26 February 2020

Speech at the Unveiling of The Holocaust: Witnesses and Survivors exhibition, Australian War Memorial, Canberra

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land and pay my respects to their elders, past and present and thank you Major General Brian Dawson.

I also acknowledge my Parliamentary colleagues, Mark Dreyfus, the Shadow Attorney-General and the Shadow Minister for Veteran Affairs and Defence Personnel, Shayne Newmann, I thank you for being here. And Senator Stirling Griff.

I would also like to acknowledge Brigadier Langford, representing the Chief of Army and Air Commodore Champion representing the Chief of the Air Force.

Thank you to Rabbi Feldman, to David and Robert from the ACT Jewish Community Centre and Suzanne and Pauline who are here from the Jewish Holocaust Centre.

Most importantly, I acknowledge the Holocaust survivors who are with us here today, we honour you, we thank you.

Back in February, 1994, Paul Keating stood here at the Australian War Memorial to open the ‘Children of the Holocaust’ Exhibition.

It displayed a variety of pictures that Jewish children had hand-drawn from inside the death camps, pictures their parents never got to collect or the children ever got to keep because most of them were subsequently murdered.

In commencing his speech Prime Minister Keating declared that he was, “daunted by the requirement to speak. To be required to speak about the unspeakable.”

At that time, Prime Minister Keating said the exhibition was so important because it, “forces us to think, forces us to remember.

It reminds us of how profoundly important it is to keep alive the memory and forever reaffirm the reality of the Holocaust.

It reminds us that those people who keep it alive do so for all of us, not just for the Jewish people and the survivors and descendants of the others who were persecuted, but for all of us.”

This particular exhibition for which we are gathered here today was first opened in November 2016 by Brendan Nelson.

At the time Brendan outlined the reason why the War Memorial established its own initiative, “in this permanent exhibition will be found our own sense of morality, to be reminded of the difference between right and wrong and the consequences of allowing currents of political and social thought to head in certain directions.”

Brendan said, “not a single person lobbied us to present this exhibition. We are doing it because it is the right thing to do.”

I commend the efforts of the Australian War Memorial for this sentiment and for updating and expanding this exhibition and for re-designing the Gallery to ensure a more comprehensive telling of the Holocaust, with a particular focus on its Australian connections.

I would particularly like to acknowledge the family members that are here today, several people who added new personal items.

We thank and we appreciate Ruth Landau who donated over twenty objects and photographs of her experience including a precious brooch once owned by her Aunty, Berta Gerson, who was murdered in Auschwitz.

Family members present of Henryka Shaw.

Henryka was a remarkable Jewish woman who survived five concentration camps and when on arrival to Auschwitz, she was told to go right, she was tattooed with her camp number A-26538 and she moved into the camp complex where she survived to see liberation in 1945.

It was at that time her fellow camp inmates made a beautiful dress for her.

That dress is now on display at this Exhibition for the first time.

The exhibition is also very grateful to receive precious new items from former official war artist, Alan Moore, which will also go on display.

Ladies and gentlemen, Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Prize winner and survivor said, “action is the only remedy for indifference.”

That is why we are here today, because we believe in action not indifference.

I had the honour to represent the Australian Government some five years ago at the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

It was a moment that I will never forget, in the cold, in the snow, in the dark, more than fifty world leaders gathered, including the German President and we walked past the watchtowers, along the rail lines to light a candle in memory of the millions who lost their lives.

In the tragedy that was the Holocaust, six million Jews, but also homosexuals and the disabled, Jehovah Witnesses and gypsies, millions lost their lives at the hands of the brutal Nazi killing machine, and most tragic, one and a half million Jewish children perished.

It’s hard to believe how a people of Mozart, Bach and Weber could descend to such inhumanity to their fellow man.

There was so much indifference. A point so well put by the Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller who said;

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Ladies and gentlemen, as the years go by memories fade, there are people who are seeking to diminish the loss of life during the Holocaust, there are countries that are challenging its very existence, there is the rise of the far right in countries around the world, including in some parts of Australia.

This is why we are all here, this is why we all must be here.

At the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945, US General Dwight Eisenhower said there would come a time, as he was inspecting a concentration camp, that people would deny that the Holocaust ever happened.

So we’re here today, to honour the dead and their memories, but we’re also here to thank the War Memorial for continuing to remind us of this evil dark period in world history, that we all have the collective duty to ensure “never again.”