Shoah survivors ‘inspire us’

Holocaust survivors light the memorial candles. Photo: Giselle Haber

ONE year after commencing his directorship of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson had one of the most meaningful experiences of his life, he told the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ Yom Hashoah commemoration on Sunday, held in conjunction with the Sydney Jewish Museum and the Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants.

Nelson was leading Alan Moore, a former official Australian war artist, through an exhibition at the Memorial displaying his artworks when Moore began to tremble, before motioning to a drawing of SS guards moving dead women and children into a burial pit.

Witnessing Moore’s reaction encouraged Nelson to explore the possibility of constructing a permanent Holocaust exhibition at the Memorial.

Fielding criticism from some who claimed the Holocaust is irrelevant to the Australian wartime experience, Nelson challenged, “Why do you think we were fighting the Second World War if not against Nazism, fascism, and everything that is evil? This, I said, has everything to do with us, because we are part of humankind.”

The Holocaust: Witnesses and Survivors opened in 2016. “I would like to see all of the main cultural institutions in this country at least have some reference to and presentation of the Holocaust,” Nelson told UNSW’s capacity-packed Clancy auditorium. 

“They should be visible reminders to us all, not so much of what was done but the human spirit and qualities that inspire us to be better people.” 

Prior to the commemoration, Youth HEAR – dedicated to connecting Australian youth with memories of the Holocaust – held its first official Yom Hashoah service with 400 young people. Co-founder Harry Rosen shared his experiences visiting concentration camps and Jewish cemeteries in Poland at the main commemoration.

Linking to this year’s theme of Memorials and Memories, chair of JBOD’s Shoah Commemoration Committee, Danny Hochberg, emphasised the necessity of having large-scale memorials that highlight political culpability and the immensity of the Holocaust, as well as more intimate ones that speak to individual experiences.

Shoah survivors George Grojnowski, Dr Elizabeth Levy, Associate Professor Richard Haber, Eugen Klein, Lena Goldstein and Lilly Berger lit memorial candles, and Ellie Zinsmeester shared the story of her parents who hid Jews in the Netherlands, and were honoured as Righteous Among The Nations.

To commence the evening, a moment’s silence was held in recognition of the San Diego shooting, the Sri Lanka massacre last month and other recent atrocities.

A ceremony at Martyrs’ Memorial in Rookwood will be held this Sunday at 10.30am.