Holocaust Memorial : stories from our contributors
Each of the buttons to be made into the New Zealand Children's Holocaust Memorial symbolises a child who was loved. And each was given from a place of love and generosity from sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, grandparents and children from around the world. Recorded here are just some of the stories of our buttons.....
A Paua Button
Often beauty is hidden from the world, even from the creator of that beauty. The New Zealand abalone, the paua, has a shell that resembles a rough stone on the outside, yet the smooth interior of the shell is a rainbow of glorious colour. What purpose does this beauty serve?
It is not there to attract a mate, or for any other function. We assume that even the paua is not aware of it.
It is when the paua is gone from its shell, that we see what has been hidden. The paua no longer exists, but the beautiful shell is strong, unfading and enduring, and the colours that have come to the light, are cherished by the world.
I chose a paua button because it reminded me that although so many children lost their lives, they have not lost their loveliness, their innocence, their hidden talents. Like the figures on Keat's Grecian Urn, they have become timeless and we cherish them. They turn loss to undying beauty and exist now as a rainbow of glorious colour that captures our hearts.
Joy Cowley, OBE, Project Patron
I recently had cause to question what had become of the children in my family who had not survived the Holocaust. I wondered why it has taken me so many years of Holocaust research before trying to focus on their fate. The genocide of adults is a tragedy enough but the systematic killing of a society’s young is surely a tragedy of epic proportions. To end the life of an adult is to cut off a life already partially lived, a personality already formed, achievements already accomplished. In their interactions with people, adults are known and can be remembered for what they were and did. The killing of a child however, is a more heinous crime. Children represent the future of a people. Children’s personalities are not yet developed, their deeds and interactions remain incomplete and undone. The killing of a people’s young is a far greater crime than the murder of adults. Children suffer from the anonymity of lives not yet lived, marks not yet made, futures denied. By killing the children the Nazis tried to exterminate any future, to expunge what might have been. The potential of a people was destroyed.
In my own family I think of Eliska and Richard Repper’s 2 boys aged 18 and 15, Arnost and Jan. They were deported from Prague to Terezin where after 2 short days they were sent on to their deaths in Lublin with their mother, while their father tried in vain from outside the country to save them.
Eva and Georg Berg aged 11 and 6, deported with their parents to Terezin and then to Auschwitz where they died. They had grown up playing in the fields of Moravia around Uherske Hradiste, often visiting their mother’s family in Valasske Mezirici. What had they thought on hearing of the arrival of the Germans in the quiet little square on 15th March 1939 which had provoked their cousin to hang himself in his shop on the same square the very next day. Fear and apprehension must have must have filled every moment.
I remember also another distant cousin whose family had moved to Berlin. This small boy Egon Levi had been deported with his mother from Berlin. No clue exists as to what this little fellow might have been in time. The only evidence I found was a document held at the document archive of Bad Arolsen, a poignant record stating his name, address and telephone number, date of birth, date of inoculation and admission to Primary School and names of his parents. Held on file also, was their father’s desperate letter from England to the International Red Cross after the war seeking information about what might have happened to his wife and child.
For these young lives lost, barely begun, and for the lives of all the 1 and a ½ million innocent Jewish children, we remember them as victims of the ultimate crime against humanity.
Mihály Galambos, 1929–1944
One of the buttons collected for the New Zealand Children’s Holocaust Memorial project was given by Clare Galambos Winter for her brother, Mihály, whom she called Mishu. Aged fourteen, Mihály was murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau on 7 July 1944. Clare’s death this week at the age of 90 leads to reflection about this other life unlived, extinguished in its flush of youth.
How did Clare, the survivor, live with this knowledge? Initially with total disbelief. In fact she never completely accepted Mihály’s death, but it didn’t help her to wonder if he might still be alive somewhere, perhaps in the Soviet Union. So there was no closure. She asked me questioningly when I returned from my research trip to Europe in 2008, had I found any records of him and her mother? No, by July the German’s meticulous record-keeping system at Birkenau had broken down, so great were the numbers arriving daily. Those not selected for potential slave labour were sent to the gas chamber that day. They included children under sixteen. Mihály at fourteen was too young to live.
When she thought of Mihály, Clare would simply say ‘How could they?’ Having suppressed her memories for so long, she couldn’t remember him clearly, which added to her grief. What did they do together? What did they talk about? She tried to recall their last weeks together in the ghetto, where they lived in such close confinement, or on the terrible train journey to Auschwitz, but these memories had been buried too deep to surface at will. She recalled a bright athletic boy with an enquiring mind, a fascination for the unknown and a sense of humour. He played the accordion, which she said suited his personality. She kept his photo by her bed until she died.
