Handbook – The Holocaust and the Australian Aboriginal Response

The author Barbara Miller would like to thank Eli Rabinowitz of the WE ARE HERE! Foundation and Dr Gabriele Maluga, for initiating and sponsoring this handbook. Thanks to the editor, Jill Rabinowitz.

We also acknowledge the support of Yad Vashem Photo Archives Jerusalem.

This handbook is a resource for educators and teachers and for upper secondary students and adult education programs in Australia and internationally.

This photo, from left: Ken and Judith Arkwright – Ken Arkwright is a Holocaust survivor originally from Breslau, Germany. Dr Richard & Prof Lynne Cohen – Lynne Cohen is the former Vice Chancellor of Edith Cowan University, Mt Lawley. Ester Steingiesser – Honorary Vice Consul of Brazil in WA. Eli and Jill Rabinowitz – WE ARE HERE! Foundation. Dr Gabriele Maluga. Mary and Lance Turner with their daughters. Lance is the great grandson of William Cooper. The occasion is the commemoration of Kristallnacht in Perth 7 November 2021.

Table of Contents

Module 1       What was the Holocaust?

Topic 1      Key Facts of the Holocaust

Topic 2      What was the Holocaust?

Topic 3      Why did the Holocaust Occur?

Module 2       World’s Reaction to Holocaust and Refugees

Topic 1      Evian and World Leaders

Topic 2      Australian Response to Apology

Topic 3      Bermuda Conference

Module 3       Key Events in the Holocaust

Topic 1      Persecution of Jews and Kristallnacht

Topic 2      World and Aboriginal Response

Topic 3      Final Solution

Module 4       How Did People Respond?

Topic 1      Upstanders and Rescuers

Topic 2      Bystanders

Topic 3      Collaborators

Topic 4      Jewish Resistance and Survivors

Module 5       Australian Aboriginal Upstanders

Topic 1      Influences on William Cooper

Topic 2      William Cooper and AAL Protest

Topic 3      Honouring William Cooper in Australia and Israel

Module 6   German Apology

Topic 1      Re-enactment of Protest in Australia

Topic 2      Uncle Boydie Goes to Germany

Module 7       What Can We Do Today?

Topic 1      What Forms Does Antisemitism Take Today?

Topic 2      What Would William Cooper Do Today?

Topic 3      How Can You Make It a Better World?



Appendix A – Apology Regarding Evian in Australia

Appendix B – Honouring William Cooper in Australia and Israel

Appendix C – German Apology

Module 1        What was the Holocaust?

Objective: Participants will be able to outline the key facts of the Holocaust and describe why it occurred.

The Holocaust was an extreme and horrific form of antisemitism with the genocide of European Jews. In this handbook, we’re going to be looking at what happened and why and the world’s response.  In particular, we look at the response of Aboriginal people in Australia, far away from the killing fields of Europe. How and why did they get involved when they were not even recognised as citizens of their own country and had many problems themselves? And what does it all mean for us today as citizens of the world? Is antisemitism ongoing and what can we do about it?

Why do we need to learn about it?

We often hear the phrase from Jewish people and others, “never again.” But although it was an unimaginable horror and challenged our views of what it means to be human, it could happen again. So, we need to understand how and why it happened. We need to comprehend why some people supported it with gusto, why some stood by and did nothing and why some resisted it. We need to recognise the warning signs to be able to put the brakes on something similar happening again, anywhere in the world, today and into the future.

While a number of other groups faced the Nazi killing machine, it is important to remember that Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) suffered a similar fate to the Jews with the attempt to wipe them out completely. August 2nd has been set aside yearly to commemorate their genocide.

Activity 1

What is the student’s current knowledge?

Let’s start by looking at what you already know about the Holocaust. We have a quiz.

Q1 When did the Holocaust occur?

Q2 Where did the Holocaust occur?

Q3 How many Jews were killed in the Holocaust?

Q4 How many Jewish children were killed in the Holocaust?

Q5 Who else were victims of the Holocaust?

Q6 Who was responsible for the deaths of the Holocaust victims?

Q7 What was Evian?

Q8 What was Kristallnacht?

Q9 What was the Final Solution?

Q10 Was anyone martyred for saving Jews?

Q11 Where did Jewish refugees go?

Q12 How did the Holocaust end?

