‘What unchecked hatred can breed’

Premier Gladys Berejiklian greets Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku at this year’s Kristallnacht commemoration. Photo: Giselle Haber

Remaining vigilant against a concerning backdrop of rising antisemitism, most noticeably in the wake of the recent attack in Pittsburgh, was a pertinent message highlighted at last week’s 80th commemoration for Kristallnacht held at the Great Synagogue.

Keynote speaker, Human Rights Commissioner  Edward Santow iterated the uniquely horrific nature of the Holocaust – foreshadowed by the decimation of synagogues, businesses, schools and cemeteries during Kristallnacht – which cannot be compared to any other atrocity, but nonetheless offers chilling lessons that endure to this day.

“When we look at contemporary human rights abuses in the shadow of the Holocaust, we need to be extremely careful. The Holocaust is unique – in scale, scope and effect,” said Santow at last Thursday’s commemoration hosted by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. “To pretend otherwise – to suggest equivalence between human rights abuses that are not the same – is wrong-headed and offensive to the survivors, and those who perished.

“But, equally, we cannot confine this history to a glass case and never look at it again.”

In light of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life shule, serving as a bleak reminder to never forget the storm of shattering glass that shook the Jews of Germany and Austria to their very core on November 9 and 10 of 1938, Santow said, “The recent massacre in a Pittsburgh synagogue tragically shows what unchecked hatred can breed. And so we should be alive to a dangerous rekindling of antisemitism in the US, UK, France, Hungary, Poland and elsewhere. And antisemitism has never gone away in Australia either.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian shared similar sentiments, and referred to the Great Synagogue as a sanctuary for the state’s Jewish community, and NSW as a “place of refuge and opportunity”, but also a location where we nonetheless “must always retain our vigilance”.

She added, “Kristallnacht marked the night of no return, there was no return,” before citing the strengthening of the state government’s new incitement legislation earlier this year as an example of working to maintain utmost vigilance.

Bringing a personal angle to the moving commemoration was Holocaust survivor and self-proclaimed ‘happiest man on earth’ Eddie Jaku.

“I lost everything,” said 98-year-old Jaku, who was born in Germany and shared with over 700 people present the sheer fear of witnessing Kristallnacht unfold in front of his very eyes.

This was, however, “the beginning of much worse to come”, he said, adding a lasting message that left a strong imprint on those present: “Please take the word hate out of your language … This tragedy must never happen again.”

SOPHIE DEUTSCH