On Thursday, November 8, 2012, a packed crowd of one hundred thirty
People convened at the Jerusalem Room. Everyone anticipated an evening of
Enlightenment and a fresh perspective on one of the most seminal moments In the history of the Jewish people, and the program delivered. Rabbi Aaron Koplin set the mood by sharing solemn words with the audience.
This was followed by the Sarasota Jewish Chorale, which movingly sang “Eli, Eli”, and the Rabbi’s reciting of the Kaddish.
David Grace, current Chair of Generation After. Illustrated the direct impact of Kristallnacht by giving a brief account of his mother’s ordeal as an eight year old child in Nazi Germany (she was among the few who managed to escape to Glasgow, Scotland), and introduced the Keynote Speaker. Dr Paul. Bartop, highly acclaimed author, essayist and academic, is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Judaic, Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, Florida.
The program immediately started with the guest’s overview of Kristallnacht as experienced through the eyes of Australians and desperate Jewish refugees desperately trying to emigrate there during the Holocaust years. What came to light was the complex web of politics behind the scenes, which dramatically impacted the desire for the émigrés to escape Germany.
As early as 1933, statements emerged from Australia, indicating that Jews would not be able to find asylum. This unfortunate situation would last for twelve years. In March 1938, President Roosevelt called a conference at Evian, where thirty two countries participated. Sir Thomas White, of
Australia, declared his country” out of bounds” for Jewish refugees.
Although eventually one in ten Jewish applicants would arrive on the shores of Australia, the vast majority were denied entry. Memorandums circulated, citing the problem as a general issue of immigration as opposed to a specific tragedy which required compassion, sympathy and immediate action. While many Australians showed courage and interest in the ongoing catastrophe, many were apathetic and fearful of absorbing large numbers of mmigrants.
Letters were sent by family members to government agencies, pleading that Australia had ample land and opportunities – why not allow the Jews to enter such a sparsely populated country? But their cries were met with apologies and excuses, stating that this was more a problem for Europe and the United States.
While the Torah states that we must all help one another and take care of others, our people found little or no solace outside their entrapment throughout Nazi occupied Europe.
All in all, Australia is reputed to have been discriminatory towards Jews, yet clearly looked the other way, as they opened their borders to Nazi perpetrators, never inquiring about their heinous crimes. Many Australian Jews who resided or did end up immigrating to Australia, tended to remain low key and not particularly proactive vis a vis the Jewish calamity.