…and their voices will not fade

November 10, 2010 Agencies
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The Sydney community commemorated Kristallnacht last night…with one eyewitness recounting that fateful day in 1938 and with a deeply moving address by the Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Site and State Museum.

Shirley Lowy, Piotr Cywinski, Judy Lowy and Elza Levin                     All photos: Henry Benjamin

It was standing-room only as over 300 people attended the moving Kristallnacht ceremony held at Sydney’s National Council of Jewish Women NSW Division in Woollahra.

Organised by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the event featured the launch of The Holocaust: The Nazi Genocide Against The Jewish People – a booklet on the Holocaust written by the Board of Deputies. It was launched by Professor Gus Lehrer, whose family sponsored its publication in the name of his late father, Leon Lehrer, a Holocaust survivor.

Sydney resident Ruth Rack, who was a 10-year-old living in Leipzig when Kristallnacht occurred on November 9-10, 1938, gave a poignant account of the harrowing events which destroyed her family.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr Piotr Cywinski, Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, who dwelt on the need to preserve Auschwitz so that its lessons could continue to be passed down to succeeding generations. The function sat in total silence as Cywinski recalled the night and the subsequent events illustrated graphically behind him. The Auschwitz director’s visit was facilitated br Frank Lowy and the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

Moriah College students Sarit Michael and Jesse Turner performed Eli Eli and Shema Yisrael.

J-Wire publishes the deeply moving words of Dr Cywinski

Dear Survivors

Today we recall the night which changed the face of Europe and the world. The night which, in its unprecedented barbarity, was one of the principal stages for the beginning of “the ultimate solution to the Jewish question”. The dawn which followed found the crematoria of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp filled with human ash.

Ruth Rack lights a memorial candle watched by Sarita Gold

Kristallnacht – The Night of Broken Glass – was an unprecedented. Not because the Nazis brutally plundered thousands of shops, destroyed hundreds of synagogues, murdered dozens of people and arrested thousands of Jews in Germany and Austria in 1938.

But because, through the use of perfidious propaganda, they created a situation where almost not a single voice dared defy this pogrom. Hitler knew that German society was dominated by Nazi ideology to the point which allowed him to embark on a path leading to the Holocaust.

Today we stand beside the last Holocaust survivors. People who belong to two worlds: one which no longer exists, and ours, the post-war world. Soon, only the words of the survivors will remain, together with the authenticity of Auschwitz-Birkenau, preserved to this day as the enduring symbol of the Holocaust.

The words of the survivors capture our imagination in a dimension we hardly comprehend. Our sense of reason is unable to handle the writings of Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel and Imre Kertesz. Hence, we require the authenticity of the memorial site of Auschwitz-Birkenau to reinforce our imagination in a tangible, authentic sense. The Holocaust happened there, in that very place.

Kesser Torah College students lit candles

We have to listen carefully to every word the survivors found necessary to tell us. Each word conveys part of the truth of the Holocaust. We have to preserve every inch of the memorial sites. The largest and best-preserved is Auschwitz-Birkenau, a symbol of the cruelty of the 20th century.

The preservation of Auschwitz-Birkenau for future generations is not guaranteed. As years pass, it becomes increasingly difficult. That is why the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation was recently established, aiming to establish an endowment which will enable long-term planning of conservation works. So that our children and grandchildren and their grandchildren will know the history the site represents.

We owe it to the survivors, but we also owe it to future generations. Auschwitz has become the heritage of the world. Preserving it is our common duty.

Today, when we walk among the camp barracks and barbed-wired ruins, in the shadow of chimneys and watchtowers, we ask ourselves more questions than we can answer. Among them is the most persistent: why did the world do almost nothing to stop the Holocaust?

Dr Piotr Cywinski

We cannot overlook the fact that moral authorities stayed silent, that underground fighters did not stop the transports, that the Allies did not bomb the Auschwitz-Birkenau crematoria. There were too few of the Righteous Among The Nations. The measure of their courage are those who survived.

These facts bother not only those who lived during those times, it bothers us – today’s generation – as well. And so it should.

Dr Piotr Cywinski and Professor Gus Lehrer

We shouldn’t compare tragedies or genocides – but we ought to compare our passivity and silence in the face of other tragedies. Millions visit Holocaust memorial sites and museums. We read survivors’ testimonies. Yet, as we watch television and browse the internet, confronting genocides, we do not react, even though we can do so much more in today’s global village. News circulates freely and the possibilities of taking action seem infinite, yet still we prefer to be bystanders.

It was for us that the Sonderkommando buried their diaries, along with the ash of those who perished. For us the prisoners saved SS archives. For us the escapees wrote reports.

We need to listen ever more carefully to those voices, to the voices of survivors, to the authenticity of the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Not only to remember. Not only to be aware of the lessons of this tragedy. But also to awaken the consciousness of our own responsibility for the world, today and tomorrow.

Only in this way will the echoes of Kristallnacht, of the whining train brakes and the opening doors of the cattle cars not fade. Only in this way will the echoes of the innocent screams of those who were murdered in the gas chambers not fade. Only in this way will our deeds and words carry the echoes of their words. And their voices will not fade.

The event was chaired by Board of Deputies Holocaust Remembrance Committee chair Michael Jaku and co-ordinated by Sarita Gold. Dr Cywinski’s participation was facilitated by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.


One Response to “…and their voices will not fade”
  1. Rita Liddle says:

    Did you know that: ?

    The only private protest against the Germans following Kristallnacht was held on December 6, 1938. William Cooper, an Aboriginal Australian, led a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League on a march through Melbourne to the German Consulate to deliver a petition which condemned the “cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government of Germany.” German officials refused to take the document.


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