kind of hero and insisted that she was simply doing what any person should do in her situation.  

But this kind of outlook is rare and people like Irena Sendler are extraordinary.  

I hope that her life and story will be celebrated and remembered by generations to come.  

Inge Woolf:   12 November 2013

In accepting this plaque on behalf of the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand I want to honour all the brave people who risked their own lives, as did Irena Sendler in the moving film we have just seen, to save Jewish lives from the horrors of the concentration camps and gas chambers.

These people showed that even in extreme cases of institutionalised state perpetrated crime against humanity, people who bravely hold true to their values of decency and care for their fellow beings can make a difference.

This can be translated to the everyday situations we find ourselves in here in New Zealand. It is one of the lessons that makes Holocaust Education so relevant to our society here today.

One of the most important things we tell young people who visit the Holocaust Centre is not to be Bystanders. It is the bystanders who allow bad things to happen. Bullying in the playground and bullying on the internet can also lead to lives being destroyed. Everyone has a responsibility to stop it happening. Only this last week we have had the case of the Roast Busters brought to public prominence after two years where they openly on their dedicated Facebook page told all their “Friends” about the crimes they had committed. Hundreds of people must have seen that page. Why, we must ask ourselves, did no-one do anything about it?

So I would like to thank the Polish Ambassador for her assistance in helping us to show this important film, enabling us to highlight these important lessons and to raise funds for the NZ Holocaust Children’s Memorial I would also like to thank everyone who gave their time to help and all our sponsors

  • Victoria University special thanks to Professor Roberto Rabel Pro Vice-Chancellor, International at Victoria University who is overseas at the moment and couldn’t be with us
  • Israeli Embassy, His Excellency Josef Livne
  • Temple Sinai Caters Rosa Mishkin
  • Polish Community caterers Krysia Reid
  • Trinity Group Hospitality Jeremy Smith  

I would like to also thank our guest of Honour, The Hon Chris Finlayson whose continued support for Holocaust Education and Remembrance is so important to our work.

I’d like to thank you all for coming, donating and signing up to be a Friend of the Holocaust Centre.

And finally I’d like to thank Carol Ratnam for the enormous effort she has put into organising this event.

Beata Stoczynska:  12 November 2013

Good evening, Dobry Wieczór, Shalom,

I welcome you all to this evening celebrating an extraordinary woman - Irena Sendler, and the purpose of which is to raise funds to build a NZ Children’s Holocaust Memorial.

I would like to thank members of the New Zealand Holocaust Centre, and individuals involved in putting this special evening together, especially Inge Wolf, Carol and Kelvin Ratnam and Vera Egermayer (Vera is in Europe and asked me to convey her greetings to all of you tonight). I want to thank Minister Finlayson for his moving and inspiring speech. My great thanks go to professor Rabel and Dr. Marco Sonzogni for their support in organizing the event and to Yosef Livne, Israeli ambassador, for joining this project.

Irena Sendler was a Polish nurse and social worker. During the Second World War and under the German Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939-1945 she was living in Warsaw. Irena Sendler saved the lives of 2500 Jewish children by smuggling them from the Warsaw Ghetto established by occupants in the Polish capital. People like Irena Sendler cannot be forgotten. She is not the only great hero to have saved other people during war time. Janusz Korczak, Tadeusz Romer or Jan Karski are also amongst the brave and noble who risked their lives to save others. In 1965, Sendler was recognized as Righteous among the Nations. It is an official title awarded by Yad Vashem on behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to non- Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Yad Vashem in Israel recognized 6 thousand Polish Righteous in the total number of 24 thousand from around the world.

I hope you will enjoy the movie The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, directed by John Kent Harrison. The film is based on the novel by Anna Mieszkowska “Holocaust Children”. The European premiere of the film was held in Gdańsk in 2009. The main character is played by the famous New Zealand actor Anna Paquin. I am very glad that tonight we enjoy the presence of Anna’s mother, Mary Brophy.

Ladies, and gentlemen enjoy the evening!

Carol Ratnam: 12 November 2013

Good evening- distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming tonight – your attendance makes all the work involved in a project like this worthwhile.

My whakapapa is that I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors. My mother was from the big city of Vienna and my father came from a small town in rural Poland – Wierzbnik.

Tonight I am going to talk about the children who were killed in the Holocaust. It’s mind boggling to think of one and a half million children.

To get an idea of how big 1.5 million is, Moriah College decided to collect 1.5 million buttons – one button for each child that was killed. The scale of this project was enormous. It has taken years to collect the buttons. Hours and hours of time has been spent in collecting and counting the buttons.

Just as it is not easy to collect 1.5 million buttons –it is not easy to bring up a child. It takes dedication. All that was destroyed in a few short years.

When we talk about the Holocaust, it is often in terms of the numbers:-6 million killed, 1.5 million of them children. It is easy to say a number, without getting the impact of the scale of the suffering and the human potential lost.

I can say a number like A4748. At work we use a filing system called EDRMS and when we save a file we give it a number A4748000. The difference is that A4748 was the number branded on my mother’s left arm when she arrived in Auschwitz from Thereisenstadt, in a cattle truck. She was only 16.

My mother was a child, so was my father. He was barely 17 years old when he had to run for his life and dive into the Vistula river with gunshot fire whizzing around his ears.

They were the lucky ones – they were old enough to survive. So many did not survive.

I want to tell you about two of them- they lived in Poland. They were my cousins.

Samuel Goldstein was my first cousin. He was two years old when my father last saw him. That is all I know about him. I have no idea what Samuel looked like – just his name and age. When I think of my other first cousins who I love dearly, even though they live far away in Australia and in the United States, I feel a pang of sadness, and emptiness about Samuel. I don’t know anything about him.

