International Holocaust Remembrance Day – Australia

January 27, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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Melbourne and Sydney arranged events to commemorate both the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the liberation of Auschwitz.


The Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors & Descendants together with the Sydney Jewish Museum commemorated the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the UN International Day of Commemoration of the Victims of the Holocaust yesterday to a packed audience of over 180 including several Consuls-General and communal leaders.

George Foster

George Foster

The commemoration was opened by Dr George Foster, President of the Association outlining the importance of day both as a commemoration for those murdered at Auschwitz and as a counter to ongoing and increasing worldwide antisemitism.

Michael Silvers spoke about his mother, Greta Silvers’ experiences at Auschwitz as a very young adolescent in an emotional address outlining her remarkable survival in the face of unimaginable odds always with the hope that at least some of her family had survived.  Unfortunately upon returning to her home town, Kosice, she learnt the sad truth that she had been the only member of her family to survive.

Anthony Levin, grandson of Olga Horak, also a survivor of Auschwitz and recipient of an OAM in this year’s Honours, read a poem, “For the Slaughtered Artists” by Marc Chagall, which is a passionate memorial to all Jewish artists who were murdered by the Nazis.

Anthony Levin

Anthony Levin

We were then treated to a most interesting and impassioned address by Dr Joseph Toltz on “Music and Auschwitz” in which he outlined the central place of music in Nazi ideology and the manner in which the Nazis forced the Jews inside the camps to form orchestras and bands to play whilst the hapless prisoners marched in and out of the camps. He emphasised the different perspective that can be gained from the study of music during this, the darkest period of Jewish history and the manner in which the Jews also used music to sustain themselves in the worst of conditions.

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence read his prayer for UN Holocaust Day and led the audience in Kaddish. The commemoration was concluded by Prof Gus Lehrer, President of the Sydney Jewish Museum, giving the vote of thanks and emphasising the importance of the museum in the fight against antisemitism and Holocaust denial. The function was dignified and well received by all who attended, and it was gratifying that Consul from Austria, Germany, Poland, Greece and Turkey, amongst others, attended to pay their respects for this important commemoration.

President of the Australian Association of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants Dr George Foster gave the following address:

“Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi concentration and extermination camps, was located in the Polish town of Oswiecim.  One sixth of all the Jews murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust were gassed to death at Auschwitz.

The order to establish Auschwitz was handed down in April, 1940 and it quickly became synonymous with the torture of prisoners. In March, 1941, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the construction of a second, larger section of the camp.  Birkenau or Auschwitz II was designated as the extermination camp.  It consisted of nine subunits, which were isolated from one another by electrically charged barbed wire fences.  Birkenau held the majority of the prisoners in the Auschwitz complex.  It contained the gas chambers and crematoria.  A third section, Auschwitz III (Buna-Monowitz), consisted of a forced labour subcamp.

We say and write “Auschwitz” but we actually mean a torture centre, a terror that we cannot possibly conceive.  Yet, Auschwitz was not another planet, but a huge complex built by human beings to murder other human beings in the cruelest industrialized manner.  The electrically charged barbed wire fences surrounding Auschwitz were guarded by SS soldiers armed with machine guns and rifles.  Some Holocaust survivors have said that not only did the barbed wire surrounding Auschwitz tremble and howl, but also the tortured earth itself moaned with the voices of the victims.

In March, 1942 trains transporting Jews began to arrive from all over occupied Europe.  This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the extermination of 437,000 Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz and the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto whose Jews were also brought to Auschwitz in 1944.  The extension of the rail spur into Birkenau was built specifically for the arrival of these Jews so that they would be disembarked closer to the gas chambers.

When Jews arrived at the platform (ramp) in Birkenau, they were brutally thrown from the train.  The new arrivals were forced to form separate lines of men and women, always rows of five.  SS officers, including the infamous Dr Josef Mengele, would conduct selections and send most victims to their death.  A minority were sent to forced labour.  They were taken into “quarantine”, their hair was shaved, they were given striped prison uniforms and a registration number was tattooed on their left forearm.

The four gas chambers in Birkenau constituted the largest and most efficient method of extermination employed by the Nazis.  Built to resemble shower rooms, they could kill 3000 people at one time.  New arrivals were told that they needed to shower and be disinfected before going to a labour camp.  They were led into the gas chambers, forthwith.

By January 1945 Soviet troops were advancing towards Krakow and Auschwitz-Birkenau.  The Nazis sent most of the 58,000 remaining prisoners on a death march, where many were killed or died on the way.  The Soviets entered Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27 liberating the camp.  They found 7,650 prisoners there.  Some 1,200,000 were murdered in Auschwitz during World War II.