15 February 2014
Taken at Clare's home, by her friend Vera Egermayer, who promised Clare that her little brother's story would be told in the Children's Memorial where he is symbolized by the button Clare donated.
Clare Winter and Vera Egermayer
A young woman in Auschwitz- a young child in Terezin say farewell without the need for words
I am sending you a button, made of paua, your famous New Zealand shell. The button has been in my button collection for almost 35 years.
This button represents my brother, Harvey Zilberstein, one of the millions of children murdered by the Nazis. He was born on April 17th, 1939, and murdered in Auschwitz on Feb 3, 1944. He was barely five years old.
We were a family of three children, one big brother, then about 10 years old, and then Harvey, and then me, at that time two and a half. We came from France, and my father had taken my older brother somewhere to prepare a hiding place for us all. I followed them some time later, with friends of our family. If we had travelled all together, we most certainly would have been picked up.
My mother was to follow with Harvey, but the evening before they were to leave, the Gestapo, accompanied by the French police, arrested them and took them Drancy, a camp setup by the French government, and from there sent on to Auschwitz.
I do not remember either one of them - something that haunts me to this day - but my father told me that I used to ask about them when we were in hiding: when Harvey would come so I could play with him, and of course, when my mother would come to hug me.
So, this button, I send with love, not just as a number, a part of millions, but a name, a neshama....
Thank you for remembering him, and all the others.
Mrs Ozi Zilberstein van Straten, (mother of three, grandmother of six).
P.S. Along with the button, I have included one of the last photographs of Harvey.
Harvey's name is recorded in the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names.
This is a very special button. This button was worn by a soldier in World War I. The soldier's name was John Paton and he was from Scotland. He was gassed in the trenches while fighting for his country. He didn't die, but he was very sick. The gas had burned his lungs. He returned to Scotland and after the war, immigrated to New Zealand with his wife and small daughter.
I remember as a child hearing my parents talking. They said, John was a good man, but he would never be a rich man, because he would do a lot of work for people and they could only pay him in kind, because they had very little money (eggs, maybe, a chicken or some meat). He was a kind and caring man. Always saw the good in people.
John and his wife Grace loved their new country. But John's time at the front had done irreparable damage to his lungs and he died at a very young age. Leaving a young wife and small family. John and Grace helped my parents who also came to New Zealand - they became our family. John and Grace were our adopted grandparents. After John died, Grace gave me this button to keep safe.
I have given it a lot of thought and I would like you to have it now. You must promise to take very special care of it, because this button has seen a lot of war time action. This is a great family treasure, that I give to your safe keeping.
I have just finished reading Anne Frank's diary. I have enclosed some very beautiful and moving sayings from her book:
I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.
I don't think of all misery, but of the beauty that still remains.
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
I have also included some buttons from my button box. They are ordinary buttons but still unique in themselves. As we all are.
Good luck with your sculpture and we all look forward to hearing about its completion.
Mrs Carol Campbell
New Plymouth, New Zealand
To Moriah School, New Zealand
My name is Aase. I am a Norwegian woman, now 63 years old, so I was born just after World War II ended.
Norway was one of the countries that Hitler occupied on the 9th April 1940. My family is not Jewish. Both my mother and my father took part in the “Illegal Norwegian Resistance Movement”, which tried to fight the German Occupation and the Nazis. My father Anders Andreassen, lost his work as public librarian, and was later put into a Norwegian Concentration camp for half a year. When he was set free, he fled to Sweden which was neutral during the war and therefore could give protection to refugees. At last he met up with my mother who was also called Aase, and my sister. My sister Turid was only six years old when they had to flee through the forests to Sweden. The Nazis wanted to imprison my mother and would most probably have killed her had she been caught. So, I am a kind of survivor too - I am living because my parents managed to survive the Nazi terror.
I want very much to contribute to your wonderful work collecting the buttons to make a visual memory.
The Nazis deported 88 Jewish children from Norway only 2 of them survived. Of the 88 deported Jewish children, there were 35 girls and 53 boys. One of them was Cissy Klein, 13 years old. The youngest was 4 months old. Most of those deported were sent directly into the gas chambers in Auschwitz.