The answers will become clear as we progress through the material.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) has this definition of the Holocaust and says that educators and students should reflect upon the moral, political and social questions it raises, and how it is relevant today:

“The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and murder of Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. A continent-wide genocide, it destroyed not only individuals and families but also communities and cultures that had developed over centuries. The Holocaust occurred in the context of Nazi-led persecution and murder that targeted many additional groups.”[1]

These are IHRA’s Recommendations For Teaching and Learning About the Holocaust:

  1. Develop their knowledge of the Holocaust, ensuring accuracy in individual understanding and knowledge and raising awareness about the possible consequences of antisemitism;
  2. Create engaging teaching environments for learning about the Holocaust;
  3. Promote critical and reflective thinking about the Holocaust including the ability to counter Holocaust denial and distortion;
  4. Contribute to Human Rights and genocide prevention education.[2]

Holocaust Denial and Distortion

Holocaust denial is basically propaganda that maintains that Jews have made up or exaggerate the Holocaust to gain power or money. It casts doubt on its historical veracity and alludes to conspiracy theories. Holocaust distortion involves minimisation of the Holocaust including Nazi responsibility and touches on ‘blame the victim’ arguments. For more information, refer to the IRHA Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion.[3]

Definition of Genocide

The term genocide was first used by Raphael Lemkin in 1933. The Genocide Convention was passed on 9 December 1948 to prevent genocide and punish its perpetrators. It defines a number of actions as genocide when carried out against a “religious, ethnic, national or racial group in order to destroy part or all of that group: 1) killing people belonging to the group; 2) causing severe bodily or spiritual harm to members of the group; 3) deliberately forcing a group to live under conditions that could lead to the complete or partial destruction of the group; 4) taking measures to prevent births among a group; and 5) forcibly removing children from the group and transferring them to another group.”[4]

After the war, some Nazi leaders were held to account at the Nuremberg Trials, an International Military Tribunal, and the “crimes against humanity” covered at the Trials were similar to the definition of genocide. Some Holocaust researchers see the Nazi genocide of Jews even going beyond this, maintaining that:

“The attempt to dehumanize and then murder every Jew, everywhere, regardless of his activities or beliefs, was unprecedented in history. Moreover, the Nazi belief that Jews had to be murdered for the sake of mankind, is a dimension not present in other acts of genocide that were carried out either before or after the Holocaust.”[5]

Topic 1   Key Facts of the Holocaust

Baden, Germany, Arrest of Jews on Kristallnacht, Yad Vashem Photo Archives Jerusalem 138FO8

Key Facts

  • What – the systematic state-sponsored persecution and genocide of six million Jews
  • Who were the victims – mostly Jews but also Gypsies, Poles, Slavs, disabled, homosexuals, political opponents, priests, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war
  • Who were the perpetrators – Nazi Germany and collaborators in other nations
  • When – 1933 -1945 (World War II – 1939-1945)
  • Where – Germany and much of Europe
  • Why – Antisemitism and blaming Jews falsely for Germany’s economic ills

Activity 2

Watch the video: What is the Holocaust: A Chronological Overview (12.46 mins) https://www.yadvashem.org/education/educational-videos.html

This link is not specific and will take you to the list of videos produced by Yad Vashem and you need to search for it.

This video is confronting, only because the Holocaust itself is a confronting time in recent human history which shakes the foundations of the moral, cultural and legal underpinnings of our humanity and society. We tend to forget that Hitler and the Nazis were democratically elected to power and that they passed laws to support their discrimination and persecution of Jews and other victims. Also, Germany was a nominally Christian nation. However, Germany soon became a totalitarian regime and ruled through violence, repression and imprisoning opponents.

Activity 3

Provide a safe learning environment where participants can express feelings and ask questions. Hold group discussion on reactions to the documentary, debriefing students as needed. Help participants to discover knowledge and gain insight rather than have knowledge simply imparted to them.

Topic 2   What was the Holocaust?

What was the Holocaust?

While antisemitism had been in Europe and many nations for centuries, when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in Germany in 1933, it was ramped up to a terrifying level. The Nazis called their rule the Third Reich. Discriminatory laws were passed with Jews being excluded from economic, political, social, educational and cultural life, although they had been well integrated before that. They forced Jews to move into overcrowded enclosed ghettos with loss of free movement, forced labour, starvation, homelessness, lack of hygiene facilities and medical care, and diseases. Many died as a result.

