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Shoah - Holocaust


Holocaust Survivor testimony videos



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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.                                                                                                             
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 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.

For comprehensive information about the Shoah, go to
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          Photos: Ingrid Shakenovsky

       The community of NSW remembers the Shoah with a variety of events each year. Families,  students and survivors participate in these events held annually in Sydney.

The World's Reaction to the Holocaust

"Indifference" and "apathy" are often used to describe the world's reaction to the Holocaust at the time it was going on. The real failure, however, is better described as "inaction". Although there were honourable exceptions, the sad truth is that most politicians, diplomats, church leaders, military strategists, industrialists, business and community leaders did little to assist the Jews and other Nazi victims. They did even less to directly attack or disrupt the machinery of mass murder.

Australia's Reaction

The character and aim of Australia's immigration policy up to the 1930s was aptly summed up by Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce in 1925. Bruce wanted Australians to remain "essentially and basically a British (and white) people". In general, the Australian community supported this ideal and favoured policies which prevented alien immigrants from competing for (white) 'Australian' jobs. Until 1939 there was official support across the political spectrum for the policy of 97 per cent of immigrants being Anglo-Saxon. All migrants from Europe were considered "alien".

Policy regarding the acceptance of Jewish refugees into Australia was set in the context of this restrictive thinking. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Australians were still experiencing the hardship of the economic Depression. Most Australians were looking inwards to pressing domestic concerns, as one third of the workforce was unemployed. Nevertheless, the dramatic resurgence of Germany under the Nazis figured prominently in foreign news reports.

Reports reached Australia of attacks against Jews in Germany, but it was believed that these attacks would be shortlived. The German Consul-General, R. Asmis, denied the reports, calling them "untrue and grossly exaggerated" (Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) 30 March 1933). The newspaper countered Asmis' statement two days later, saying "It is an unfortunate blot on the progress of the nations towards peace and goodwill that events in Germany include an outbreak of hatred and intolerance against the Jews." (SMH 1 April 1933). Above all, it was felt at the time that the threat from Stalinist Russia was far greater than that from Nazi Germany.

Humanitarian and sympathetic attitudes were expressed by a number of prominent Australians. The moderator of the Presbyterian Church in NSW suggested that different churches send a protest against the treatment being accorded to the Jews in Germany, which had gone patriotism-mad. Men, women and children, he said, were being slaughtered for no reason and the atrocities were worse than reported. It was time for people to think internationally and to stand up for the right of all sections. (SMH 4 April 1933). Bertram Stevens, then Premier of NSW stated at a public rally: "To deny Jews the right to full citizenship and the right to observe the laws of the country is tantamount to saying they have had no right to live. That idea is repugnant to our sense of fair play. The Jewish citizens as we know them in this country are excellent citizens, worthy in every way of all rights and privileges that we enjoy under the British flag." (SMH 19 May 1933)

Unfortunately, not all Australians felt the same way. The conservative Melbourne newspaper "The Argus" commented that "Australia, though her indignation is deep and her sympathy sincere, can absorb but a few thousand of them at most. It is in reality not a problem for Australia, but for Europe" At the Evian Conference in 1938, Australia was represented by the Minister for Trade and Customs, T. W. White, who expressed this attitude:

"Australia has her own particular difficulties... migration has naturally been predominantly British, and it (is not) desired that this be largely departed from while British settlers are forthcoming. Realising the unhappy plight of German and Austrian Jews, they have been included on a pro rata basis comparable with that of any other country... Under the circumstances Australia cannot do more, for it will be appreciated that in a young country manpower from the source from which most of its citizens have sprung is preferred, while undue privileges cannot be given to one particular class of non-British subjects without injustice to others. It will no doubt be appreciated also that as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration... I hope that the conference will find a solution of this tragic world problem."

