Australian politician visits only Jewish war grave in Sri Lanka

January 24, 2016 by J-Wire Staff
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NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel deputy chair and Deputy Opposition leader in the NSW Parliament’s Legislative Council Walt Secord has paid a visit to the only Jewish World War II grave in Sri Lanka’s historic Kandy Commonwealth cemetery.

Walt Secord at the cemetery in Kandy

Walt Secord at the cemetery in Kandy

Up until about eight years ago, the Jewish soldier’s grave had been mistakenly marked with a Christian symbol, but it was replaced due to the efforts of British Jewish ex-servicemen and women.

On the trip earlier this month, Mr Secord visited a range of Sri Lanka’s historic and religious sites, including Colombo’s Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque, Fort Meeran Jumma Mosque in Galle and the Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) Relic shrine in Kandy – one of the sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world, which was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1988.

In Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second largest city, Mr Secord visited the burial site of the Private Hyman Isaacs Rosenfield who was an aircraftman first class in the Royal Air Force. Mr Rosenfield is believed to be the only Jewish servicemen buried at the Kandy cemetery.

Out of the 1,999 Commonwealth war dead in Sri Lanka, it is believed there believed to be at least three Jewish soldiers buried on the island nation including a Sergeant who served in the Royal Australian Air Force and died in April 1942. He is buried in remote eastern Sri Lanka.

The Kandy cemetery is one of the six Commonwealth war cemeteries in Sri Lanka. The cemetery has been described as one of the most beautifully landscaped Commonwealth war graves.

Mr Secord said: “It was a bittersweet visit. Very little is known about Private Rosenfield and there are several spellings of his surname in official records.”

“However, he died on February 24, 1946 – about seven months before the Japanese surrender and well after fighting had ceased in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, he was quite young – only 26; had been a volunteer and had the lowest rank in the Royal air force.”

“However, his grave is historic to Jewish ex-service activists because about eight years ago, the Manchester chapter of the United Kingdom’s Association of Jewish Servicemen and Women (AJEX) issued a world-wide call for relatives for Mr Rosenfield to come forward.”

“AJEX had discovered that his gravestone had been mistakenly identified with a cross and they needed a family member’s agreement to replace it with a Magen David.”

“It now carries the Star of David and is the only known Jewish grave in the Kandy Commonwealth war graves’ cemetery.”

At the Kandy cemetery, there are 203 burials at the site; of which, there are 107 British, 35 East Africans, 26 Sri Lankans, 23 Indians, six Canadians, three Italians, a single French soldier and two unidentified persons.

Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it was known in colonial times held a strategic position in the Indian Ocean astride the allied sea route linking Australia, India and the Middle East.

During World War II, Sri Lanka was a naval and air force base, a training ground for jungle warfare and a hospital and leave centre. It was the headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander, Southeast Asia Command, from April 1944 to November 1945.

Except for the servicemen and women who lost their lives during the single air attack on the island, most of the casualties that occurred during this war were due to sickness or accidents.

Previously, Mr Secord has visited Gallipoli, the Commonwealth war graves in Beersheba on the edge of the Negev Desert in Israel and Pearl Harbour in Hawaii as well as the National War Memorial in Canberra.

Mr Secord said: “As a member of Parliament, it is a privilege to attend commemorations and services and visit war graves in an official capacity.”

“I understand the solemnity of our commemorative days, and that is why I have embraced the honour of attending numerous Anzac Day and Remembrance Day ceremonies, especially those involving Sydney’s Jewish community and the New South Wales Association of Jewish Ex-servicemen and Women [NAJEX].”

 

 

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