Because Sweden was neutral, and many Norwegians wanted to help the Jews, more than 1000 Jews survived. The most famous rescue operation took place on the night of 25 October 1942 when the second raid on Jews took place. Through the Resistance Movement a woman, Sigrid Helliesen Lund, got the message: “Yes, there will be a new party tonight, and it is the small parcels we will collect this time.” "Party" was arrest, and "small parcels" would be women and children. She immediately organized a rescue operation for the 14 children in the Jewish orphanage in Oslo; some of them were refugees from Prague and Bratislava. Together with the matron and a psychiatrist, Dr. Nic. Waal and her car, they managed to bring the children into hiding and a week later walked them through the forests over to Sweden.
Here is a picture of the 88 buttons representing the 88 Jewish children deported from Norway during the Holocaust. They have all belonged to my family, and most of them are from the period 1944 - 1973.
Aase R. D. Andreassen
Dear Students of Moriah School,
Buttons meant very much to me when I was a little child. At that time we didn't have any computers, we didn't have television. We had only our imagination, our fantasy which helped us invent games and entertainment. There were lots of buttons in my mother's desk and in the little long drawers of her sewing machine, for my mother was a dressmaker. When I poured the buttons onto my father's desk a metamorphosis happened: the buttons became children, small and big, colourful and pale, beautiful and less beautiful, grey and lustrous, dull and shiny. They were the children in my school, I was their teacher and principal. How varied were our classes and activites. Some of my pupils were naughty and undisciplined / the ugly buttons / others were clever, well-behaved and well prepared for school, bright and attentive. It was a delightful time. But it changed. The war came, German soldiers came to our country in full armour, in heavy cars, on roaring motorcycles, poor men - they had to fulfill the will of an insane dictator.
I stopped playing with buttons. I began to recognise the real face of the world. Two nice girls from my grammar school disappered, Ruth and Gerta. One day, I did not find my friend Vera, who helped me with my German language, at her home. A neighbour told me that Vera and her mum commited suicide - Vera's father died in Terezin and they followed him into the 'unknown country' rather than go to Terezin too.
Jewish people were separated from us, in trams and railway trains they had to travel only in the last carriage, they were losing their jobs and had to clean pavements and parks instead. I saw gloomy people, young and old, children and babies, all of them with the David Star on their clothes, waiting to be taken to Terezin.
I have given you reasons why I am sending you my once pupils, now representatives of extinguised Jewish chidlren. There are 734 buttons from me and 493 buttons from my neighbour Mrs Hasilova. I wish you all to be strong and to make all your present and future friends, as well as all the people in the world believe that the Holocaust should not and will not happen again. To make them believe in goodness, to refuse terror and violence.
Eva Oliverius (aged 81)
Prague, Czech Republic
To the children of Moriah College,
Congratulations on your project, I hope that you will be able to add my buttons to the memorial. These are for my paternal aunts.
I have chosen multi-coloured buttons to symbolise their unique personalities, but in the same types to symbolise their close relationship.
Mother: Elka Rosenbloom, 1892 (Mostek, Poland) - 1942 (Treblinka)
Father: Shmuel Tzui Kohn, 1887 (Cmielow) - 1942 (Treblinka)
Matel Kohn 1918 (Cmielow) - 1942 (Treblinka)
Baila Kohn 1926 (Cmielow) - 1942 (Treblinka)
Tobcha Kohn 1929 (Cmielow) - 1942 (Treblinka)
Paraparaumu Beach, New Zealand
Dear Students of Moriah School,
Please find encolsed the bundle of approximately 600 buttons, which orignially belonged to my mother, who was an orphan brought out from Poland to Wellington, with other Jewish children just before World War 2 broke out. My mother was a great sewer and after she died in 1984, I ended up with her sewing kit which included her buttons.
Mum's four brothers and sisters all perished in the Holocaust back in Poland and so these buttons have special significance. They will partly represent their lives as well as many of the other children that died.
I am a semi-retired teacher in Nelson and I have taught "The Holocaust" as part of the Social Studies curriculum to my Year 8 students over the years. It is a part of history that we need to make sure is never forgotten.
All the best with your collection and display.
Nelson, New Zealand
To the students at Moriah School,
I would like to tell you why I want to donate this particular button.
Two years ago, I was on holiday in France. I knew that my route would take me past the concentration camp Natzweiler. I was very much in doubt about whether I should visit the camp or not. This particular camp was an extinction camp for political prisioners. They were sent there under a special order, given by Hitler personally, to work themselves to death. This special order was known as "Nacht und Nebel" or "Night and fog" - the prisoners were to disappear into the night and fog and never return. My uncle was one of them.
I did stop at the site on my holiday. I was amazed at how small the camp was, barely 100 x 200 metres inside the electrical, barbed wire fences, so with several thousand prisoners it must have been densely crowded. About one and a half kilometres from the camp is the quarry, where the prisoners worked every day from sunrise til sunset, quarrying huge granite blocks.