In summary, Australia agreed at Evian to accept 15 000 Jewish refugees over a period of three years. However, many politicians were mindful of public fears that too many Jewish refuges would take jobs from Australian workers. As Mr Green, Member for Kalgoorlie, explained to Parliament on 15 June 1939:

"I desire to discuss what many honourable members might regard as a ticklish subject, namely, the policy of admitting 15 000 Jewish refugees to Australia during the next three years. I do not wish to be misunderstood. My opposition to this proposal is far stronger than if the immigrants were of the Nordic race, and came from Northern European countries, from the north of Italy or from Jugo-Slavia. People from those places would help to develop Australia. I recognise that many Jews have rendered signal service to humanity, and this is true of the Jews in Australia also. To such men as the late Sir John Monash, and the ex-Governor General, Sir Isaac Isaacs, we must all lift our hats. It seems true, however, that we have plenty of trades and business people in Australia now, and the Jews who are coming here will be of no help to a producing country like Australia. For every Jew who is given a professional job in Australia, an Australian will be shut out.

Why is it necessary for the Jews to leave Europe? I have no anti-Jewish feeling, and no racial hatred. I recognise that the Australian-born Jew has as much right in Australia as ourselves. They have the same ideals as we have, but the Jew born in Argentina or Germany, or in the United States of America, is international in his outlook. Australian workers are being dismissed, and their place taken by refugees so far as Australia is concerned they are not required here."

The Dunera

Shortly after Australia declared war on Germany, those Jewish refugees who had arrived before the war from Germany, Austria and Hungary were labelled as "enemy aliens". It was feared that they would act as spies for the Nazis, no consideration being given to the fact that they were themselves victims of the Nazi regime. All enemy aliens were required to report regularly to the local police, receive a police pass if they wished to travel outside their police area and had to surrender their radios, binoculars and cameras. All their mail was also censored. Some enemy aliens were also interned, initially at Hay, New South Wales, and later at Tatura, Victoria, and Loveday, South Australia. Many of the men felt bitter and hurt at being interned, especially as they were often housed with "enemy aliens" who were Nazi supporters.

Australia's decision to intern refugees from enemy countries was not unique. Indeed, Britain interned so many such refugees that by the mid-1940s she requested assistance from Commonwealth countries to accept some. Canada and Australia both agreed and, in mid-1940, 2542 internees were sent to Australia on the "Dunera", a hellish voyage on which all suffered privation, while many were robbed of their property and suffered brutality and physical abuse at the hands of their British guards.

Once in Australia they joined other refugees at Hay and, later, Tatura. While awaiting release, the "Dunera Boys" developed a rich cultural and intellectual programme at their camp, giving concerts and establishing an unofficial university. The small group of strictly Orthodox Jews also managed to organise a kosher kitchen. After a period of time the injustice of their situation was realised and they were permitted to return to Britain.

About half of the "Dunera" internees returned to Britain while many of the rest volunteered for service in Australian Military Forces (AMF) employment companies. As "enemy aliens" they were not permitted to handle weapons; many highly qualified refugees ended up loading railway trucks and ships, mostly in the Eighth Australian Employment Company. Liberal-minded citizens such as Bishop Pilcher and some Jewish leaders campaigned vigorously for a review of the refugees' status. An Aliens Classification and Advisory Committee was established under the chairmanship of Arthur Calwell, Minister for Information. The status of refugees from Nazism was eventually redefined "friendly aliens".

For further details, read Rutland, S. (1997) The Edge of the Diaspora, Sydney, Brandl, Schlesinger

Post - Shoah Immigration

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 they brought to Australia consisted 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 became 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.

Survivors Organisations

In the aftermath of the World War II, approximately 30 000 survivors of the Nazi Holocaust (Shoah) migrated to Australia. They settled in roughly equal numbers in the cities of Sydney and Melbourne. Survivors and their families have been very active in Australia's Jewish and wider communities, making significant contributions in the professions, the arts, business and politics. They value the freedom, opportunities and democracy which are cornerstones of Australian life, particularly given their experiences in the Holocaust.

