I am my Brother’s Keeper: Honouring the Righteous Among Nations

December 8, 2016 by Sophie Deutsch
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Sydney’s  Jewish Museum has launched its latest exhibition in partnership with Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

“I was scared to death, like everybody, but I made up my mind right then: if I can help, I will”. These were the powerful words uttered by Maria Szul of Poland, who risked her life to save Jews during the Holocaust. Maria’s words feature as one of the many powerful quotes in the travelling exhibition developed in partnership with Yad Vashem, ‘I Am My Brother’s Keeper: Honouring The Righteous Among The Nations’.

Attended by around 190 people, the exhibition launch on Tuesday 6th December featured a series of inspirational addresses by individuals (and their descendants) who had been saved during the Holocaust.

Greta Allen

Greta Allen shared her extraordinary story of survival against all odds. Born in Amsterdam, when Greta was just 6 months old, her parents decided to go into hiding. Given the difficulty of taking a newborn into a secluded hide out, Greta’s parents gave their baby daughter to a non-Jewish family, the Juch’s. Greta was lovingly cared for by the Juch’s until the Gestapo deported a man who was living in the neighbouring home. Greta explained that, “Mr and Mrs Juch were sure that [this man] would be tortured and he would tell that there was a little Jewish girl living next door”.

The Juch’s then gave Greta to a widowed lady, who, after becoming ill, passed Greta on to another family, the van der Meulen’s. After the war, Greta took up residency in Australia with her biological uncle. Her biological parents and sister all perished at Auschwitz.

Greta conveyed her utmost gratification to the families that saved her life: “I was extremely fortunate.  Because I think everywhere I went I was beautifully looked after and loved”. Her miraculous story is a heart-warming tribute to the families who courageously acted against the prevailing atmosphere of indifference and persecution.

Speaking on behalf of all families saved by Sempo Sugihara, Daniel Grynberg raised the perplexing question of what inspires such courageous individuals to take a stand against hatred and genocidal acts.

Daniel Grynberg

Daniel referred to Professor Levine’s book In Search of Sugihara: “Much Holocaust scholarship focuses on the perpetrators of evil and tries to illuminate what drove ordinary men and women to commit horrifying and murderous acts. But [Levine] notes that it is even more difficult to understand the phenomenon of rescue – what inspires courageous individuals to swim against the tide of cruelty and indifference?”

In his position as Vice-Consul for the Empire of Japan in Lithuania, Sempo Sugihara issued visas to thousands of Jews, enabling their escape to Japan. Levine concludes in his book that “Sugihara’s ordinariness is perhaps what is so extraordinary about his story, illustrating for us how a common person can perpetrate a most uncommon act. He empowers us all as he challenges us to greater responsiveness and responsibility.”

Rescuers of Jews during World War II came from 52 different countries, various walks of life, professions and religious denominations. Yad Vashem outlines strict criteria for an individual to earn the title of Righteous Among The Nations: a non-Jew must have risked their life during the war for the primary motive of saving and protecting Jews. There must also be sufficient evidence documenting the individual’s role in the rescue effort.

The exhibition is expected to remain open at the Sydney Jewish Museum until June 2016. Numerous staff and volunteers at the SJM have worked tirelessly to tailor the exhibition to an Australian audience. The enlightening and informative exhibit features Australian stories, shining a spotlight on the Righteous, Survivors and descendants who migrated to Australia.

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