Melbourne Jewish community marks the 75th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference

February 1, 2017 by J-Wire Staff
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Michael Danby, Federal Member for Melbourne Ports and the rabbis and members of the board of Melbourne’s Elwood Shule, have hosted a Holocaust Memorial event at Elwood Synagogue. 

Rabbi James Kennard

Over 300 people attended to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the infamous Wannsee Conference. These were mostly from the Jewish Community but also included several MP’s including Tim Wilson and Senator Kimberly Kitching, together with the Hon Bruce Atkinson, the Victorian President of the Legislative Council, local Caulfield Member David Southwick, Frank McGuire ,Margret Fitzherbert,Don Nardella ,Hong Lim and Inga Puelich.
As usual the new Mayor of the City of Glen Eira Mary Delahunty was there along with regular Shomer Cr Dick Gross representing the Port Phillip Council and Cr Nina Taylor also from Glen Eira.Altogether there were seven State Parliamentarians in attendance.

The event was Supported by the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation (Toorak Shule) and The Jewish Holocaust Centre. Australia is home to the largest Holocaust survivor population outside of Israel and the USA. This commemoration was an important way for the Melbourne community to honour survivors and their family members. Sunday’s public memorial commemorated 75 years since the Wannsee Conference (20 January 1942). It was held over two hours and featured esteemed speakers and a candle lighting ceremony.

The evening opened with Michael Danby giving the audience in the shule some of the heightened historical significance of the Wannsee conference now attracts as one wider significance in the events of the World War II. He explained that it was at this meeting where the most senior Nazi officials gathered in the Berlin Suburb of Wannsee to draw up the death warrant for European Jews,known as the “Final Solution”, It was organised by the dreaded commander of the SD ,Reinhard Heydrich and the conference authorised the SS Adolf Eichman to have overriding power to implement the Europe-wide plan of annihilating the Jews in Nazi dominated Europe.

Gerard Henderson

Pauline Rockman, President of the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Center, also introduced the event, speaking on the vital importance of remembering the Holocaust particularly in the Melbourne community’s collective memory.

Dr Gerard Henderson, Director of the Sydney Institute think tank, was the first speaker of the evening. His speech recalled the lessons of the Holocaust and his personal experiences in Melbourne, learning about those tragedies from Jewish intellectual mentors such as the late Professor Hugo Wolfson and Dr Frank Knophelmacher.

Dr Sam Lipski, Executive Director of the Pratt Foundation, was second to speak. He was passionate about the Jewish Community’s responsibility to ‘Zachor’ ‘remember’. That is, Jews must not forget the specific anti-Semitic drivers behind the Holocaust. While on International Holocaust Day the world may renounce racism and genocide, Lipski emphasized that the Jewish community must not define itself by these horrors but by Jewish continuity and survival. He spoke out against the drive to make the Holocaust so universal that it loses its particularity.

Rabbi James Kennard, Principal of Scopus Memorial College reflected these thoughts, explaining the uniqueness of the Jewish nation and its persecution. He suggested that the Holocaust was exceptional not only because of the way it was organised, but particularly because of the demonic scope in its industrialisation of death. Rabbi Kennard explained the way in which the Nazi plan thankfully failed to eradicate entire Jewish people. He referred to a document displayed in Yad Vashem which details each country with a Jewish population in the world down to its last hundred, including his country of origin, England. His message was that all Jews, including those not conquered by the Nazi’s, were targets in the Holocaust. Hence every Jew is a survivor.

Jennifer Hupppert, President of JCCV made the closing remarks. She expressed the sensitivity required in remembering the victims and the survivors as well as re-emphasising the messages of the speakers before her.

At the conclusion of the speeches, each speaker lit a candle for the 6 Million Kedoshim and the evening concluded as it began with the spirited chazanuth of MHC Rabbi David Rubenfield,who opened with Advance Australia Fair and closed the evening with Hatikvah.

The evening ended with Rabbi Gutnick saying a prayer (El Malei Rachamim) for the murdered 6 million as the speakers lit candles in their honour.


One Response to “Melbourne Jewish community marks the 75th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference”
  1. Henry Herzog says:

    Can’t help but wonder if, in their addresses, Tim Wilson and Gerard Henderson called about the rights of bigots, including Holocaust deniers, have been trampled by section 18C, and it should be repealed. Also, I wonder if Wilson told the audience how privileged they are in having section 18C and how it creates inequalities by us having such special privileges (The Australian 21/12/16). I can’t understand how Michael Danby would have invited them to speak on the cause of the Holocaust, which started well before the Wannsee Conference, when insulting and offending Jews was acceptable.

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