Voyage of the Damned – Take Two

December 16, 2010 by Deborah Stone
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A Jewish anti-racism group has drawn parallels between the deaths of asylum seekers headed for Australia and the refugees from Nazism who died because they were turned away from refuge on the eve of World War II.

The B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission says, while the analogy is imperfect, it is impossible for those who remember the Holocaust not to think of the tragic similarities that modern asylum seekers now face.

ADC chairman Anton Block said it appeared not enough had been learnt from the tragedies of history like the St Louis and the Struma.

In 1939, 937 mostly refugees on the St Louis were forced to return to Germany after Cuba, the US and Canada all failed to offer asylum. Most were Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. The tragedy was made into the book and film “Voyage of the Dammed” .

In another case with tragic parallels, 768 refugees from Romania aboard the Struma drowned in 1942 because they were refused asylum in Turkey.

Mr Block said the deaths of dozens of asylum seekers in treacherous seas near Christmas Island might have been prevented if Australia had better processing procedures in Indonesia and humanitarian resettlement of refugees.

“As Jewish Australians, many of us descended from those lucky survivors who did get refuge in Australia, we are tremendously pained to see asylum seekers a generation later drowning and suffering.

“Most asylum seekers who come without visas are found to be legitimate refugees when their claims are processed. That we are prepared to leave them in dangerous seas, on inadequate boats and in offshore detention centres after they have already suffered so greatly is unconscionable.

“As a community who knows what it is to escape persecution and build new lives as refugees, we feel compelled to speak up for asylum seekers wherever they come from.”

The peak body of the Australian Jewish community, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, has called on the government to display good faith and humanity in implementing not only legal but moral obligations to refugees.


2 Responses to “Voyage of the Damned – Take Two”
  1. It is good to know you share our concern at the situation of asylum seekers. Obviously the degree to which one experiences resonances with other times in history is a matter of opinion. We do not and have not claimed the situation of asylum seekers is identical to that of Jews seeking shelter from Nazism but we do see genuine analogies with the experience of those marooned on boats unwanted by any country. You are of course entitled to disagree. The experience of survivors and their descendants is of course different from that of those of us who experience both the Holocaust and contemporary tragedies from outside and this perhaps explains the different perspectives Jews tend to have on whether the Holocaust should be viewed as a truely singular event or whether as an extreme example of a human rights violation.
    We do, however, share a tradition that requires us to “remember that we were strangers” and to “welcome the stranger within our gates”, both of which have strong moral imperatives in the present situation.

  2. Dr George Foster says:

    In response to the B’nai B’rith ADC media release of 16 December 2010, it is truly unfortunate that a Jewish organisation would make such an odious comparison of the plight of current refugees with Holocaust Survivors. Whilst there is no doubt that survivors and their families would have some empathy and understanding of the tragic circumstances in which asylum seekers find themselves that is surely where any comparison ends. Understandable sympathy for asylum seekers coming to Australia does not justify comparing their plight to that of European Jewry under the Nazis.

    The current asylum seekers have not been marked out for, or subjected to, genocidal mass murder and have not actually been turned back by governments because of their religion or race, and do have choices. Many of them have been admitted into Australia after their claims have been processed.

    During the Shoah where were the governments sympathetic to the Jewish plight? There was in the end nowhere for them to go and even the Australian representative at the fateful Evian Conference in 1938 said that “…As we have no real racial problems, we are not desirous of importing one”. It is outrageous to compare the current Australian government to that of 1938.

    I note that ADC chairman Anton Block has stated that “the analogy is imperfect”, referring to The St Louis and the Struma during the Shoah. At a time when Holocaust revisionists are also making comparisons which trivialise, minimise, obfuscate and deny the facts of the Holocaust such remarks by a respected Jewish organisation can only add weight to their abhorrent arguments.

    By all means let us do what we can to help those in need but let us be far more careful about the comparisons we make in particular about the unique aspects of the Shoah in which so many of our families suffered including my own. The ADC should have consulted first with other Jewish organisations instead of rushing into print. Moral posturing will not help anyone.

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