Justine Hitchcock, former principal of Moriah College, who initiated the Button Project, spoke about it at the UN Holocaust Remeberance Day reception. She described how the project evolved in her small Jewish school, the enthusiastic participation of the children and the great education benefits they gained from it. The children themselves managed the project and designed the memorial that is to house the buttons, a reminder of the million and a half children murdered during the Holocaust.
The victims represented by each button were not heroes, political activists, or religious figureheads. They weren’t gifted artists, philosophers or famous socialites. Because they were never given the chance.
I will admit, when we first started this project I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of what we would achieve. The visible and tangible aspects of the project; collecting the buttons, counting them, storing them is just the surface. The real beauty of this project cannot be seen; that is the deeper learning and the feeling and emotions that it brought, which you will have heard a touch of from the speeches of two former students today – it is in these aspects of this project where its real meaning lies, and it is these feeling and emotions and the deeper learning which must continue to be spread through the completion of the project with the building of New Zealand's Button Memorial to the Children of the Holocaust.
The idea of gathering objects for each victim is not unique – many of you will know of the paperclips project our idea was taken from. But our particular take on this idea quickly became very much our own ‘Moriah’ story. The central focus of our project has always been ‘children’. It is children who have led the project, and children to whom the project is dedicated. Each button here represents a child who was not able to be protected by the society it was born into. But each button was collected and cared for by a child wrapped in a community of support. And so each button represents not loss and despair, but hope and progress.
This project is a story of collective remembrance. Through its support of the project the wider New Zealand community, and many other communities throughout the world, showed our small group of students that the life of a child is important. There is a sample of the letters and media coverage we received on display in the Holocaust Centre. We continue to receive international support and praise for our project, and support from political, cultural, religious and community leaders. As the letters and packages kept pouring in, as the media interest grew, the children’s confidence grew. They came to see that the 1.5 million murdered children had not been forgotten, and that complete strangers, from different cultures, religions and generations, cared.
The victims represented by each button were not heroes, political activists, or religious figureheads. They weren’t gifted artists, philosophers or famous socialites. Because were never given the chance. But with the building of New Zealand's Button Memorial to the Children of the Holocaust each will now be given a new opportunity. An opportunity to teach; to share their story with the world in the hope that it may lead us all on a better pathway.
In closing, on behalf of all the prior students of Moriah College, I would like to thank the members of the Wellington Holocaust Centre and committee who have taken up the mantle of progressing the project through to its completion. It is a project that will always remain dear to our hearts, and your commitment to its completion is deeply appreciated. And I will even be so bold as to thank you on behalf of generations of students to come, for it is they who will benefit the most from the building of New Zealand's Button Memorial to the Children of the Holocaust.
No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
To view the project's website, click here