Germany, refugees and the Holocaust

October 8, 2015 by J-Wire News Service
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The Deputy Leader of the NSW Opposition Walt Secord has visited Germany and witnessed first-hand the refugee processing…saying that Germany cannot be callous because of the Holocaust.

Secord is also Shadow Minister for Health and deputy chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel.

Walt Secord’s report:

Walt Secord at Awo processing centre in Spandau with Iraqi refugee and Awo staff

Walt Secord at AWO processing centre in Spandau with Iraqi refugee and AWO staff

Last week I witnessed the Syrian refugee crisis first-hand at Berlin’s largest refugee processing centre.

Currently, Europe is experiencing the largest movement of people since World War II and, with the cooperation of Australia’s Embassy, I became the first NSW politician to visit the AWO (Arbeiterwohlfahrt) Refugee Processing Centre at Spandau in western Berlin.

I spoke to some of the 3,700 refugees being assisted here to find safety and security in the German capital – themselves just a trickle amongst the one million Syrian refugees that Germany is estimated to accept this year.

I met with families seeking asylum; saw their struggles trying to build new lives; and witnessed the extraordinary response of ordinary Germans to this challenge.

The scale of the German response is unrecognisable to Australian eyes. Berlin alone will take 40,000 refugees into its population by December, a staggering increase from just 1500 a year in 2011.

For comparison, Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced last month that Australia’s increased intake of Syrian refugees would be 12,000 across the nation.

However, even more striking than the scale of Germany’s response, is the manner of it. It is a deeply integrated response. Rather than being placed in remote locations, refugee-processing centres occupy former schools, prisons and hospitals, in major towns and cities across Germany.

Currently, there are 79 centres just in Berlin, in which both government and NGO staff provide shelter, food, language instruction, practical advice, immigration and medical assistance to help refugees integrate into German society. It is, given the sensitivity of refugee politics in Australia – astounding to witness.

Syrian families can be seen in streets, squares and stations – as old and young carry scant belongings in plastic bags.

And while Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bold response has not been without criticism, the pragmatic acceptance of most Germans to this unprecedented human challenge, and their resolve to provide practical solutions, is impressive.

That resolve to address the 21st Century’s great refugee crisis is of course an answer to Germany’s creation of the 20th Century’s great refugee crisis. The memory of the Holocaust remains, rightly, etched not only in the minds of everyday Germans but in the very fabric of their cities.

As I walked amongst the stone columns of the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, the Berlin Jewish Museum’s Holocaust memorial chamber, and through Israeli artist’s Menashe Kadishman’s disturbing installation – Fallen Leaves, it did not escape me that Germany is disproportionately shouldering the response to the refugee intake.

It is apparent that there is a collective German fear – particularly by conservative Chancellor Merkel – that as a nation, it cannot be callous. Not in light of the Holocaust.

With Germany marking the 25th anniversary of reunification, its response to the Syrian crisis provided the opportunity to highlight a humanitarian and ethical leadership that has emerged from facing its uniquely appalling past.

And of course, it is also an economically mature response – stimulating the economy and responding to the country’s ageing population challenge by changing the demographics of the nation’s workforce and taxation base.

People will, I am sure, both agree and differ with my assessment; and there is no easy solution to Europe’s refugee crisis, but my visit reinforced my support for the Federal Government’s decision to accept the Syrian refugees.

Around 4,000 of Australia’s 12,000 are expected to settle in NSW where there is bipartisan support for their integration.

Australia – a nation built on immigration, remains a fair and giving community.

My visit to Berlin also reinforced my view that the United States and wealthy oil-rich Gulf Arab States must carry a greater share of the response.

On September 20, the US announced it would increase its annual overall refugee intake from 70,000 to 100,000 by 2017. While this is welcomed, to match Australia’s intake per capita the US would need to take 166,000 Syrians. To match Berlin’s, they would need to take around 3.5 million.

Seen in this context, the American response has been inadequate when compared to Australia, Sweden and Germany.

But I am proud that Australia, and NSW in particular, has been able to continue its tradition of welcoming those in need. While the German anthem’s exhalation to “recht und freiheit” (justice and freedom) may not have the same ring as “a fair go”, I can assure you the sentiment translates.

Walt Secord is Deputy Leader of the NSW Labor Opposition in the Legislative Council, Shadow Minister for Health and deputy chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel.


5 Responses to “Germany, refugees and the Holocaust”
  1. Joan Medway says:

    I have just returned from a Jewish Heritage trip which took is to Warsaw,Krakow,Budapest,Vienna and Prague. I thought a lot about Germany’s taking in the lions share of refugees and kept coming back to the same conclusion that Maxine Finberg reached. Jews throughout the world must stay alert to the scenario developing that she paints with words so well. I would like to be helpful in stopping that from happening. Perhaps, to express the fear is the best way to do that to others less aware of those dire possibilities.
    Joan Medway

  2. Eleonora Mostert says:

    The shear numbers of these Muslims is astounding, why are they not fighting Isis etc. OOOPS hajira. is it not?

  3. Otto Waldmann says:

    With a heart and soul to suit his impressive frame, OUR OWN Walter fils with genuine Yiddishkeit a report both informative and of the highest decency.
    While the Shoah dominates our lives through the inheritance of pain and sufferings, it is just as laudable that Germany is going through that necessary teshuva civilisation demands.
    During my recent visits to Germany I was compelled to revise my apprehensions about setting foot in that place. Berlin has named a few of its large boulevards with names such as “Itzhak Rabingasse”, “Ben Guriongasse” and alike. Outside the Berlin Philarmoniker’s imposing building, right across the road there is a buss stop which has posted a large sign with a photograph and a detailed description of a nazi criminal, one of the architects of the concentration camps and the title reads ” There were many like him”. Horrors of the Shoah are described in detail for all germans to learn. Germany has come of age and Merkel’s rhetoric emphasises that on each suitable occasion.
    Germany is learning without a pause of its own past and one must afford, with whatever caution, credit to a people who have also been in the past at the forefront of culture and civilised norms outside their atrocious nazi past.
    While most of Europe refuses to shoulder the burden of this unwanted torrent of refugees, Germany allows even some obvious abuses of humanitarian assistance to pass its borders, lest their conscience would be pained once again by the scourge of intolerance.
    The irreplaceable losses my very won family has suffered is founding some solace in this redemption.

  4. Maxine Finberg says:

    Walt Secord, I beg to differ !!How ironic that Germany ridded itself of millions of Jews who had contributed so much to its productive ,moral, cultural and intellectual enhancement and is now encouraging an invasion mainly of healthy, young Muslim men. What comes around, goes around.
    What a typically naïve Leftist, idealistic not realistic approach, to quote ” it is an economically mature response – stimulating the economy and responding to the country’s ageing population challenge by changing the demographics of the nation’s workforce and taxation base.”These ” so called refugees ” are demanding welfare etc and will not integrate but plan on taking over and introducing Sharia Law when they have sufficient numbers.
    Do you not realise that the world is undergoing an epic change?
    Years ago, Professor Samuel Huntington wrote a book ” A Clash of Civilïzations”, Islam against the West, facilitated by Barack Hussein Obama,A weak EU,a corrupt UN made up of so many Muslim countries and their followers. Huntington was ridiculed for years, but his words have become reality. Pamela Geller of “AtlasShrugs” Oct.7 quotes — captured ISIS fighter has full map of targets for Berlin takeover. Wake up !!

  5. Lynne Newington says:

    It speaks volumes for Chancellor Merkal’s Christian upbringing….. they are out there.

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