Rebuilding, remembering lives

Chana Raizel Friedman with her grandmother and Holocaust survivor Alice Adamak. Photo: Giselle Haber

EMOTIONS ran high at UNSW’s Clancy Auditorium as 800 people heard how Holocaust survivors built new homes and thrived in postwar Australia at the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ Yom Hashoah commemorative event on Sunday.

As Chana Raizel Friedman appeared on stage with her 92-year-old grandmother and Holocaust survivor Alice Adamak, she delivered a heartfelt tribute, commenting, “You, Omama, show me that the greatest thing in life is to be able to work, love, give, contribute.”

Although many survivors rebuilt their lives here – and have contributed significantly to the Jewish and wider communities since – as chair of JBOD’s Shoah commemoration committee Danny Hochberg noted, they often could not escape the trauma of the past.

Paul Drexler came to Australia with his mother after the war, and together, the two worked tirelessly to rebuild their lives. “Life is good, I am a very lucky man,” said Drexler. “However, to come to this place, I have come a long way in distance and also emotionally.”

He recalled seeing his parents tortured, before his mother approached him with outstretched arms – an image that became etched in his memory.

For author and child survivor Diane Armstrong, masquerading with her family as Catholics in the remote Polish town of Piszczac, meant living in a constant state of tension. Having marvelled at the strength of her parents who “[rebuilt] their lives with an energy and a positive attitude”, Armstrong set herself to documenting the experiences of her relatives.

It was only after a serendipitous meeting with an old family friend and priest in Poland that she embraced her own identity as a survivor. “My family memoir Mosaic wasn’t just about my remarkable relatives, it was my story as well,” Armstrong relayed.

Introducing survivors Kitty Lowinger, Aneta and Joseph Weinreich, Peter Rossler and Ernie Friedlander to light the memorial candles, Michelle Levitt surprised the audience by announcing that she is the daughter of Drexler – the final candle lighter.

Paying homage to the Righteous Among the Nations, Nathan Chanesman lit the candle in honour of Antoni Korsowski, who saved Chanesman’s father and half-brother.

Aneta Weinreich and Lowinger also shared their recollections of the Holocaust and some moving words of inspiration via video. “What I would like to say to the next generation is that you have a very powerful weapon called choice,” said Lowinger. “You can choose to be a victim … survivor … bystander. You can choose to be proactive. This is your choice, it is very powerful.”

Other commemorations were held at Rookwood Cemetery, Masada College, and the Sydney Jewish Museum.