Hope en­dures de­spite evil acts

Jewish mu­seum’s trib­ute to mil­lions of lost souls

Central and North Burnett Times - - LIFE - BY Mark Furler

THOSE tiny feet. Bro­ken hearts and bones. Mal­nour­ished bodies and tor­tured minds. Abuse be­yond be­lief. As I walk through the Chil­dren’s Memo­rial in the Syd­ney Jewish Mu­seum, a sculp­ture of chil­dren’s shoes brings me to a jar­ring halt. How could any­one be so cruel to a child? How could gov­ern­ment and army of­fi­cials plot the de­struc­tion of an en­tire race? As a fa­ther, pho­tos of just a frac­tion of the 1.5 mil­lion chil­dren lost in the Nazi holo­caust scream out at me. Girls with blue eyes and blonde hair, sad-look­ing brown-eyed boys. There’s a sculp­ture filled with wa­ter – 1.5 mil­lion drops for each one of them lost. On the wall, Tre­blinka (an ex­ter­mi­na­tion camp) sur­vivor Yankel Wiernik’s words are pow­er­fully poignant. “All through that win­ter small chil­dren, stark naked and bare­footed, had to stand out in the open for hours on end, await­ing their turn in the in­creas­ingly busy gas cham­bers. “The soles of their feet froze and stuck to the icy ground. “They stood and cried; some of them froze to death. In the mean­time, Ger­mans and Ukraini­ans walked up and down the ranks, beat­ing and kick­ing them. “One of the Ger­mans, a man named Sepp, was a vile and sav­age beast who took spe­cial de­light in tor­tur­ing chil­dren. “When he pushed women around and they begged him to stop be­cause they had chil­dren with them, he would fre­quently snatch a child from the woman’s arms and ei­ther tear the child in half or grab it by the legs, smash its head against a wall and throw the body away.” The newly ren­o­vated mu­seum, which first opened in 1992, uses ev­ery means to con­vey sto­ries of those lost and the sur­vivors who some­how man­aged to es­cape it all. As you walk around, you can hear au­dio of peo­ple fea­tured in dis­plays via an app, while pow­er­ful por­traits of sur­vivors speak of their re­silience. Each week, school­child­ren hear from vol­un­teers who are de­ter­mined to en­sure the hor­ror of the Holo­caust is not for­got­ten. The open­ing state­ment of the Chil­dren’s Memo­rial is not lost on them. “For chil­dren ev­ery­where in the hope they will live in a world of peace and love. “In mem­ory of the chil­dren who found nei­ther.” The mu­seum records the fact that 90% of Jewish chil­dren per­ished in death camps. Too young to work, they were among the first to be moved to the camps be­cause they were con­sid­ered of no value. The white walls of the mu­seum bear Jewish sur­names – fam­ily af­ter fam­ily af­fected for­ever. “As you make your way through the mu­seum, the names will ac­com­pany you.’’ They do – and long af­ter you leave. Watch­ing archival footage taken by US Army pho­tog­ra­phers re­veals the sick scenes of the death camps. “We could smell burn­ing hu­man bodies,’’ Lotte Weiss says in a Jewish Mu­seum video. “And we looked up to heaven and my sis­ter Erica said ‘to­day is the end of the world’.” That was around the end of May, 1942. Lotte was 18 and, with her sis­ters, Lilly, 23, and Erika, 21, a pris­oner at Auschwitz. David Benedikt tells of an­other hor­ror. “In the mid­dle of the camp there was a heap of women’s and chil­dren’s shoes eight feet high,’’ he says. “And on the edge of the camp, fixed on the ground, a gas cham­ber pre­tend­ing to be a shower room and next to it a tall chim­ney spew­ing this stench of burn­ing hu­man flesh, 24 hours a day.” Some of the fi­nal phases of the Nazi geno­cide in­cluded death marches. More than 720,000, one third of whom were Jewish, were still in con­cen­tra­tion camps in Jan­uary 1945. The marches lasted from days to weeks. Ex­hausted or ema­ci­ated pris­on­ers who could not keep up were shot or beaten. In some places, the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion even par­tic­i­pated, killing pris­on­ers. Some 250,000 died on the marches. De­spite the Jews’ im­mense suf­fer­ing, Aus­tralia was re­luc­tant to help th­ese refugees af­ter the First World War, the mu­seum records. “As we have no racial prob­lem we are not de­sirous of im­port­ing one,’’ TM White told the Evian con­fer­ence in France in 1938. Only 9000 Jewish peo­ple ini­tially found safe haven here. Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, Jews were con­sid­ered “en­emy aliens” in Aus­tralia and weapons were con­fis­cated, along with binoc­u­lars and maps. Their mail was in­ter­cepted and cen­sored. Some were even in­car­cer­ated with for­mer Ger­man sol­diers. But many of th­ese mi­grant fam­i­lies went on to make great con­tri­bu­tions to Aus­tralian life. Among them are Frank Lowy, founder of The West­field Group, Sir Peter Abe­les, for­mer chair­man of Ansett, ed­u­ca­tion guru David Gon­ski, Sidney Myer, founder of Myer depart­ment store, ar­chi­tect Harry Sei­dler, and prop­erty de­vel­oper Harry Triguboff, to name a few in the busi­ness world. The new Holo­caust dis­play was of­fi­cially opened by Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull in March this year. Jewish News reports that Mr Turn­bull men­tioned a dis­play that fea­tured Wannsee House, where plans were drawn up for the Fi­nal So­lu­tion. In­side that house in 1942, around a ta­ble, “sat not just slab­ber­ing fa­nat­ics, but the lead­ers of the civil ser­vice –

