Sophie Caplan: 1933-2018

January 22, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Australia has lost Holocaust survivor and historian Sophie Caplan who died last week in Sydney’s Montefiore Home.

Sophie [l] gets her certificate of Life Membership of the The Australian Jewish Historical Society from Suzanne Rutland in 2017

Anton Block, President, and Peter Wertheim, Executive Director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry said:With the passing of Sophie Caplan z”l, we have lost another of our precious Holocaust survivors, a living historian and pillar of the Jewish community.  She had a special passion for modern Jewish history, and a talent for evoking, in her writings and talks, the flavour of pre-war Jewish life in Europe.

After surviving the Holocaust as a child, Sophie migrated with her family to Sydney after World War II.  From a young age she was active in Jewish communal life and the Zionist movement.   As was true of many survivors, Sophie’s story became one of renewal and triumph over adversity.

She was married to the late Leslie Caplan.  They had three sons, Gideon, Jonathan and Benjamin.  Leslie and Sophie together were among those who helped establish Sydney’s Masada College in the 1960s.  In the 1980s and 1990s, Leslie served as President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

After completing her MA (Hons) in Education at the University of Sydney, researching the history of Moriah and Masada Colleges, Sophie introduced the Dr Hans Kimmel Essay prize to Moriah College in 1975, which became a compulsory part of the Year 10 Jewish history course at the College.

Dedicated to preserving the memory of her family members who were lost in the Shoah, in 1986, Sophie became the Australian corresponding member of Avoteinu, the international Jewish genealogical society’s publication. Five years later she founded the Australian Genealogical Society, and edited their publication, The Kosher Koala for more than ten years.

In 1998, together with Professor Emerita Suzanne Rutland, she co-authored “With One Voice”, the history of the first fifty years of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, on which she also served as a Deputy.

Sophie was an active committee member of the Australian Jewish Historical Society for many years and served as its President from 2004 to 2011. She was made a life member in 2016.

With Sophie Caplan’s passing we are witnessing the close of another chapter in the history of the Australian Jewish community.  The Jews who arrived in Australia from Europe from the 1930s onwards revitalised Jewish life in our community and established the major institutions that have been the backbone of the Jewish community ever since.  We will not see their like again.

NSW Labor frontbencher and NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel deputy chair, Walt Secord MP today paid tribute to Sophie Caplan.

He said: “Sophie Caplan was a pioneer in the fields of Jewish genealogy and contributed significantly to Australian Jewish history.

Mr Secord said he first encountered Mrs Caplan when he was a journalist in the late 1980s.

He said deeply admired her dedication to Jewish history, education and genealogy and her desire to share that knowledge.

“Mrs Caplan’s knowledge of world Jewish history, the Shoah and the Australian Jewish community was astounding,” Mr Secord said.

“I relished our conversations as she believed in a true ‘warts and all’ approach to the study of history. Mrs Caplan’s knowledge of Jewish history was encyclopaedic – and at times, profoundly amusing.

“I always contacted her for background on news articles – especially when preparing obituaries. In a short conversation, she could canvas a diverse range subjects from the history of a small Galician shtetl in eastern Europe to Jewish bushrangers and Jewish ghosts in outback Australia to the plight of Ethiopian and Soviet Jewry.

“Sophie Caplan always had an interesting anecdote or observation to liven up the article.”

A child Holocaust survivor, Sophie Caplan migrated with her family to Sydney after the war. She married Leslie Caplan, who served as a key leader of Sydney and Australian Jewry including stints as president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry

In 1986, Sophie became the Australian corresponding member of Avotanu, the international Jewish genealogical society’s publication. Five years later she founded the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society, and edited their publication, The Kosher Koala for more than 10 years.

In 1998, she co-authored With One Voice: the history of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.

Throughout this period, Sophie served on the committee of the Australian Jewish Historical Society. In December 2004 she was elected as the Society’s president, succeeding Professor Rutland. She served in that position for seven years, and after that continued as a committee member until 2015.

In 2016, the Australian Jewish Historical Society has presented Sophie Caplan with Life Membership – “in appreciation of the service and commitment to the Society over many years”.

In 1998, together with Professor Emerita Suzanne Rutland, she co-authored “With One Voice”, the history of the first fifty years of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, on which she also served as a Deputy.

Sophie was an active committee member of the Australian Jewish Historical Society for many years and served as its President from 2004 to 2011. She was made a life member in 2016.

With Sophie Caplan’s passing we are witnessing the close of another chapter in the history of the Australian Jewish community.  The Jews who arrived in Australia from Europe from the 1930s onwards revitalised Jewish life in our community and established the major institutions that have been the backbone of the Jewish community ever since.  We will not see their like again.

 

Comments

4 Responses to “Sophie Caplan: 1933-2018”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    One of the most valuable Yidische minds with a neshama made in Heaven. A formidable intellect, a privilege as a friend. Her Leslie a matching mensch. We are the unconsoled poorer without them…..

  2. Auryt Jacobson says:

    Sophie was a great lady with an intellectual curiosity that was unmatched. Had she been a male she would certainly have risen in the ranks to Governor General if not higher. Intellects such as the one possessed by Sophie are rare indeed. RIP dear Sophie, you deserve it after a lifetime of service.

  3. Hilary Rubinstein says:

    A great lady who will be much missed.

  4. Adrian Jackson says:

    Approximately how many Holocaust survivors remain alive in Australia?

    Most of our dwindling number of surviving WW2 servicemen and women are in their 90’s or older.

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