Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

OBE: A word of thanks

Rev Dr Paul Oestreicher offers words of thanks as he receives the honour of OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for his lifetime of work advocating for peace, human rights and reconciliation.

Paul Oestreicher  |  12 Dec 2022

Your Excellency, Honoured Guests, Dear Friends

Tēnā koutou katoa (I acknowledge you all)

Koinei ahau (I am here)

rātou ko ōku hoa, ki te tuku ngā mihi (with my friends to greet you with thanks)

Maybe it’s poetic justice that I should receive this British award, not in Windsor Castle, but in Wellington where I studied the politics that led me, as did my Christian faith, to a lifetime of radical commitment to a better world.

I have tried, as an NGO politician, working as a church diplomat from a British base, to speak truth to power, challenging injustice and the threatening militarisation of our world. That fitted well with my citizenship of both Aotearoa and the United Kingdom and latterly of Germany as well. A disturbing gadfly, this young pacifist that I was (and old pacifist that I remain), found a friend in General Kippenberger, the editor of New Zealand’s history of the Second World War. The General supervised, and praised, my master’s dissertation on this country’s harsh treatment of its conscientious objectors to that war. That dissertation led to my Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship at the University of Bonn, the first for a Kiwi. Many others have since received this German equivalent of a Rhodes scholarship.

Inclined as I initially was to turn down this OBE and to join the small elite of honours decliners, I now embrace it fully, affirming as it does what I - and my companions on life’s journey - stand for. On this day, however, I have something to admit, not only my respect, but my affection for Queen Elizabeth and her whānau.

There is a fascinating link between the British monarchy and my birthplace in the green heart of Germany. Meiningen in the 19th century became a centre of theatre and music. That cultural blossoming would never have happened without Duke George of Saxe-Meiningen, the liberal Duke who shocked the aristocracy by marrying an actress. He sponsored and paid for the excellent musical education of my mother, a village girl who became a singer at the famous Court Theatre. The song school of the conservatoire bears her name. My father was the town’s paediatrician, caring for the new-born. Given his Jewish parents, Hitler exiled us all the way to New Zealand.  But the love of home has outlived the hatred. We all have our roots. I am now a freeman, an honorary citizen of Meiningen, with a square bearing my name.

Go back six generations. Question, if you will, the dated British Empire tag, yet Meiningen’s relation to the heart of that Empire lives on.  The young Princess Adelheid of Saxe-Meiningen became Britain’s Queen Adelaide. Later, as Dowager Queen, she was the much-loved mentor of young Queen Victoria. That story, which I owe to my mother, is part of our heritage and therefore one more reason for my saying yes to this OBE.  One wit has suggested it might well have been called the Order of the Benign Elephant. What would the Empress of India have done without the faithful hard labour of these noble beasts?

Speaking more seriously in this Land of the Long White Cloud, the Waitangi Treaty signed in Queen Victoria’s name, gives Māori the right in perpetuity to reclaim their withheld heritage.

Back finally to my campaigning days. Soon after my stint as Chair of Amnesty International UK, I was asked to help set free a Kiwi peace activist, held in prison in communist East Germany for her solidarity with a dissident group of women opposing eastern as well as western nuclear weapons. Surprisingly, Barbara Einhorn, this prisoner, and I had never met. It was late 1983, another year of threatening nuclear war. The appeal to set this Kiwi campaigner free, supported by both the New Zealand and the British Foreign Office, was successful. Today, Barbara, who is now my wife, is with us here in the Wellington suburb of Karori where she grew up, a child, like me, of German Jewish refugees.

Tēna koutou, (I acknowledge you)

ngā mihi atu ki a koutou,(with thanks to you)

mō te noho ki tōku taha,(for being alongside me)

tō koutou tautoko hoki (and for your support)

Ngā manaakitanga ki a koutou katoa (blessings on you all)



9th NOVEMBER, 2022