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Australian Holocaust Survivors Speak Out

by | Tue, Nov 21 2023

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A wave of anti-Semitism in Australia and overseas following the October 7 Hamas attacks has deeply disturbed many of the nation’s Holocaust survivors, prompting more than 100 of them to publish an unprecedented letter calling on Australians to denounce anti-Semitism and hatred, and warning of the consequences of repeating history.

The letter declares: “We are witnesses to the anti-Semitic propaganda that turned our friends, neighbours and the general public against us in Europe. We remember the six million Jewish lives lost because of this hatred. On the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of anti-Jewish pogroms deemed the turning point in Nazi plans to annihilate European Jewry, we urge humanity to reject hatred, bigotry and violence, to recognise and condemn the agenda of Hamas, and to call for the immediate release of all its hundreds of hostages.”

“Never have we, the survivors of the Holocaust felt the need to make a collective statement such as this until now. Never did we think that we would witness a re-enactment of the senseless and virulent hatred of Jews that we faced in Europe. The actions of Hamas are so familiar, so barbaric, yet instead of condemning this, the response across the globe is a shameful spike in anti-Semitism,” the letter continued.

The Australian Prayer Network writes that the Holocaust survivors stressed their learned experience of the values of resilience, unity and hope, and the power of remembrance and education. Many signatories are volunteers at Holocaust museums around the country aimed at preventing a recurrence of past atrocities.

One of them is 99-year-old Abram Goldberg. The Australian writes that as one of Australia’s oldest Holocaust survivors, Mr. Goldberg has dedicated much of his long life to ­warning against the perils of ­hatred. Never again became a catch-cry of his adulthood. “I witnessed the brutality of what anti-Semitism can be,” he remembers. He has lived in Melbourne since 1951 and for the past 40 years, through the city’s Holocaust museum, he has told tens of thousands of people about his devastating past, the importance of speaking up and the value of hope.

The Australian writes “Hamas’s attacks on Israel a month ago rekindled his wartime nightmares, with details of murdered babies and mothers mirroring his own wartime experiences.” Mr. Goldberg told the newspaper: “You can imagine it all came back. I never expected all this to be happening in our wonderful country: the demonstrations, the anti-Semitism and racism. I hear hatred on the television. I read it in the press, I can feel it. And it pains me. My children were born here, and I have been here for 80 years. I saw a better Australia than I see now.”

Queensland Holocaust Museum chairman Jason Steinberg whose organisation is part of the Australian Holocaust Museum Alliance which instigated the statement told The Australian: “That’s why the survivors are so passionate, because they have been educating Australians for decades to protect society against this.”

For 84-year-old Nina Bassat, adding her name to the statement was imperative. “It’s the total absence of moral fibre that’s coming through in this. There’s no logic. It’s just We hate Jews,” she told The Australian. Unlike some signatories to the letter, the child survivor has not become fearful over the past month of being identified publicly. “I don’t want to live in a country where I can’t have my full name published,” she declared.

As a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Mrs. Bassat has long been aware of the existence of local anti-Semitism. But only now has she been shocked by its breadth. “It hurts me. We were given a haven here. We just wanted to get as far away from Europe as we could. And it has been a wonderful country. I did not think in Australia I would ever hear the words Kill the Jews,” she lamented to The Australian.

“Australia is one of the last bastions of civility, of living multi­culturally in a much more friendly environment, and this is now being put at risk. I’m frightened for our society. Hatred is insidious and contagious, and you don’t know where it will manifest itself. It’s not a Jewish issue. I wish people would understand that anti-Semitism starts with Jewish people. But the hate then translates to any group that is perceived as being the other. In the Holocaust that was the Romani, homosexuals, people with disabilities. Any group that you feel doesn’t measure up to your requirements then becomes the victim,” Mrs. Bassat explained.