Kristallnacht commemorated

November 10, 2014 by Henry Benjamin
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The President of the Australian Human Rights Commission was the guest speaker at Sydney’s 2014 Kristallnacht commemoration.


Michael Jaku

Michael Jaku

Michael Jaku who heads the NSWJBD’s Shoah Remembrance Committee spoke of that fateful night in German in 1938 which triggered the start of the Holocaust as Jew became victims of street thugs and Jewish books were burned and synagogues destroyed.

Vivien Gorney

Vivien Gorney

Over 300 people packed the National Council of Jewish Women NSW’s auditorium where they heard Vivien Gorney tell the detailed story of her late mother Vera Weinstein’s life focusing on her war-time experiences.

This was followed by the lighting of six candles by Vera Weinstein’s grandchildren.


In introducing Gillian Triggs, president of host organisation The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies Jeremy Spinak said: “One day, when I was 6 years old I arrived at my grandparents place and saw that my opa was sitting in his study with the door closed and with the lights off. I asked my grandmother what was wrong with Opa, was he sick? Did he fall? What happened? She explained to me that that day was the anniversary of a very sad day for my opa and that he wouldn’t be coming out to play. That on that day when they still lived in Germany, his business was vandalized, his colleagues were arrested, that police came looking for him and that he had to go into hiding for his life. Oma told me that the day was called Kristallnacht. That was the first I had heard of anything to do with their life in Germany, the War, the Holocaust or my grandparents experiences in Nazi Europe.



In hindsight, I view that day at my grandparents place as being very important, a right of passage, an opening introduction into the complexities of Jewish history and identity. What had started as a regular school day with the carefree certainties of childhood was ending with the first sort of understanding that I belonged in a historical continuity that, just two generations earlier, had to face horrible and unimaginable events.

On that day an enormous responsibility was placed on my shoulders, I was now the barer of a history that needed to be perpetuated, told and explained. That same responsibility is passed to every single Jewish person the day they learn, like I did on Kristallnacht 1938, of the fate that had befallen our people.

But, in what would be unfathomable to our families who lived in Europe in the 1930s, we are luckily not alone in remembering and sharing this history. And, in what would seem even more incredible to our ancestors, it is Government, it is figures of authority and stature in the wider community, that help us to ensure that the lessons of our history are never forgotten.

That’s why we are so truly lucky and very privileged to have someone of the stature of Emeritus Professor Gillian Triggs, the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, here today to commemorate Kristallnacht with us. Today, in her presence here, Professor Triggs gives strength to our commemorative efforts and stands in solidarity with our community and its history. She helps us to perpetuate the lessons of that history and send a message to the wider-community about its application and

Gorney grandchildren

Gorney grandchildren


Professor Triggs has had an extremely distinguished legal career, with particular emphasis on Human Rights and International Law and became president of the Human Rights Commission in 2012.

Gillian Triggs said she supported the need for Section 18c as her organisation received annually 21,000 enquiries and complaints “alleging human rights abuses and discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability and age”.

She said there had been a 57% increase of racial abuse “in the public arena”. She added that the Commission receives only two or three complaints regarding the right of free expression.

Gillian Trigg

Gillian Triggs

Gillian Triggs said that the Commission found the rise in racial abuse “very worrying” indicating that the Jewish community was one of those experiencing it.

Talking about racism generally, she said: “What may begin with Jews rarely ends with them and it is of great concern to all communities.”

She made reference to a Private Member’s Bill having been introduced with the aim pf keeping reforms to Section 18c alive.

Triggs turned to the topic of asylum seekers. She said: “The Jewish community is well aware of the impact of a stop the boats policy”. She demonstrated her point by mentioning the 1947 voyage of the ship “The Exodus”.  4515 European Jews were on this vessel which had to run a blockade when it reached the British Mandate of Palestine.  She said: “Britain was opposed to the settlement of European Jews in Palestine and stopped over 50% of the 142 boats. The Jews were returned to internment camps in Germany and Cyprus and Mauritania. Over 1600 Jews were estimated to have drowned at sea in making these voyages. The “Exodus” was boarded on July 18, 1947 and the refugees were all returned to the British Occupied Zone in Germany to international outrage.”

She said that the Australian governments demeaned asylum seekers whom she says “have very clear rights as a matter of international law.”

Gilian Triggs said that all government bodies are directed by government itself to refer to all maritime arrivals as “illegals”. She said that asylum seekers are assumed to have jumped a queue when there is no queue. She added: We demonise only those who arrive by boat. Yet 85-90% when assessed meet the definition of ‘refugee’.”

