SCHINDLER’s Ark author Thomas Keneally has defended saying that Australians would have collaborated with the Nazis as the Poles did during the Shoah.
But he has apologised for the offence the remarks – made at a Sydney Writers Festival event last Sunday – caused.
Keneally made the comments while interviewing Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, according to barrister Irving Wallach, who walked out in protest.
“In one fell swoop, Keneally seriously misrepresented Polish anti-Semitism, justified the Polish government denial of Polish collaboration and dishonoured the courageous Poles who had saved Jewish lives,” Wallach, the son of Holocaust survivors, told The AJN.
He also said Keneally claimed anti-Zionism was not anti-Semitism. “After the session, I was approached by a number of people who agreed that Keneally’s comments were both wrong and offensive,” Wallach added.
When approached by The AJN, an apologetic Keneally conceded the Holocaust was a particularly painful topic for families of survivors. But he said, “I believe that Australians being human, under the right conditions would collaborate. There is documented proof that Australian businesses were preparing to collaborate with the Japanese in World War II.”
In regard to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, he clarified “the opposite is what I thought I said [that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism]”, adding that Israel “has to exist, I just wish the Palestinians didn’t have to pay the price for it”.
Told of these clarifications, Wallach said, “Tom now seems to appreciate what the issues are, but it’s not what he said on Sunday.”
Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich said Keneally’s belief that Australians would have abetted the Nazi genocide as some Poles did is “deeply hurtful”.
“This regrettable remark casts a stain on our nation’s character and is an insult to all Australians, especially to the diggers who fought valiantly to vanquish Hitler’s evil regime,” he said. “I believe that Australians would have done the right thing and would have acted courageously in saving their Jewish neighbours.
“Also, this comment ignores how deeply embedded anti-Semitism was in Poland, and partly diminishes Polish crimes since it implies that it would have been normal for citizens to become accomplices to the Nazis.”