On 1st November 2005 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously approved 27 January as the “International Day of Commemoration of the Victims of the Holocaust”.  The resolution was sponsored initially by Israel, the US, Australia, Canada and Russia.  By the time the resolution was presented to the General Assembly 81 UN member nations added their names, including eight Muslim countries and several countries in Africa and South America.  There was no vote on the resolution.  Instead General Assembly President Jan Eliasson banged the gavel signifying consensus after asking if there were any objections and hearing none.  The importance of the resolution was reinforced by the fact that it represented the first time the UN, in its then 60 year history, adopted a resolution relating to the Holocaust.

Allow me to read to you portions of the speech made by Israel’s then UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman on 31 October 2005 to the General Assembly of the UN.

“The United Nations was founded on the ashes of the Holocaust and the commitment to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ and uphold and protect the ‘dignity and worth of the human person’.  The UN bears special responsibility to ensure that the Holocaust and its lessons are never forgotten and that this tragedy will forever stand as a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism, and prejudice.

We stand on the very brink of the moment when this terrible event changes from memory to history.  As the generation of Holocaust survivors and liberators dwindles, the torch of remembrance, of bearing witness, and of education must continue forward.  It is our duty to the past and our commitment to the future.

In January 2005, Member States affirmed the important role and responsibility of the United Nations in Holocaust remembrance and education to honour the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and to stand watch against the re-emergence of such evil for the benefit of future generations.

The fulfillment of that responsibility becomes ever more urgent in the face of an alarming increase in global acts of antisemitism, Holocaust denial, and religious intolerance.  Sadly, today, there is no shortage of human suffering.  Oppression, de-legitimization of peoples, and discrimination continue.  The terror of the Holocaust has, to our collective shame, not prevented other genocides from occurring.  These facts compel us to establish mechanisms that will ensure future generations will never forget the Holocaust and its lessons.

It is imperative that all states learn the lessons of the Holocaust, for the sanctity of life, for the preservation of humanity, and for the prevention of such atrocities in the future.”

The great and tragic author and survivor Primo Levi wrote: “We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”

There are no graves or memorial sites for those murdered at Auschwitz apart from the gruesome location itself with its crumbling gas chambers and crematoria.  Unfortunately, the Nazis succeeded in depriving their victims of any identity – even in death.  Our aim is to restore these names and faces of the human beings through commemorations such as today, thereby thwarting the Nazi plan to erase them and their memory.



: City of Glen Eira Deputy Mayor, Cr Michael Lipschutz; City of Glen Eira Mayor, Cr Neil Pilling; David Southwick MLA; Greek Consul-General, Christina Simantiraki ; Honorary German Consul-General, Michael Pearce SC; survivor of the Rwandan genocide, Aubert Ruzingandekwe; UN Representative, Michael Woodthorpe; JHC Executive, Warren Fineberg; & President of the JCCV, Nina Bassat AM.

 City of Glen Eira Deputy Mayor, Cr Michael Lipschutz; City of Glen Eira Mayor, Cr Neil Pilling; David Southwick MLA; Greek Consul-General, Christina Simantiraki ; Honorary German Consul-General, Michael Pearce SC; survivor of the Rwandan genocide, Aubert Ruzingandekwe; UN Representative, Michael Woodthorpe; JHC Executive, Warren Fineberg; & President of the JCCV, Nina Bassat AM.



The Jewish Holocaust  Centre (JHC) held a commemoration at the St Kilda Town Hall last Monday to mark the United Nations Holocaust Memorial Day. The function  was attended by over 200 people, among them consuls-general representing several countries, government and state officials, representatives of Jewish organisations and a wide representation from ethnic communities. The keynote address was delivered by Christopher Woodthorpe is  the Director of the United Nations Information Centre in Canberra, and testimony given by Aubert Ruzingandekwe, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.


In his vote of thanks, Warren Fineberg, JHC executive director, again called on the Australian Government to actively promote Australia’s status with the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research and to move Australia’s status from that of an observer nation to full membership of the Task Force. By so doing, he said,  it will confirm Australia’s responsibility to provide Holocaust education programs for all Australian children. Most of Europe, Britain, the US, Israel and Canada, he noted,  are members of the Task Force.


The commemoration, which commenced with a visual presentation, concluded with the singing of Advance Australia Fair and Hatikvah. The rendition of the anthems was preceded by the kindling of six memorial candles.


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