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Shoah Survivors in NSW

What was the Shoah (Holocaust)?

Whole libraries have been written to document and explain the Holocaust/Shoah, but more research is still needed if we are ever to understand an event so complex and devastating. The word holocaust comes from the ancient Greek; it means a sacrifice completely burnt on an altar. Today 'holocaust' is generally used as a euphemism for mass murder, genocide in its most brutal and vicious form. Shoah is a Hebrew word which specifically denotes the Nazi effort to annihilate the Jews, as distinct from other instances of genocide against other peoples throughout history.

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance) Function 2000

In specific terms, 'the Holocaust' or 'Shoah' refers to the systematic annihilation of six million Jewish people by Germany's Nazi regime over the period 30 January 1933 to 8 May 1945. The Holocaust is a unique event in the history of humankind, in that one specific people, the Jews, was marked for destruction as a basic ideology of the state. It should be remembered that a number of other groups and individuals (including Gypsies, homosexuals, political dissidents and the intellectually and physically disabled) were also targeted by the Nazis.

Two other factors which make the Holocaust/Shoah unique are the gigantic scale of the persecution, oppression, enslavement and extermination of human beings and the 'industrialisation' of the process of doing so. However, if the Holocaust was unique, its lessons are universal. They include the potential for evil in totalitarian regimes, the need for active opposition to such evil wherever it occurs and the obligation to cherish the individual freedoms and human rights that people take for granted in democracies such as Australia.

Shoah Survivors Come to Australia

With the proclamation of VE Day in May 1945, the Allied peoples of the world celebrated. In Sydney, thousands jammed Martin Place late in the afternoon, shouting, waving flags, laughing and singing. The spontaneous celebrations continued on well into the night in the city and in Kings Cross. But for many Jews in Sydney, particularly those who had family in Europe, victory was not a time for celebration. They knew that the news to come would not be good.

Many Holocaust survivors sought to establish new lives in Australia, which seemed to them a very inviting place; it was a highly-favoured haven. It was geographically as far from Europe (and their European memories) as possible, and offered its citizens freedom and democracy. During 1945 the Australian-European Search Bureau published lists of survivors, which it shared with the Red Cross and the Australian Jewish Welfare Society.

In August 1945 Australia's Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, instituted a Close Relatives Reunion Scheme. This scheme made Holocaust survivors with family already in Australia eligible for immigration, but had a quota of 2000 immigrants for the first year and then 3000. This was still far lower than the pre-war quota of 5000 per year. Some survivors were accepted into Australia on the basis of their work skills. Nevertheless, proportional to population size, only Israel accepted more Holocaust survivors than Australia.

The Australian Jewish Welfare Society was instrumental in obtaining entry permits for, receiving, integrating and rehabilitating immigrant Holocaust survivors. The Society assumed responsibility for the employment, housing, medical care and English tuition of survivor immigrants. One very special group it brought to Australia was of 300 Jewish orphans, who arrived between 1947 and 1950.

Despite difficulties including shipping shortages, quotas imposed on Jewish passengers per ship and local xenophobia towards non-British immigrants, approximately 15 000 survivors settled in Australia in the four years from 1945. Although they brought with them little by way of wealth or possessions, these immigrants did bring a strong commitment to hard work. They shared with other immigrant groups the usual difficulties of adjustment to a new language and culture; but, in addition, they had to cope with the psychological trauma of their Holocaust experiences. Their ability to put the past behind them and to forge new lives for themselves is a tribute to their courage and an inspiration to us all.

In total, about 35 000 pre-war Jewish refugees and post-war Holocaust survivors had immigrated to Australia by 1961. These people have become loyal and grateful Australian citizens. The Australian ethos of a fair go enabled many to achieve success in both psychological and material terms. Holocaust survivors have made significant contributions to Australia in fields as diverse as industry, theatre, art, medicine, architecture, academia and more. For many, this has been their way of giving something back to the country which has given them so much.

For many, this has been their way of giving something back to the country which has given them so much. They value the freedom, opportunities and democracy which are cornerstones of Australian life, particularly given their experiences in the Europe of the Holocaust.

Survivors Organisations in NSW

There are a number of Jewish organisations in Sydney catering for the needs of Holocaust Survivors. These include the Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, JewishCare, the Council on the Aging, the Child Survivors Group, Bnai Brith and the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies through its Shoah Remembrance Committee. Many Survivors act as Volunteer Guides at the Sydney Jewish Museum, serving to teach about the horrors of the Holocaust through retelling of their own experiences.

The organisations listed above are involved in various educational and commemorative functions throughout the year, including Yom Hashoah and the Days of Holocaust Awareness, commemoration of Kristallnacht (the infamous Night of Broken Glass) and remembrance of the liberation of various concentration and death camps.

The Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants first began after an International Gathering of Holocaust Survivors in 1983. Its charter is to officially represent the views of Jewish Holocaust Survivors; to co-operate with other organisations and individuals in opposing Nazi and Fascist philosophy, activities and injustices; to foster the memory of Jewish Holocaust Survivors; to assist and co-operate with educational programs on the Holocaust; to assist in acquiring and maintaining artefacts and memorabilia from the Holocaust period; to assist in co-operation with other institutions in providing solace and comfort for Jewish Holocaust survivors who are lonely and distressed; and to encourage and participate in Holocaust Commemoration. The association has approximately 750 members comprising survivors, their descendants and some interested and supportive members of the Jewish community. 

The office of the Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants is situated at Beit Hashoah, Sydney Jewish Museum, 148 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst 2010. Phone: 9361 3678.

JewishCare in co-operation with the association began Club 50, a monthly lunch program for survivors comprising guest speakers and activities. This is enjoyed by all who attend and has led to the establishment of the Club 50 Drop In Centre to cater for the needs of survivors who wish to be able to mix with their peers in day-to-day activities. It is hoped that this will continue to grow with facilities to interest all tastes.

Bnai Brith has an excellent program called Courage to Care. This is an exhibition which travels around country areas teaching tolerance and understanding from the viewpoint of the Righteous Among the Nations who saved Jews at their own peril during the Holocaust.

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