Perlman tells a story

April 20, 2012 by Henry Benjamin
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Award winning novelist Elliot Perlman had a special tale to tell those who attended the functions commemorating Yom HaShoah at which he spoke in Sydney.

Elliot Perlman pic: Henry Benjamin

The day which belongs to the memories of the Holocaust included a highlight at which Perlman, whose latest novel The Street Sweeper is nominated for both the Miles Franklin Award and the Australian Book Industry Award engaged in conversation with the CEO of the NWS Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff,

Perlman said that it took five and a half years to research and write “The Streetsweeper” during which time he found more astonishing material than he “could fit within the covers of one book”.  One of the stories he unearthed was the basis of his address at both Moriah College in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and at Masada College in St Ives.

The author told of Czech Jew Rudolph Vrba a prisoner and registrar at Birkenau who witnessed at times up to 100% of newly arrived prisoners being murdered on arrival. But one day he observed 4000 Jews arriving at Birkenau from Czechoslovakia and being kept in family groups…not experiencing the usual dehumanising practices of the Nazis. The Jews had been marked for special attention which indicated they were to be quarantined for six months and then gassed. It was, in fact, an extension of the well-documented ruse by the Nazis at Theriesenstadt to convince the Red Cross as to how well the Nazis looked after the Jews. Jews in this camp included many academics and artists and they were encouraged to continue their creative work. A school was established at which 15,000 children passed through…all this set up to deceive Jews and foreign diplomats.

Vrba met 40 men within the new group who had had prior military experience. He also met Freddy Hirsch a man who had taken on the  responsibility of nurturing the children of this Czech family camp. Vrba received information that the Czech families were doomed to die and warned.Hirsch. A plan was conceived to fight for their escape although Hirsch could not understand why the Germans had allowed them to live in comfort for six months. But Vrba said that all the Czechs, including the children, were as good as dead. One Sonnerkommando wanted to die with Zhech families but a woman pleaded with him to live, escape and tell the story of what happened in the death camps.


Elliot Perlman and Vic Alhadeff pic: Henry BEnjamin

Mariela Sztrum. Norman Seligman Elliot Perlman, Olga Horak and Vic Alhadeff pic: Aviva Wolff

Perlman told the meeting that what happened next remained chronicled because Vrba and members of the Sonderkommando survived to tell the tale. The rest of the story belongs to Perlman but the moral of the story according to Perlman belongs to world Jewry. He asked the 1000 members of the community who attended the commemorations: “What are YOU going to do? You can’t bring these people back but you can stop them from dying a second time.  You can stop them fading from the world’s memory and in doing so help prevent this kind of thing happening to Jews or to anyone anywhere.”

Elements of the Holocaust were the focal point of a conversation with NSWJBD CEO Vic Alhadeff. which followed Perlman’s address. Alhadeff quizzed the writer on the  responsibility of a writer when using  fiction to describe the Holocaust. During his visit to Sydney, the celebrated author paid a visit to the Sydney Jewish Museum, meeting some of the Holocaust survivors who act as guides.



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