The somber and moving interfaith event featured testimonies related to the Holocaust on the anniversary of Kristallnacht on November 9 but it also was an opportunity for members of the local Jewish community to share recent experiences of anti-Jewish racism and hatred.
Dr Ron Hoenig, co-chair of the Council of Christians and Jews, and Vicar General Fr Dean Marin, led the prayer service, the Beit Shalom Synagogue Choir provided the music and Holocaust survivor Eva Temple brought forward the ‘candle of hope’.
Fr Michael Trainor, co-chair of the Council for Christians and Jews, spoke about his recent participation in the R20 Religious Forum in Indonesia which was organised by the world’s largest Muslim organisations in conjunction with the Indonesian presidency of the G20.
Fr Trainor cited stories told by Catholic bishops from Nigeria and Iran of persecution and other factors that make religious life in their countries difficult.
He stressed the importance of seeking and pursuing peace, rather than revenge.
Student Jonathon Iadarola shared his experience of racism at Adelaide University following the publication of an article in On Dit magazine in which the writer called for ‘the death of Israel”.
He said it was important to not to be complacent with Jewish communities around the world continuing to face serious threats.
In an impassioned plea to eradicate bigotry, Adelaide businessman Norman Schueler spoke of the resilience and positivity of his mother, Gogo, who grew up in Nuremberg within earshot of the beer garden that Hitler used to frequent and give his “incendiary speeches”.
He also referred to Yorta Yorta man and Aboriginal activist William Cooper who was so motivated by a love for his fellow man and a hatred for injustice that when Kristallnacht occurred, he led a delegation to the German consulate in Melbourne on December 6 1938 to vehemently protest the treatment of Jewish people.
“Fast forward – September 28, 2022,” he said.
“We celebrated Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) with family and friends in Melbourne.
“I was on the pavement on Burke Road, Camberwell talking on the phone to my cousin when I hear words that I never expected to hear except in historical films. Heil Hitler, Sieg Heil. I then used my phone to start taking photos. This is probably when the offender realised that I was Jewish, and his facial expression became more pronounced. Then came ‘We should have killed all the Jews. We will kill all the f****** Jews. I will kill you’.
“I was horrified, not only by the verbal assault but also by the angry and contorted facial expressions.
“The more he said it, the more his face became angry and threatening. His piercing eyes will haunt me forever.”
Mr Schueler said police attended the scene and spoke to the offender who continued to shout and make signs before being taken into custody. He learned the next day that he had been released without charge.
“I believe he should have been charged under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act with inciting hatred by threats of violence, as well as other offences,” he said.
“Six weeks since the event, and no meaningful action has been taken, no justice has been delivered.
“This sends a message that we can denigrate our fellow Australians, threaten them with death, invoke the most painful aspects of our history to taunt and intimidate, and no action will be taken.
“And herein lies the crux of my message. The same hatred and inhumanity that nearly destroyed our people and brought ruin to all of Europe, exists today. It does not merely belong to history.
“That should have been a harsh lesson, but, no, genocide took place in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Rwanda, Cambodia and Darfur.
“We have the wherewithal to combat this; I believe it is criminal not to use the resources that we have at our fingertips to defend society.
“To commemorate history but also to see that the past remains with us. Repeating the vicissitudes of the past would constitute not learning the mistakes of history. Surely, we are not that stupid.”
Kathy Baykitch, director of the Adelaide Holocaust Museum and Andrew Steiner Education Centre , reiterated that the Holocaust was “not just a story from our history”.
“It is a part of our present, confirmed when I see the images of a new generation of Nazi sympathizers and right-wing extremists flash across our screens in news reports,” she said in her reflection. “
For them, the exclusionist ideologies Hitler espoused are relevant today.”
She referred to the museum building (Fennescey House) being stickered with antisemitic slogans calling for the banning of the museum and a more recent incident when seven individuals were photographed outside the main entrance doors as they donned balaclava masks and gave a Nazi salute.
“The National Socialist Network (NSN), a far-right neo-Nazi extremist group, released the image taken outside the museum on the network’s social and web forum platforms. The posts overwhelmingly reflected antisemitic tropes and hate speech that today is present on a plethora of social media platforms,” she said.
“I began to feel unsafe at work, at home and in public places. I worried about the potential escalation of activity, as I had experienced in the past in other cities. As a leader, I was concerned for the safety of my colleagues, our survivors, volunteers, and visitors.
“The ultimate blow came when I was informed by authorities that unfortunately there would be no consequences for the individuals involved in this brazen antisemitic racist act.
“The murder of six million Jewish people and countless others during the Shoah demonstrates what happens when antisemitism and racism are normalised.
“Allowing neo-Nazis and other extremists to target vulnerable individuals cultivates a breeding ground to spread their ideas. Ignoring minor acts or comments, rather than standing up, carries the risk of some easily manipulated people taking the extremists seriously and acting on their hatred with devastating consequences.”
“In short, our highest and most humbling duty is to keep the history of the Shoah in our consciousness so that we can stand up every day so that never again can such evil be able to corrupt an entire nation.
“It is a sacred duty we owe to every Holocaust victim and survivor to share this history so we all continue to learn from it.
“The commitment to this annual commemoration is a reflection of this duty as is our museum and its programs and exhibitions.”