Sixteen Consuls attend the Yom HaShoah Voice of the Survivors in Sydney

April 11, 2010 by Henry Benjamin
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Sixteen Consuls, including representatives from Poland, Germany and Austria attended the Voice of the Survivors at the Jewish Museum in Sydney today.

Schoolchildren light six candles p: Henry Benjamin

More than 250 guests filled the auditorium including many survivors and pupils from Moriah College, Masada College, Redlands Cremorne, Kambala, Sydney Girls High, Bossley Park, Dubbo College, Campbelltown Performing School, Fairfield High School and the Armenian School.

Gael Hammer explains an exhibit p: Henry Benjamin

Before the ceremony of reading out the names of more than 5000 Jews murdered by the Nazis took place, the Consuls were taken on a tour of the Holocaust section of the museum.

Guides Gael Hammer and Michael Gold explained the path of the persecution of the Jews as displayed at the museum with special focus being placed on the children’s section. It was a hushed tour with the consuls seen to be visibly moved and with very questions demonstrating the self-evident tragic story the museum tells.

Before the reading of the names began, condolences were offered to the Polish Consul Daniel Gromann following the news of the tragic death of his country’s president Lech Kazcysnki in a plane crash in Western Russia which killed 88 passengers.

This followed Kaddish recited by Israeli diplomat Eli Yerushalami and the lighting of six candles by six of the school pupils to commemorate the memory of the six million who perished during the Nazi regime.

Countries whose Consuls attended included Argentina, Austria, the United Kingdom, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Germany, India, Latvia, Poland, the People’s Republic of China, and Romania.

One survivor left early. He told J-Wire as he walked out of the museum: “I went through this….I had to leave.”

German Consul Hans Gnodtke

Polish Consul Daniel Gromann

Sydney Jewish Museum President John Landerer

Emotional moment P: Henry Benjamin

Polish Consul Danile Gromann inspects children's shoes p: Henry Benjamin

Meanwhile, at the Martyrs’ Memorial at Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s president Robert Goot spoke to a solemn audience.

J-Wire publishes the text of his speech:


Martyrs Memorial Commemoration 11 April 2010

I would like to dedicate these remarks to Jana Gottshall, a survivor, the Rebbetzin of my youth in New Zealand, who with her late husband Rabbi Benjamin Gottshall,  showed me from am early age dignity courage and the importance of memory and learning.   We wish Jana Refuah Shelemach

The Voice of the Survivors

“Son of Man keep not silent

Forget not the deeds of tyranny

Cry out at the disaster of a people

And recount it unto your children

And they unto theirs”

Yehuda Leib Bialar

ECAJ President Robert Goot

When in 1968, I addressed the Warsaw Ghetto Commemoration, I observed that: “The history of Judaism is made conspicuous by the heroic acts of such men as Simon Bar Giorcha, Bar-Kochba, Judas Maccabee and Mordecai Anelevitch”

However, History will add to the class of heroes of the Jewish people, a complete generation – the survivors of the Shoah.

Those who came to this and other countries with nothing more than inexpressible grief at the loss of their families and communities and the triumph of having lived through the most terrible era of barbarism in all history, with courage and dignity.

The survivors – those who in a truly astonishing way, manifest the living symbol of Jewish survival and capacity for resurgence, renewal and continuity, through  the lives that they led and lead and the contributions that they have made and continue to make.

Silence was not for the survivors; forgetting was not for the survivors. They are a generation who: cry out; remember; recount; renew and rebuild.

In 1968, I was the Youth Speaker and accordingly received some latitude from  the organisers of the commemoration. In my speech I was critical of the fact that our community was lacking in the infrastructure, amenities and incentives that a Jewish community of 30,000 people must have to retain its identity and to be assured of a vibrant and continued existence as Jews.

The community I described then is in a very real sense, unrecognisable to the Jewish community we are privileged to be part of today.

That remarkable re-growth of the Sydney Jewish community is largely attributable to the capacity, energy and drive of the survivors. It is peculiar to the Australian Jewish experience particularly in Sydney and Melbourne and flows from the disproportionate number of survivors who came to Australia.

The survivors applied themselves energetically and with great success in every field of human endeavour, in a country that welcomed and encouraged them and provided them with vast opportunities, of which they were keen to take advantage, which they most certainly did.

In the foreward to   “Nothing is Impossible – The John Saunders Story”, John Howard described the survivors of the Shoah in the following terms:

“The Jewish people of Eastern Europe who fled the most appalling manifestation of human evil that the history of the world has seen, came to Australia, in almost all cases, without any capacity to speak English and, within a generation left their mark on commerce and business as well as community and charity endeavours”.

Success in commerce and business of course was one thing but its great importance was that through the philanthrophy that it spawned, that success helped in an unprecedented way to build and rebuild the community both here and in Israel and thereby to provide the institutions so vital for Jewish continuity, including: Synagogues; kehillot; learning centres; schools; University chairs and courses; University residential colleges and of course that essential vehicle for memory and learning the Sydney Jewish Museum.

But of course as we all know, bricks and mortar alone does not a caring and vibrant community make.

What is equally, if not more, important, is the wonderful sense of generosity of spirit and commitment, that we have found and continue to find in the survivors. That spirit and commitment manifests itself in so many different ways in our community.

Whether it be in the recording of oral histories so that generations to come might learn the depths to which humankind can descend when intolerance and hatred are allowed to flourish, or through the Heritage projects in our schools; or guiding in the Sydney Jewish Museum (established by a survivor John Saunders), or teaching Jewish and non-Jewish school children, members of the Police and other law enforcement agencies and citizens from all walks of life and all ages – about the Shoah and the importance of a tolerant and accepting society; or through leadership of and involvement with Jewish institutions and organizations; or in championing the rights of others less fortunate, or acting as a conscience in society generally, or in simply talking to and interacting with their own families and their friends,  survivors have made a contribution to this and other communities that is unprecedented.

And, as with most of what the survivors achieved, they set an outstanding example for others to follow, they inspired, they motivated and they lifted the bar in so many ways, creating a force and a climate for growth and progress. They were and are legendary.

Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that the generation of survivors that it has been our great privilege to know, is a generation the likes of which we are unlikely ever to know again.

“Son of Man keep not silent, Forget not the deeds of tyranny, Cry out at the disaster of a people, And recount it unto your children, And they unto theirs”

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