The Nazis committed mass shootings, deportation of Jews to concentration camps and killing centres, and mass genocide using poisoned gas and crematoria. The Final Solution’s plan was to remove and wipe out Jews from Europe. Under the cover of World War II, which occurred because of German aggression towards other nations, the persecution and genocide of Jews spread from Germany to other nations in Europe. Most of the concentration camps were in Poland. In the nations Germany occupied, some people became collaborators and helped the Germans because of fear or greed or holding similar beliefs about Jews. Some people hid, smuggled and saved Jews, putting their own and the lives of their families at risk. Some were martyred.

The Holocaust is known in Hebrew as the Shoah which means catastrophe. It only ended in May 1945 when the Allied Powers defeated Germany in World War II. Those who managed to survive had lost many of their loved ones and all their possessions. They became displaced persons and many had to rebuild their lives from the ashes.

Where did the Holocaust Occur?

European Jewish Population Distribution CA 1933 by United States Holocaust Memorial Museum[6]
In 1933, the Jewish population of Europe was about nine million people. During 1938-1939, Germany annexed Austria and the Sudetenland and occupied Czech lands. Its attack on Poland on 1 September 1939 led to World War II and, not only did it occupy most of Europe, Germany invaded and occupied the western part of the Soviet Union. Nations like Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Italy agreed to alliances with Nazi Germany which created puppet states in Slovakia and Croatia.

The following is an excerpt from If I Survive, a biography of Lena Goldstein:  

World War II

“The clouds of war hung over Europe like a shroud that was ready to wrap itself around the dead. After coming to power in Germany, Adolf Hitler signed a nonaggression pact with Poland in January 1934 because he was concerned the French and the Poles might make a military alliance against Germany before Germany had a chance to rearm. In the mid and late 1930s, France, and especially Britain, followed a foreign policy of appeasement. Neither of them, in 1938, was militarily prepared to fight a war against Nazi Germany. In attempting to keep the peace:

‘Britain and France acquiesced to Germany’s rearmament (1935–1937), remilitarization of the Rhineland (1936), and annexation of Austria (March 1938). In September 1938, after signing away the Czech border regions, known as the Sudetenland, to Germany at the Munich conference, British and French leaders pressured France’s ally, Czechoslovakia, to yield to Germany’s demand for the incorporation of those regions.’[7]

The Germans sliced up Czechoslovakia in March 1939 in violation of the Munich agreement despite Anglo–French assurances to protect what was left of it. Poland must have wondered how worthwhile were British and French guarantees of its integrity. Hitler then shrewdly negotiated a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union. The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, which stated that Poland was to be carved up between the two powers, meant that Germany could attack Poland without the Soviets intervening.

When Nazi Germany invaded Poland, Britain and France decided they could no longer appease Germany. Things were at breaking point. They declared war. It became World War II.”[8]

Below is a timeline of the Holocaust, not for detailed study, but to give you an overview of how and when it developed and the major milestones. It is an adaptation of a sobering list provided by the Museum of Tolerance.

Timeline of the Holocaust: 1933-1945


January 30 Adolf Hitler appointed Chancellor of Germany

March 22 Dachau concentration camp opens

April 1 Boycott of Jewish shops and businesses

April 7 Laws for Reestablishment of the Civil Service barred Jews from holding civil service, university, and state positions

April 26 Gestapo established

May 10 Public burnings of books written by Jews, political dissidents, and others not approved by the state

July 14 Law stripping East European Jewish immigrants of German citizenship


August 2 Hitler proclaims himself Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Reich Chancellor). Armed forces must now swear allegiance to him


May 31 Jews barred from serving in the German armed forces

September 15 “Nuremberg Laws”: anti-Jewish racial laws enacted; Jews no longer considered German citizens; Jews could not marry Aryans; nor could they fly the German flag

November 15 Germany defines a “Jew”: anyone with three Jewish grandparents; someone with two Jewish grandparents who identifies as a Jew


March 3 Jewish doctors barred from practising medicine in German institutions

March 7 Germans march into the Rhineland, previously demilitarised by the Versailles Treaty

June 17 Himmler appointed the Chief of German Police

July Sachsenhausen concentration camp opens

October 25 Hitler and Mussolini form Rome-Berlin Axis


July 15 Buchenwald concentration camp opens


March 13 Anschluss (annexation of Austria by Germany): all antisemitic decrees immediately implemented in Austria

