Meet National Director of Education for HCNZ, Chris Harris
Q: Tell us a bit about your upbringing, and your Jewish heritage. What did the Holocaust mean to you as a child and how did it inform your growth into an adult?
A: I was raised in West Auckland, to working class parents, my mother loved her History. It was not until I was in my teens that she told me about my Polish-Jewish roots, the Holocaust was to taught to me by my mother who shared the stories of horror and that we should learn from the past to make us better people for the future. As I got older I started to research more into the Holocaust and became inspired by the stories of resistance and survival, these stories became important to me as I believe that under the worst of circumstances people were still inspired to keep on going.
Q: Until recently you were a teacher at a secondary school in Auckland, and you taught your students about the Holocaust even though it's not directly on the curriculum. Can you tell us what NZ teenagers get from Holocaust education?
A: I believe that teenagers get from the Holocaust, the message that we must end discrimination, prejudice and apathy, that young people are the future and that it is not going to help being the by-stander but being the upstander. People put themselves in harm’s way to save others. It’s important to understand that even in the most cultured nation in Europe at the time could fall to evil and that students need to understand that this could happen anywhere and that nations who shared this prejudice also participated in this persecution.
Q: How did you become involved with HCNZ and the Anne Frank exhibition?
A: I applied to the Yad Vashem programme in 2014 and got selected, then went in 2015 to Israel to study the Holocaust - an amazing professional development opportunity. I was then elected onto the board in August of that year, assisted with the education portfolio on the board and in late 2016 got offered the chance to take on the National Director of Education position, which I accepted for a year and my school was very supportive of this. I was lucky enough to lead 26 wonderful educators to Yad Vashem again this year, which continues to amaze me. I’ve now accepted a contract for a further two years, which means I’ve had to resign from my position at school, but I’m excited for the new challenge. When HCNZ agreed to host the Anne Frank exhibition it made sense for me to take the lead on the education side, another exciting challenge.
Q: You've written all the NZ education material for the exhibition. What has been your major focus? What's the key message you hope to convey?
A: My focus is that the story of young girl is only part of the bigger story, that we are too easy to judge and assume in this world. That we need to look at tolerance, understanding, learning from each other. The focus is that we must stop discrimination, we cannot allow the minority to dictate to the majority that difference is something to be scared of when it’s something we should embrace.
Q: What are you hoping will be achieved over the next three years?
A: I am hoping that thousands of people come to view this, that it opens discussion and that people understand that one young girl who wrote about her life had messages for us in the present and the future - that we are really all good at heart.