Yom Hashoah – Sydney

May 6, 2016 by David Sokol
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The Sydney commemoration of Yom Hashoah featured a conversation between Lily Brett and Avril Alba.

Lily Brett, the internationally recognised author of novels and poetry and the child of two Holocaust survivors who migrated to Australia in 1948, was the keynote speaker at Sydney’s Yom HaShoah event at the City Recital Hall last night. Ms Brett spoke with such grace and articulation that it mesmerised the capacity audience.

The clear messages from her talk that she offered to those present were to be wary of becoming complacent with the good life that can be had in Australia, to speak out against injustice, to be proud to be Jewish, and reminding us that as Jews we laugh, we talk a lot, we argue, we debate, but we do not hate. She said that Jews have been the victims of haters and that if we hate, we have learnt nothing.

Ms Brett was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany in 1946, two years before her parents migrated to Australia. They settled in Brunswick which was to become the hub of Jewish, holocaust-survivor immigrants – a place her father called “Paradise”. She recalled the collateral damage caused by her parent’s experiences in the concentration camps in Germany that turned them to lack religious belief, despite both of them coming from religious homes. So, whilst they expected her to marry “a Jewish boy” they didn’t allow her to go to synagogue.

So it was clear that her parent’s experiences had a huge impact on her and who she would become. In her late teens Ms Brett was quite the free spirit, working as a rock journalist and interviewing internationally famous pop stars, and at the same time travelling around the world. She recalled the time that she was staying at a youth hostel in Israel when she was 18 years old and meeting up with some German travellers who kept apologising for their country’s murders. She said that that was the first time she had realised that the children of the perpetrators were living parallel lives to the children of the survivors.

She was surprised to find that as she grew older her interest in the effect of the Holocaust was stronger and she continued to be bewildered by what had happened to the Jewish people in Europe during that time. She said that she is concerned when she sees people harshly judging those who are different to themselves and suggests that it is a short, slippery slope from that judgement to being indifferent to others – an environment in which the politics of hate can grow. She believes that Auschwitz symbolises the worst example of the result of the politics of hate.

Ms Brett said that she has been to Auschwitz very often, in the same way that some people go to church or to synagogue. She sees it as an opportunity to be connected to people at another level and connected to something intangible. She says that it is the only place on earth where she feels deeply connected to the mothers and fathers and children who were part of her family and part of herself – these people who she never met and never will meet. She said “at Auschwitz I feel joined to them. Even as a nonbeliever I am showing them that they are not forgotten, that they are loved”.

She was shocked, when she returned from one of the trips to Auschwitz, by the words spoken by a rabbi who visits her father each week in New York. He had said “I hate Germans”. Ms Brett said that she didn’t believe that leaders of religion would have that hatred in their vocabulary. She said that there is hatred all around us in all parts of the world and that is a community we need to be the best we can be not the least we can be.

In conversation with Dr Avril Alba on stage after her talk Ms Brett was asked about her perspective on this year’s theme of “creative responses” and she talked about the growth of the new Jewish community in Melbourne after the arrival of the Holocaust survivors in the creation of life in growing families, the writing of books, the composition of music, the creation of art is being examples of how those survivors around the world were being creative.

In her closing remarks Ms Brett talked about the acknowledgement by her father of the impact of the survivor’s trauma on their children. This provided the opportunity for her father to say sorry despite always doing the best that he could do; a conversation that perhaps many of the children of survivors have never had the opportunity to have with their parents.

Photo gallery  from Giselle Haber below and story to follow:


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