A mother’s tale

June 15, 2015 by Henry Benjamin
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Author of the best-seller “The Book Thief” Markus Zusak has enthralled Sydney’s JCA East Communal Event with stories of broken eggs and wartime Munich.

Markus Zusak   Photo: Giselle Haber

Markus Zusak Photo: Giselle Haber

Zusak captivated his 500+ audience with a beautifully told story of family revenge…getting his own back as the youngest of four on an older brother’s taunts by substituting a hard-boiled eggs his brother cracked on his forehead with fresh ones. He said the pain inflicted on him by his brother following the prank lasted a few minuted…but the pleasure experienced in watching the prank’s education has lasted forever.

He said: “I grew up in the cultural mecca of the Sutherland Shire in a place called Engadine. It was a really nice place to grow up.”

He spoke about being in high school when he first encountered prejudice. He said: “I used to buy stuff from the canteen and someone would say ‘Hey – give us some of that sausage roll and if I said ‘no’ I would be called a Jew. And when we were studying “The Silver Sword”  in year 7 and the teacher introduced us to what the Nazi Party was and we asked”What did that stand for” One of the kids asked What did the ‘Z” stand for and one of the kids said ‘the Z stands for Zusak’ and so suddenly I was Hitler.”

Zusak said he was eleven years old at the time.

But his story-telling took a dark twist as this son of an Austrian house painter told his enraptured listeners of his mother’s experiences in wartime Munich.

He said that in the city, kids used to visit the main street through which animals were regularly herded adding that one day, when she was six years old, his mother went to the street to see the passing parade of cattle.

Stephen Chipkin, Rose Temple, Zara Young, Alan Joffe and Dan Grynberg

Stephen Chipkin, Rose Temple, Zara Young, Alan Joffe and Dan Grynberg   Photo: Giselle Haber

Zusak explained:  “She saw it wasn’t animals. It was people being taken to the Dachau concentration camp. and she did not know what it was or where it was.

There was an old man who couldn’t keep up and he was staggering across the road…he was totally emaciated with a long beard and  he just  couldn’t make it any more. There was a teenage boy who had a foul mouth and swore a lot but it was him who ran in to his house and got a piece of bread and gave it to this man who then fell to his hand and knees, grabbed the boys by his ankles and cried into his feet and said ‘ thank you’.

Then the old man was confronted by a soldier who took the bread away and whipped him and then chased the boy and whipped him for giving him a piece of bread. This was something  my Mum would tell me about. She told it many times and said that being ion the bomb shelters was nothing compared to what so many people suffered.”

Zusak was to go on to write his best-selling novel “The Book Thief” in 2005, a work narrated by Death which told the story of a young girl stealing books destined to be burned by the Nazis.

In his address, president JCA Stephen Chipkin described the organisation as follows:

“We are here for our community.

Imagine a Jewish life without community.

How different, how empty would that be?

The question made me reflect on what our JCA community actually does and how it holds us together.

If we translate our 22 member organisations into verbs:

Stephen Chipkin   Photo: Giselle Haber

Stephen Chipkin Photo: Giselle Haber

We defend

We protect

We connect

We advocate and promote

We honour memory

We teach children

We educate ourselves

We support the poor and disadvantaged

We care for the sick

We care for the aged

We support the disabled and their families

We provide meals for the hungry

We provide accommodation for the vulnerable.

You could say that the every day actions of our member organisations are the best expression of our Jewish values.

Chipkin  added: “Since JCA was formed, $281 million has been contributed to the community through JCA ($100 million over the past 10 years). That is extraordinary. No other community in Australia, Jewish or non-Jewish, does what we do.

JCA has been central to building the social infrastructure of our community. (It is unfortunately often taken for granted. As we know, it did not just arrive. It was assembled and built over time with the contributions of all those who came before us).

In the process, JCA has helped deliver a cohesive and cooperative community; where stronger organisations stand alongside weaker ones; and where we allocate funds according to need. Where our whole community taken together is greater than the sum of its parts.

JCA have reached the $5 million mark towards their target of $14 million.

Three volunteers were honoured at the function held at Randwick Racecourse.

Zara Young of the NCJWA NSW received the Hal Goldstein Lifetime Achievement Award

The Shalom Institute’s Alan Joffe received the Shofar Award

and JCA’s Rose Temple received the Mensch Award.

Markus Zusak donated 50% of his fee to the Sydney Jewish Museum and the Sydney Story Factory.

 

 

 

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