Attorney-General Minister Hon Chris Finlayson,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today we commemorate the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi Concentration Camp in Auschwitz. On this occasion we also observe the United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I am honoured of being invited by the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand to say a few words about heroes who helped Jews and paid the ultimate price during the World War Two.

We know the name of Janusz Korczak who established a Jewish orphanage Dom Sierot in 1912 in Warsaw. During the war the orphanage was moved inside the Warsaw ghetto. Korczak received many offers to escape from the ghetto, but he refused because he did not want to abandon the children. On August 5, 1942, Korczak joined nearly 200 children and orphanage staff members who were rounded up for deportation to the death camp Treblinka, where they were all murdered.

You may also remember the story of a Polish nurse and social worker Irena Sendler who smuggled approximately 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. She provided them with false identity documents and shelter outside the Ghetto, saving those children from the Holocaust. Aside of diplomats who issued visas to help Jews flee Europe, Sendler alone saved more Jews than any other individual during the Holocaust.

I have chosen these two brave persons in reference to the topic of the latest Paul Seideman Essay Competition “Children in the Holocaust”, in my opinion one of the most moving subjects.

Today, I would also like to tell you another story, less known so far, involving children’s fate. Jozef(Józef) Ulma was a farmer, social activist and amateur photographer. Jozef with his wife Wiktoria and their six young children: Maria, Franciszka, Stanislawa, Barbara, Wladyslawa and Antoni,they lived in the small town of Markowa in the county of Łańcut, Rzeszow District. Like other residents of Markowa, the Ulmas witnessed the execution of the Jews in their small town in the summer of 1942 during the German “Reinhardt” operation. Some Jews managed to escape, and went into hiding in the surrounding area. While the hunt for Jews was on, a group of those persecuted came to find shelter. Eight in number: a Jewish family from Łańcut by the name of Saul Goldman and his four sons, and from Markowa, Golda Grűnfeld and Lea Didner along with her daughter. When they asked Jozef and WiktoriaUlma to hide them, the couple agreed.

Although the Ulma house was on the outskirts of the town, the Jews’ presence on the farm was finally discovered. During the night of 23/24 March 1944, German military police came to Markowa. They found the Jews on the Ulma farm and shot them to death. Afterwards, they murdered the entire Ulma family – Jozef, Wiktoria, who was seven months pregnant, and their six small children: Marysia, Franuś, Stasia, Basia, Władzia i Antoś. The eldest child had just begun to attend primary school. As witnesses described, the execution of the Ulma family had the immense impact. Nevertheless other farmers continued to hide Jews, despite their terrible fear of discovery. Thanks to Polish peasants in Markowa, 21 Jews were saved. After the war, they emigrated to the United States, Canada and Israel.

In 1995, YadVashem recognized Jozef Ulma and his wife, Wiktoria Ulma, as Righteous Among the Nations. According to YadVashem, “the murder of the Ulma family – an entire family that was killed together with the Jews they were hiding – has become a symbol of Polish sacrifice and martyrdom during the German occupation.”

There are 6,532 Poles recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. In contradistinction to Western occupied Europe, the concealment of Jews by Poles was severely prosecuted – without exception by penalty of death. There was a need to present the facts – largely unknown – which show the role played by Poles in saving persons of Jewish nationality. The Ulma family museum in Markowa will present Poles saving Jews. The opening ceremony, to be held in March, will be attended by the President of Poland and representatives of Israel, Germany and the United States of America, to name a few.

I wanted to share this story and information about the new museum with the intention of telling of humanity lost, of resilience and survival. Through the stories of individuals we teach courage and tolerance.I’ve read with great attention the winning and three shortlisted essay on “Children in the Holocaust”. They are extremely moving, and NZ students astonish with their deep knowledge and understanding of the horrific war history.

To conclude let me quote one of them: “we must ensure that our world can eventually live one day in an era without destruction and chaos, an era where there is finally peace. The children of the Holocaust were uncut diamonds that were cut too soon, and it is our duty to not let these diamonds lose their shine.”

Thank you for your attention

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