She added that as long as the 31,000 asylum seekers in Australia are not assessed the Government may call them “economic migrants”. Gillian Triggs said: “I have learned that what this does is strip away the last element of dignity asylum-seekers have because they deeply believe and know that they meet the definition of ‘refugee’. But to not assess them at all and to deny them access to courts because they have no decision against which they can complain is to strip them of that one element of dignity and legal status that the international community recognises.”

We find that babies born to refugee mothers in Australia are demeaned when being referred to as ‘anchors'”.  She mentioned a recent case in Brisbane when a baby born in Australia was deemed to have entered Australia by sea. She said: “This is complete nonsense. Farouk was born in Brisbane. He could not possible have entered Australia by sea.” She said that she was not critiquing the judge who made the decision but was referring to the absurdity of the Migration Act.

She pointed out that over 800 children are currently detained in camps.

She said that Government breaches of human rights in the interest of public policy ” has created a situation in which Australians are complacent in the face of significantly increased non-reviewable discretion.”

Gillian Triggs spoke about the “raft of laws” being introduced  int Australia which impact widely on human rights and pointed out that the Australian public was poorly education on the use of the constitution by the government in introducing legislation at breakneck speed.

She said that a survey had been taken of Australians who were asked “Do we have a constitution? Do we have a Bill of Rights?” The answers were No to the first question by 90% of Australians and Yes  to the second  by 60%. She said : “Neither answer is correct.”

In her summing up she said: “To give such unlimited, non-renewable and non-compellable power to the executive is deeply, deeply troubling. Australia has become a compass without due North. We no longer know what is the right of freedom speech. The Kristallnacht  memory remains alive as a powerful reminder that words of religious and racial hatred are destructive for all society and we need to be constantly vigilant to challenge manipulation in the public arena, one the media or in Parliament. The lessons of Kristallnacht are profound and universal.”We must never be complacent and we all stand up for the rights we all share.”












4 Responses to “Kristallnacht commemorated”
  1. Michael Neustein says:

    The choice of Prof Triggs as the speaker at the Kristallnacht Commemoration was inappropriate. Prof Triggs has well known opinions on a number of matters such as refugee detention and s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and these are not related to the events of Kristallnacht.More worryingly for our community, Prof Triggs has taken a strong exception to some of the proposed anti-terror laws, not least the proscribing of parts of the Middle East such as Syria as places to which Australians should not be travelling. She is also opposed to the widening of laws against those who promote jihad to the Australian Moslem community.

    I’m sure that most Australian Jews welcome the latter measures as an appropriate Government response to the latest terrorist threats to the general Australian community. Kristallnacht commemorations should not be the vehicle by which those who are prepared to allow unfettered anti-democratic and potentially lethal views to be propagated may gain a wider audience. We do not need to subscribe to the English view that freedom of speech is to be extended to those who seek to destroy our democratic and pluralist homeland.

    Prof Triggs also found the link between her views and the commemoration of Kristallnacht to be so tenuous that she hardly mentioned it. Let us choose a more appropriate speaker for next year.

    • Michael Jaku says:

      Wow! Just a bit over the top! I might be wrong but just maybe human rights does have something to do with Kristallnacht. Must we always restrict ourselves to speakers who only say what we want to hear? I guess you just can’t please all of the people all of the time.

    • Miguel A. Garcia says:

      Mr. Neustein refers to those who have
      “…unfettered anti-democratic and potentially lethal views and who may gain a wider audience.”

      His implication is that these should be legally silenced or muffled.

      He then cautions us that :
      “We do not need to subscribe to the English view that freedom of speech is to be extended to those who seek to destroy our democratic and pluralist homeland.”

      Mr. Neustein has a point in that (to paraphrase a popular saying) the right to free speech and expression ends at the point of another person’s nose.

      However, we should not seek to protect Democracy by reacting to contrary opinions by silencing them! Yes, hate speech, racial or other forms of group villification should be anathema in a modern, free society; but to silence or muffle another person’s views just because you don’t agree with their opinion (in the case of Professor Trigg) should be equally avoided. Not all of the Jewish community shares Mr. Neustein’s views, but he should never be silnced or pilloried for his expression of them.

      Professor Trigg has strong views, but they are unequivocally couched in the protection of human rights, and this extends to all humans.

      If we, as a culture, begin to pick and choose who does or does not deserve to be given the protection of those rights then are we not embarking upon a long, harrowing, oft-travelled historic road that leads to climates in which Krystallnachts gestate?

      • Lynne Newington says:

        But sometimes hypothetical [for lack of a better word], speaking, it doesn’t mean we have to sleep with the devil, although Jewish culture that I’m aware of wouldn’t use that synonym.

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