Another cousin was called Pola, named after the country she was born in. I am told she was very beautiful, but didn’t survive because she had a limp.

Anne Frank said “Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don't know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

The death of a child is the death of potential.

I wish my cousins had met a person like Irena Sendler.

What motivates me to speak is that today hundreds if not thousands of children have been killed purely because they are the wrong colour, race, religion or part of religion.

Our task for the future is to build the New Zealand Children’s Memorial as a reminder that we have to make sure that all children reach their potential living in a safe, secure, tolerant and compassionate world.

When we do get to build the New Zealand Children’s Holocaust Memorial we will see that it is made up of 1.5million buttons. Each button will be different and unique, like the children they represent.

Anne Frank also said “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world”

The world is truly a better place because Irena Sendler did not wait before starting to improve the world.

Ambassador Josef Livne: 12 November 2013

I am honored to be here this evening as we witness another chapter in the valiant effort to enshrine the memory of 1.5 million children who perished in the Shoa.

This is a very special week. A few days ago another anniversary of the infamous Kristalnacht reminded us how the attempted annihilation of the Jewish People began. The memories of those dark hours in the history of our people and indeed in the annals of Humanity can't and should not be forgotten. The savagery of a regime whose efforts were so total and comprehensive is still beyond comprehension. Children were doomed because of who they were and had no escape.

There were very few stars in the Night of Holocaust. There was very little oxygen in the black abyss that was Europe of the 1940's. Those few stars that sent rays of hope, those limited fountains of oxygen were precisely people like the one whose life will be screened soon. They are The Righteous Among the Nations. Those who knowing that the risk they were assuming was as horrifying as the faith of those they had sought to save, and yet went ahead and challenged the bestiality of the surrounding world.

Ladies and Gentlemen, how unfortunate it is that the lessons of the Shoa have not become an integral part of Humanity's Global D.N.A. As long as there are those who call for the destruction of the Jewish State, we should not let our guards down.

Before concluding allow me to bring you the message of

Dr. Mario Silva, 2013 Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)

My duties with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance have made it impossible for me to be with you in person.

But I’d like to personally thank the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand for organizing this evening’s important fundraiser.

As you know, tonight’s film is based on the true story of a woman who was honoured by Yad Vashem for her heroic efforts.

The aims of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance are in perfect harmony with those of Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand.

Canada is proud to Chair the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance on behalf of 31 member states.

We share a common dedication to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive – through education, commemoration, and research – and to paying tribute to its victims.

In viewing tonight’s film, we renew our global commitment to combat the evils of racism, discrimination and anti-Semitism.

I hope you enjoy it.

Finally and on behalf of the State of Israel it is my privilege to announce tonight that my government will also contribute towards the realization of this extremely important enterprise.

God bless you all.

Thank you

Hon Chris Finlayson (read by Paul Foster -Bell)

Good evening.

My colleague Chris Finlayson has been detained in the House and therefore cannot attend. He is very disappointed because he is so committed to this memorial and is honoured to be a patron.

New Zealand may seem a long way from the horrors of Nazi concentration camps but we have people here tonight who survived them or lost friends and members of their families.

New Zealand, along with other countries, is proud to have been a haven to Holocaust survivors. We support efforts to honour those who did not survive and we acknowledge the need to be vigilant to ensure such unspeakable acts cannot happen again.

We remember the Holocaust because in today’s multi-cultural and highly interconnected world, the need for tolerance and inclusiveness is more vital than ever.

Earlier this year, when Chris visited Auschwitz, he was pleased to be able to assure the director of the Museum there that New Zealand was increasing its contribution to the Auschwitz/Birkenau Foundation – and along with other nations, thereby help the Foundation continue its great work.

This contribution has been greatly appreciated by the Foundation. Its Director recently praised the commitments of this country to ensure that the horrors of Auschwitz are never forgotten.

If you go to Auschwitz, you can see piles of commonplace possessions, shoes and spectacles – which, like buttons saved from clothing – all represented the lives of particular individuals who perished in the Holocaust.

Statistics on a page can be hard to grasp – but the experience of seeing these material objects certainly makes them real.

So too does music, literature, the visual arts and film – as anybody who has read The Diary of Anne Frank, heard Boris Pigovat’s Holocaust Requiem or seen Schindler’s List can attest.

These are all examples of the tremendous power of the arts to act as a moral compass, to not only depict the dark side of human nature – but also to offer the prospect of hope, redemption and a way forward.

The Moriah College children who came up with the design for the Button Memorial are to be commended for capturing these qualities in their vision for the Memorial.

The buttons stand for the lost potential and blighted dreams of the Holocaust’s smallest and most vulnerable victims – and contrast with the positive message and light suggested by a sculptured candle flame at the end of a maze.

The film screening tonight conveys similar messages. I know Irena Sendler was one of many Polish people who chose to put her life on the line in the pursuit of justice and humanity for their Jewish compatriots.

I am delighted Ms Sendler’s brave and principled actions are to be commemorated with the plaque Ambassador Stoczynska is presenting to the Holocaust Centre this evening.

My sincere thanks to the sponsors who are supporting tonight’s screening and to tonight’s audience for coming along. Your commitment will help the construction of the Button Memorial maze and its journey into the light.


Celia Wade-Brown, Inge Woolf and Simone

From left: David Zwartz (standing) Paul Foster-Bell, Carol Ratnam, Josef Livne, and Beata Stoczynska

From left: Josef Livne, Carol Ratnam, Inge Woolf and David Zwartz

Paul Foster-Bell and Beata Stoczynska