I hesitated for a long time outside the camp gates, tears running down my cheeks, but I could not bring myself to enter. In my imagination I saw the starving prisoners cramped inside the fences in rain and snow, guarded by armed men and fierce dogs. I could almost feel the stench and most certainly I felt their despair. On this pleasant hillside, thousands and thousands of my uncle's comrades had laid down their lives so that I, who am born eleven years after the war, could grow up to be a free man.
The button I want to give to your monument is taken from the jacket I was wearing that day. By doing so, I will honour the children who vanished in the Holocaust, the men at Natzweiler, and all the victims of Nazi cruelty. I shall of course never replace the button, but wear the jacket proudly to tell the story of why one button is missing.
Buttons are used to hold something together, to unite. We all need to unite if we shall rid the world of cruelty, hate, racism, and violence. To be able to contribute to your monument from the other side of the globe gives hope for the future, and tells us that the whole world needs to unite if we shall ever live in peace.
Dear Children of Moriah School,
This is a very important thing to do. We must never forget.
My parents were children in the Netherlands during World War II. They remember some of their Jewish friends being hidden by other friends. Some of the children they knew worked in labour camps. One of my father's relatives, Elizabeth, died in Auschwitz. My father feels terrible as he did not remember this happening at the time. His family was very hungry. His mother got T.B and eventually she died.
My grandmother fed many hungry people who had come from the south. South Holland was dependent on the ships bringing foods. The U-boats in the harbour meant that boats could not come and many people went hungry. My grandmother used an upside down oil drum with a fire underneath to cook on. She would cook for 30 people this way.
I have sent a pyjama button. I know that the children in camps were made to wear clothes that looked like nighties or pyjamas. This is not my reason. I always feel safe and comfortable in my pyjamas.
Children to me are our future. We lost our future. One of those childrne may have been a doctor, one an important scientist, one an outstanding musician....we lost their passion and abilities. It makes me proud that our kiwi chidlren are honouring these lost children.
Lower Hutt, New Zealand.
My dear cousin Vera has offered me some 'button therapy' to deal with the shock and pain of having recently been diagnosed with cancer.
Why 52 buttons? Because this is my age. One of these buttons is for Josef Mautner, a first cousin of ours who was murdered in Auschwitz. He was 14 years old.
Although I am not Jewish, because my mother was a non-Jewish New Zealander, I am from a Czech Jewish family and the concentration camps did claim the lives of family members. My father, Oscar Mautner, was the only Czech soldier in the New Zealand Army in World War II. One aunt, Mathylda Mautner left Czechoslovakia to live in New Zealand before the war. She returned to Czechoslovakia when our grandmother became ill and was unfortunately trapped back there when the war broke out. She perished in a concentration camp and never returned to New Zealand as she had planned to do. Another one of these 52 buttons is for Mathylda.
Vera was right, writing this note has been good 'button therapy'. I am sending these 52 buttons on their way to New Zealand for the Children's Holocaust Memorial with my best wishes and I hope to come home to New Zealand in the future and visit the button memorial.
Karen Mugnier Mautner
Tamar Zemach-Marom, Chava Pressburger's daughter, explains how she chose the buttons she has contributed to our project:
I chose three buttons for the Children Holocaust Memorial: Two on behalf of my children and one from me. They were taken from a very special box of buttons that my maternal grandfather made during WWII. It has 3 layers of buttons arranged meticulously in empty match boxes that he glued together. It was as if he wanted to put some order in the chaotic world that he had to confront.
The pink button is from me. The minute I saw it, it felt like it was the right choice for the memorial. For me, the pink symbolizes life before the Holocaust. I thought of both my parents living in a loving protective family, having comfortable lives. I could envision my mother as a girl with her brother Petr and my grandparents, taking a stroll in the streets of Prague and my father, an opera loving teenager, taking his young sister Luci to Madam Butterfly, after helping her with her homework. But all that was shattered and covered with dark clouds, like those seen on that button: Petr, my mother's brother, Anny, my father's older sister and dozens of other members of my family, as well as so many other members of my people were brutally murdered.
The blue and red buttons symbolize for me the life after the Holocaust: my brother, his daughter, myself, my children, the children of others. I gave the blue button in my son's Eden name. The blue button is like the sky, with the sun in the middle, a blossoming flower, beautifully designed, optimistic like a bright sunny day. I gave the red button on behalf of my daughter Ella. For me it is full with energy and youth, bold, happy, promising, looking forward to a better future.