Four pillars of the Museum
Bob, my husband of more than half a century, was born in Tsing Tao, China, of parents born in Harbin. I was born here in Sydney in the then-new King George V hospital, to parents from England. Despite both Bob and I being of Jewish descent, mercifully neither of us lost family or friends in the Holocaust, known to Jews as the Shoah.
My parents shielded me from knowledge of the suffering endured by the Jews of Europe, with one vehemently enforced law of the home – not a single thing made in Germany was to ever enter our door. I would scrutinise every single new lead pencil for the dreaded inscription ‘Made in Germany’. As I grew up, I began to understand why this rule was so passionately kept.
Bob and I believed, as so many of us did in the years after the end of the Second World War, that the sheer magnitude of the genocide of our people ended anti-semitism once and for all – that the Shoah itself had, ironically, destroyed anti-semitism. They were halcyon days which we now realise were foolishly naïve. We have watched in dismay the growth of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, an anti-semitic effort thinly disguised as anti-Zionism, the origins of which can be traced back to the notorious 2001 Durban conference against ‘racism’ which became a platform for blatant anti-Jewish slurs. We have seen how this agenda has infiltrated campus life in many countries and is preventing, literally closing down, freedom of speech in universities, the very bastions of free expression, by the physical threats and fascist methods of its perpetrators.
Jewish students are ostracised, attacked and excluded from so-called ‘progressive’ organisations. In Great Britain, the once-great Labour Party now follows its leader Jeremy Corbyn’s past positions and implements anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli resolutions. At the last British Labour Party conference, a speaker proposed that the right to free speech should admit ‘Holocaust denial’ as a valid topic for discussion, and this was not out of keeping with the tenor of the Conference. These people could well form the next British government. In Europe, there are many manifestations and evidence of a rise in anti-semitism, concurrent with major demographic changes. And here in Australia, the vocal left wing of the Labor Party seeks to undermine Labor’s traditional support for the State of Israel. It is a sobering fact to note that Jewish institutions – synagogues, schools and museums – need to be protected from credible threats with serious security measures.
I received a note from the Sydney Jewish Museum in Darlinghurst about eight years ago which asked for volunteers to do the guide course. The number of survivor guides on which the programme depended was inevitably dwindling. As this coincided with the President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s efforts to deny the Holocaust, ‘wipe Israel off the map’ and proliferate anti-semitic lies, I leaped at the opportunity to fight back, which took the form of explaining basic facts of the Shoah to visitors to the Museum, mostly school children. More than 27,000 Aussie kids each year are now learning via the excellent new permanent Holocaust exhibition which Bob and I have had the privilege of helping bring to fruition.
Our support for the recent renovations of the exhibition is a natural continuation of our belief in the vital role that the Museum plays as an educator of tens of thousands of Australians, young and old, who live in this blessed far, far away land that has not known the horrors of violent conflict on its soil. Australia’s multi-ethnic population of the twenty-first century needs to become aware of the consequences of unfettered racism, to stamp out intolerance and terrorism in its nest, and to value and nurture democracy.
Winston Churchill said in his broadcast of 24 August, 1941, in a guarded reference to the wholesale mass murder of Jews taking place in the Soviet Union, that ‘we are in the presence of a crime without a name’. To honour the memory of those who perished, to keep hearing their voices, to remember their names, mi dor le dor – from generation to generation, to never let up – this is our shared task.
Bob and I have the greatest respect, bordering on incredulity, for the courage and determination of the survivors who rebuilt their lives – the founders of this Museum, and the exemplary men and women who continue to recount their stories which so benefit Jewish life and the community at large. We have so much to learn from their strength.However, the purpose of the museum is not only to remember the past but to transmit a warning to the future, and children are the future. We hope that our support for the Museum helps strengthen its core message – that to protect and nurture tolerance and freedom, it is necessary to know history.
Our parents, particularly my father, who in the 1930s helped found the Young Zionist League, a precursor to the Zionist Federation, in the very place that now houses the Sydney Jewish Museum – then called the Maccabean Hall –would be pleased.
Four families were recently honoured as ‘Four Pillars of the Museum’ for generously donating to help ensure the future of the Sydney Jewish Museum. They were Greg and Kathy Shand, along with Gus and Nanna Lehrer, Leon and Simona Kamenev and Bob and Ruth Magid. This is an extract from Ruth Magid’s speech on the night.
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