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, B'nai B'rith 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. B'nai B'rith 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.

The Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants began after an International Gathering of Holocaust Survivors in 1983. Its charter is to officially represent the views of Jewish Holocaust Survivors; to cooperate 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 cooperate with educational programs on the Holocaust; to assist in acquiring and maintaining artefacts and memorabilia from the Holocaust period; to assist in cooperation with other institutions in providing solace and comfort for Jewish Holocaust survivors who are lonely and distressed; and to encourage and participate in Holocaust memorialisation. The Association has approximately 750 members comprising Survivors, their descendants and some interested and supportive members of the Jewish Community.

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.

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.

Restitution Issues 

There are presently a number of programs providing compensation to Shoah survivors. Eligibility for these programs is dependent on a number of criteria such as the nature and place of the persecution, the amount(s) of compensation previously received, current financial situation and current country of residence.

To make an application or to receive further information about programs currently available to Shoah survivors (and, in limited cases, to their heirs), contact JewishCare on 1300 133 660.

Jewish immigrants arriving at Pyrmont, Sydney, 1946 

Educational Resources

2001 Australian Internet Awards Ceremony; NSW JBD's site was runner up for Best Educational Website.

Sydney Jewish Museum

Courage to Care

Nizkor Holocaust Remembrance

Project Aladdin - The Holocaust and Muslims

Survivors of the Holocaust Visual History Foundation

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Inc

The Holocaust History Project

The Simon Wiesenthal Center

Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Yad Vashem

YIVO Institute of Jewish Research


Shoah Study Opportunities

For general information about courses in Shoah Studies available in NSW and other parts of Australia and in Israel, click here.

For courses at The University of Sydney contact Dr Suzanne Rutland on (02) 9357 6662.

For courses at The University of New South Wales contact Dr Geoffrey Brahm Levey on (02) 9385 1376.

For courses at The University of Western Sydney contact Prof Colin Tatz for details on (02) 9850 8822.

For courses at The Shalom Institute go to

The Shoah Remembrance Committee of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies

Terms of Reference

The Shoah Remembrance Committee of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies has two key functions - Remembrance and Education.

Passing of the Legacy: a Shoah (Holocaust) survivor tells her story

The Committee consists of a Chairperson, five elected Deputies, and co-opted representatives of affiliated Jewish organisations for whom Shoah Remembrance is a goal or important activity. The Chairperson represents the Board on the Committee of Management of the Sydney Jewish Museum.

2015 marked 70 years since the end of world war II and the Holocaust. 

Over 1200 people gathered to commemorate 70 years since Liberation and the end of the Holocaust. Hosted by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the poignant event featured keynote speaker Australian Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg MP, Holocaust survivor testimony videos, a Righteous Among The Nations presentation to an Australian family and a 70-piece youth choir and string ensemble directed by Dr Joseph Toltz. The event was made possible with the support of the City of Sydney, Multicultural NSW, JCA and private donors.

We are duty bound to: 

Our Work is to:

  1. remember the six million Jews, including one and a half million children, who perished in the Shoah;
  2. honour the courage and suffering of all those who were caught up in the Shoah;
  3. honour those who attempted to resist evil for the sake of what was right; and
  4. teach the community as a whole the importance of religious and cultural respect and tolerance so that such horrific persecution will never again occur.
  1. organise the Days of Shoah Remembrance which involve as many as 12 functions during the week that includes Yom Hashoah each year;
  2. organise functions to commemorate Kristallnacht;
  3. encourage creativity in Shoah Remembrance and Education;
  4. actively sponsor Shoah Education by distinguished international guests;
  5. actively involve all those Jewish organisations in NSW for whom Shoah Remembrance is a goal or important activity and thereby promote unified Shoah Remembrance activity; and
  6. deliver a diverse range of functions to reach as many segments of the Jewish community as possible to involve them in Shoah Remembrance and Education.


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