Commemorating Yom HaShoah in Melbourne

April 30, 2014 by David Marlow
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The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) hosted Melbourne’s annual Yom HaShoah Commemoration Evening on Sunday evening at Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University.  The theme of the evening was the commemoration of the terrible destruction of Hungarian Jewry.

Peter Kolliner

Peter Kolliner     Photo: Peter Haskin

Over one thousand people attended a meaningful and powerful commemoration ceremony which included combined choirs from the Jewish day schools in Melbourne, the traditional lighting of the candles by survivors, the song of the Jewish partisans and Kaddish.  Speakers included Nina Bassat, President of the JCCV, HE Shmuel Ben Shmuel, the Israeli Ambassador, survivor Peter Kolliner  giving his moving witness testimony, Danielle Charak who narrated in Yiddish and English, and a March of the Living past participant.

The Melbourne Jewish community remembered and fulfilled the obligation to never forget.  Members of many Melbourne youth groups, including AUJS, Betar and others help ensure that the memories are passed down the generations.

Many non-Jewish community leaders attended in solidarity and included Members of Parliament, city councillors and Consul Generals from several countries.

President of The Jewish Community Council of Victoria Nina Bassat addressed the audience saying:

“On 19 March 1944 began one of the most heartbreaking, one of the most difficult chapters in the history of the Shoah.

It was a chapter marked by brutal swiftness and vicious efficiency, it was a chapter marked by the poignancy of the juxtaposition of liberation for some and annihilation of others, and it was a chapter which was defined by the collaboration between man’s inhumanity to man and man’s indifference to that inhumanity.

The speed of the destruction and the methodical organization of the deportations were beyond belief. It was only a matter of weeks between invasion and destruction. Invasion in March, deportation to Auschwitz from the middle of May, and destruction of over 430,000 Jews by August. In all, 565,000 Hungarian Jews perished.

The historical anthology “The Nazi’s Last Victims” – describes what happened in Hungary as the most systematic genocide of human history and states that in Hungary, the largest single killing process of the Holocaust period occurred in the shortest amount of time.

In July 1944, whilst we in Lwów were being liberated, the savagery was just beginning for the Jews of Budapest and Kaposvar, of Szeged and Eger, of countless villages and towns.

In Lwów, we were coming out of hiding and starting the mostly futile and heart-wrenching search for family who had survived. For my mother and me, nobody had.  It was as if my father and his entire family had never existed. Not one other member of the Katz family remained alive.

But whilst the heartbreak was now part of our life, our war had ended. We were free to start making those first few broken steps towards some sort of normal existence, towards our new reality.

Not so the Jews of Hungary.

Nina Bassat    Photo; Peter Haskin

Nina Bassat Photo; Peter Haskin

Not so the Jews of Lodz ghetto, almost 75,000 of whom were deported, most to Auschwitz-Birkenau,  between June and end of August 1944

Not so for the Jews of Slovakia, of Krakow; of Rhodes and Kos, of Amsterdam and of all the other places where Jews continued to perish for many more bitter months.

Such massive horror is beyond comprehension; it is too far beyond our understanding of humanity, and we would be justified in questioning the very concept of humanity were it not for the actions of the few who were prepared to fight the brutality, even at the risk of losing their own lives.

Names such as Raoul Wallenberg and Carl Lutz have become legendary, but there were also others: Baron Vilmos Apor and Áron Márton, who later became leaders in the Roman Catholic church, medical students Clara Ambrus and Alexander Szirmai, and people such as Imre Irsay and his family, all of whom acted out of a sense of humanity and thus kept alive our belief in humanity.

If there is one thing that I have learnt from their courage and from the courage of my mother and the many other survivors to whom I have spoken, it is that we here tonight have a dual responsibility.

We are here to remember those whose lives were extinguished in Hungary, whose shoes bear silent witness to the emptiness their loss left behind, those who were taken to their death during liquidation of the ghettos and those who went before them.

And we are also here to remember that each of us can be responsible for a better world. To close our eyes, to turn our backs, to walk away may not seem like criminal acts. But if by doing so, we leave the door open to criminal acts, then we become kin to the perpetrator.

By preventing hatred and incitement to hatred from flourishing, we become activists, not participants. By exposing intolerance, we can put a stop to intolerance; and by speaking out against indifference to evil, we can disempower evil.

That is the legacy that we owe to those who have perished.



One Response to “Commemorating Yom HaShoah in Melbourne”
  1. LIZZIE MOORE says:

    Thank you for this beautiful and moving account, Dovid. [Lizzie via Bendigo]

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