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Speech by Mrs Ingrid YEUNG, Permanent Secretary for Education at United Nations Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony Being a Woman in the Holocaust

23 January 2019 (Wednesday)

United Nations Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony

Being a Woman in the Holocaust

Speech by Mrs Ingrid YEUNG,

Permanent Secretary for Education

 

Mrs Ahuva Spieler, Mr Glen Steinman, Ms Eva Karolnik, Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

 

Good evening. Thank you very much for this opportunity to join you all today at this solemn ceremony of the annual United Nations Holocaust Remembrance Day.

 

The Holocaust took place during the Second World War when more than 6 million Jews and other victims of Nazism were persecuted, tortured, enslaved and murdered in concentration camps. Today we gather here to remember the Holocaust, pay tribute to the deceased and the survivors and promote Holocaust awareness to the public.

 

To enable our young people to learn from events that they could not witness first-hand, history education is of utmost importance. As educators, our mission is to equip our young people with an understanding of their human heritage, and to connect the present with people, places and times of the past. Through making enquiries into the past, students understand how decisions and acts of people in the past have impacted our present and continue to influence our common future. History education also provides a knowledge foundation for our young people to make informed decisions that shape the future world.

 

To teach students about the Holocaust, we have included it in our History curriculum. Through looking into the causes of the Holocaust, understanding the lives of those held captive in concentration camps, learning about the execution of ‘Final Solution’, the Nuremberg Trials after the War and the post-war reconciliation efforts of the German government and society, students trace the origins of anti-Semitism and learn about the extreme measures taken against the Jews in Nazi Germany and the post-war efforts of the Germans and the international community in making reparations and restoring peace. Through helping students learn about the unbearable effects of human cruelty, discrimination and extremism which culminated in genocide, we hope students could learn about the value of forgiveness and the importance of safeguarding peace and human rights.

 

In the Second World War, I am sad to say, the victims were not confined to those in Europe. From December 1937, for six weeks Chinese people in the then capital of Nanjing were massively killed during the Nanjing Massacre, and others were also killed in large numbers elsewhere in the country. As a tribute to the victims, the Central People’s Government designated the 13th of December as the ‘National Memorial Day for Nanjing Massacre Victims’. Every year on that day, our nation holds a national memorial ceremony to mourn the victims and make solemn pledges to maintain peace. On the same day, the Hong Kong SAR Government also holds an official ceremony in commemoration of the victims who were killed in the Nanjing Massacre and during the Japanese invasion. We remember the unspeakable suffering of the Jewish, Chinese and other peoples in the Second World War and we strive to preserve and pass on their memories and experiences for students to learn about the horror of hate and wars.

 

This year’s commemoration theme is “Being a Woman in the Holocaust”. During the Holocaust, women were brutally persecuted due to the unique vulnerabilities and prejudices that came with being a woman in 20th Century Europe. This theme asks us to remember women’s suffering from feminist perspectives and honour the brave women of the Holocaust. Each woman's experience in the Holocaust is a testament to the Nazi atrocities and a caution for the future. Their stories speak not only of hunger, humiliation, death and despair, but also of dignity, solidarity, hope, love and an indomitable will to live. In Asia, women also suffered in indescribable ways in the War, including through sexual slavery. Their stories the world must never forget. Through revealing their sufferings and their triumphs, we hope the seeds of understanding, empathy, acceptance, inclusion, respect and resilience would be sowed in the minds of our future generations.

 

The lessons about the abuse inflicted on women during the War also highlighted the importance of gender equality. In Hong Kong, gender equality is well protected by law. Working in the Education Bureau, I am committed to ensuring that all school-age children of different races, girls and boys, enjoy equal opportunities to receive education. Gender equality is duly addressed in curriculum contents, pedagogies and student and school activities.

 

With increased education opportunities, women are developing their talents, playing major roles and making contributions in different fields. Each woman, whether in the role of a mother, teacher, sibling or grandmother, is a unique repository of knowledge and experience, and that society as a whole flourishes when people, whether male or female, are allowed fair opportunities to share their insights and skills with others. Conversely, when women are deprived of opportunities to learn and participate in public life, the whole community suffers. We are committed to providing the women of the future with equal opportunities and a peaceful and safe environment in which they may learn and develop their potentials to the full.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, let me share a famous saying with you, ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’. While Hong Kong has fortunately been free from military confrontation since 1945, we shall never forget the suffering and sacrifice made by innocent people throughout history. We must work together to teach these hard lessons and prevent acts of genocide from ever happening again.

 

In closing, I would like to express my respect to all the victims and survivors of wars and my gratitude to the Consul General, Mrs Ahuva Spieler, and Co-chairman of the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre Board of Directors, Mr Glen Steinman, for inviting me to speak at this solemn ceremony. I know that Ms Eva Karolnik will share her story with us today and later with students in Hong Kong. On behalf of the Education Bureau and schools, my greatest gratitude to you, Ms Karolnik. Thank you all very much again.