I think you have to be pos­i­tive. Ha­tred cre­ates ha­tred. It just breathes you in and eats you up.

bu­reau­crats – who calmly and me­thod­i­cally worked out how best and most ef­fi­ciently to kill six mil­lion peo­ple”. “We are ca­pa­ble of the great­est love, us – hu­mans … but we are ca­pa­ble of the most ter­ri­ble crimes, and that is why we must never for­get the Holo­caust,’’ Mr Turn­bull said. “And that is why this mu­seum, this memo­rial is so im­por­tant. It re­minds us what can hap­pen when re­spect is gone, when ha­tred takes its place.” Dr Avril Alba, project di­rec­tor and con­sult­ing cu­ra­tor, said that in ev­ery as­pect of the new ex­hi­bi­tion first-hand ac­counts were in­te­gral. There are more than 100 new arte­facts and hun­dreds of im­ages and footage never seen in Aus­tralia. “The sur­vivor founders (30 of whom still reg­u­larly share their sto­ries with mu­seum vis­i­tors) will re­main at the cen­tre of an in­sti­tu­tion that is ded­i­cated to his­tory and mem­ory while also en­cour­ag­ing con­tem­po­rary re­flec­tion and de­bate,” Dr Alba said. “Study­ing the Holo­caust is essen­tial in terms of un­der­stand­ing the his­tory of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. “But per­haps more im­por­tantly, it is essen­tial to our hu­man­ity, sen­si­tis­ing us to the con­se­quences of dis­crim­i­na­tion and strengthening our re­solve to build and main­tain com­mu­ni­ties free of racism and big­otry.” One of the most pow­er­ful dis­plays is Closer: Por­traits of Sur­vival by award-win­ning pho­tog­ra­pher Katherine Grif­fiths. She has pho­tographed 44 Holo­caust sur­vivors with the pho­tos, let­ters and ob­jects that are em­blem­atic of their sur­vival. The ul­ti­mate mes­sage of the Syd­ney Jewish Mu­seum is not one of re­venge but of tol­er­ance and the need to stand up against those who would sin­gle out a com­mu­nity based on their race or re­li­gion. “Re­venge is self-de­struc­tive. Life has got to go on,’’ Kuba Enoch says. “I think you have to be pos­i­tive. Ha­tred cre­ates ha­tred. It just breathes you in and eats you up.’’ Ge­orge Gro­jnowski put it this way. “I be­lieve that ev­ery hu­man be­ing has a value to hu­man­ity, we need to learn that. Stand up and ob­ject when you see some­one mis­treated.’’ But there’s also the re­al­i­sa­tion that such atroc­i­ties can never be for­got­ten, as Olga Ho­rak points out in one of the mov­ing fi­nal mes­sages. “Peo­ple say, ‘Live for the fu­ture, don’t live in the past.’ But I don’t live in the past; the past lives in me.’’

PHOTO: MARK FURLER PHO­TOS: MARK FURLER

◗ One of the dis­plays at the Syd­ney Jewish Mu­seum. ◗ Dis­plays at the Syd­ney Jewish Mu­seum.

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