Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

60 years on

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Relections on the Shoah

By Jeremy Jones

In the last week in January, the Australian media gave considerable coverage to the Shoah, the Nazi Genocide, as the world marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops.

Television, radio and newspaper commentators interviewed survivors, reported statements by public figures and canvassed the "lessons" one could learn from the darkest moment in human history.

Israeli President Katsav speaks at Auschwitz at a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of liberation

While Australia has not joined the small group of states which formally mark January 27 as a national day of reflection on the evils of Nazism, it is likely that, in 2005 at least, this had little negative impact on public focus on the Shoah, Auschwitz, and the human beings who facilitated the evil, those who were its victims then and those who continue to suffer, as well as those who acted with dignity, decency and humanity at the risk of their own safety.

The passage of each year removes us a degree further from the Nazi dictatorship and there are a diminishing number of eyewitnesses to the depth of inhumanity of that time. Yet there are issues which remain very much on the international agenda and command the attention of the Jewish community, legislators and all concerned with morality, justice and the world of the future.

In was only in 1986 that Australia officially overturned the guiding philosophy that this was a country in which "the past" of immigrants was irrelevant, as the government acted on Andrew Menzies' report into the presence in Australia of criminals who participated in the Nazi murders and persecution, and it was only days before the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz's liberation that news broke that a Perth resident, Charles Zentai, is currently under investigation for his involvement in the commission of those crimes.

Nazi criminals against humanity were fugitives purporting to be refugees, adding another layer of immorality to that which clothed them in Europe.

No criminals against humanity should enjoy the privilege of freedom, in any country, and it is incumbent on all governments to treat this serious issue with diligence.

In recent years, a tremendous amount has been achieved in the area of the truthful recounting of the human history of the persecution of Jews by Nazis and their collaborators, in part but not exclusively due to the proceedings in the prosecutions of Nazi criminals and in the efforts to provide restitution of stolen property and assets to Holocaust survivors and the heirs of Nazism's victims.

This has been a painful process, both in the advocacy for the rights of the victims of the world's greatest and most evil theft, but also in the heart-wrenching area of allocations to individuals who have suffered the effects of brutality and torture for decade after decade after decade.

We can never know how many victims of Nazism would have been able to escape the unspeakable horrors if there had been more places on earth which had opened their gates and hearts to those with the foresight and wherewithal to escape, but we do know that the attitude of many governments condemned innocent children, women and men to their deaths.

Being proactive in assisting escapees from persecution and potential death should now be a moral imperative, as it should have been prior to the Shoah. Given that the Nazis specifically and directly sought to destroy Jewish life, the relevance of the existence and security of Israel can not be underestimated.

An Israel in 1938 may not have been able to save every Jewish life, but any reading of history since 1948 makes it abundantly clear that Israel has consistently and continuously served to provide refuge to, and rescue, Jewish victims of ongoing persecution and discrimination.

The fact that antisemites today often invoke the evil lie that an analogy can be reasonably drawn between contemporary Israel and the Nazi Reich, or between the behaviour of Israelis or Jews collectively and Nazis, or between those who seek Israel's destruction and the opponents of Nazism, is firm evidence of the existence of disingenuous, intellectually dishonest slanders against Jews to this day.

In 1982, Irish diplomat and intellectual Conor Cruise O'Brien labelled the use of Jewish pain and suffering as a weapon with which to insult, offend and defame Jews as "anti-Jewism", a word he said which in its own linguistic ugliness reflected the ugliness of the phenomenon.

A few days after the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Melbourne hosted an international conference on contemporary antisemitism.

One of the interesting public conversations which took place in the Monash University halls was how history will or may judge the current period, given that virtually every contributor spoke of an increase in manifestations of anti-Jewish violence, burgeoning of anti-Jewish hate-literature and antisemitic ideologies and the real potential of existential Jew-haters to act on their pathologies.

One school was committed to the view that we are not repeating the 1930s, due to a number of factors including the contemporary geographic spread of Jews, the existence of Israel and current geopolitics. The contending school argued we would not be able to conclude how bad the current position is, or how threats may translate into action or alternatively peter out, until we have the benefit of the hindsight a few more years will provide.

The simple fact that serious scholars even discuss this issue should invigorate active and comprehensive action against antisemitism and inspire true moral leaders, in politics, the media and faith communities, to be forthright and unambiguous in condemning this evil in Australia and abroad.

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