April 26 Mandatory registration of all property held by Jews inside the Reich

July 6 Evian Conference held in Evian, France on the problem of Jewish refugees

August 1 Adolf Eichmann establishes the Office of Jewish Emigration in Vienna to increase the pace of forced emigration

August 3 Italy enacts sweeping antisemitic laws

September 30 Munich Conference: Great Britain and France agree to German occupation of the Sudetenland, previously western Czechoslovakia

October 5 Following request by Swiss authorities, Germans mark all Jewish passports with a large letter “J” to restrict Jews from immigrating to Switzerland

October 28 17,000 Polish Jews living in Germany expelled; Poland refused to admit them; 8,000 are stranded in the village of Zbaszyn

November 7 Assassination in Paris of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath by Polish Jewish teenager Herschel Grynszpan

November 9-10 Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass): anti-Jewish pogrom in Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland; 200 synagogues destroyed; 7,500 Jewish shops looted; 30,000 male Jews sent to concentration camps (Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen)

November 12 Decree forcing all Jews to transfer retail businesses to Aryan hands

November 15 All Jewish students expelled from German schools

December 12 One billion marks fine levied against German Jews for the destruction of property during Kristallnacht


January 30 Hitler in Reichstag speech: “If war erupts it will mean the Vernichtung (extermination) of European Jews”

March 15 Germany occupies Czechoslovakia

August 23 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed: non-aggression pact between Soviet Union and Germany

September 1 Beginning of World War II: Germany invades Poland

September 21 Heydrich issues directives to establish ghettos in German-occupied Poland

October 12 Germany begins deportation of Austrian and Czech Jews to Poland

October 28 First Polish ghetto established in Piotrków

November 23 Jews in German-occupied Poland forced to wear an armband or yellow star


April 9 Germany occupies Denmark and southern Norway

May 7 Lodz Ghetto (Litzmannstadt) sealed: 165,000 people in 4.1 sq km

May 10 Germany invades the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France

May 20 Concentration camp established at Auschwitz

June 22 France surrenders

August 8 Battle of Britain begins

September 27 Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis

November 16 Warsaw Ghetto sealed: ultimately it contained 500,000 people in 3.4 sq km


January 21-26 Anti-Jewish riots in Romania, led by the Iron Guard (Romanian fascist organisation); hundreds of Jews murdered

February 1 German authorities begin rounding up Polish Jews for transfer to Warsaw Ghetto

March Adolf Eichmann appointed head of the Department for Jewish Affairs of the Reich Security Main Office (Gestapo), Section IV B 4.

April 6 Germany attacks Yugoslavia and Greece; occupation follows

June 22 Germany invades the Soviet Union

July 31 Heydrich appointed by Göring to implement the “Final Solution”

September 1 German Jews required to wear yellow star of David with the word “Jude”

September 28-29 34,000 Jews massacred at Babi Yar outside Kiev

October Establishment of Auschwitz II (Birkenau) for the extermination of Jews; Gypsies, Poles, Russians, and others were also murdered at the camp

December 7 Japanese attack Pearl Harbour

December 8 Chelmno (Kulmhof) extermination camp begins operations: 340,000 Jews, 20,000 Poles and Czechs murdered by April 1943

December 11 United States declares war on Japan and Germany


January 20 Wannsee Conference in Berlin: Heydrich outlines plan to murder Europe’s Jews

March 17 Extermination begins in Belzec; by end of 1942, 600,000 Jews murdered

May Extermination by gas begins in Sobibor killing centre; by October 1943, 250,000 Jews murdered

June Jewish partisan units established in the forests of Byelorussia and the Baltic States

July 22 Germans establish Treblinka concentration camp

Summer Deportation of Jews to killing centres from Belgium, Croatia, France, the Netherlands (known as Holland), and Poland; armed resistance by Jews in ghettos of Kletzk, Kremenets, Lakhva, Mir, Tuchin, Weisweiz

Winter Deportation of Jews from Germany, Greece and Norway to killing centres; Jewish partisans movement organised in forests near Lublin


January German 6th Army surrenders at Stalingrad (Volgograd)

March Liquidation of Craców Ghetto

April 19 Warsaw Ghetto revolt begins as Germans attempt to liquidate 70,000 inhabitants; Jewish underground fights Nazis until early June

May Liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. On 16 May 1943, SS and Police Chief Jurgen Stroop proclaimed, “180 Jews, bandits, and subhumans were destroyed. The Jewish quarter of Warsaw is no more.”

June Heinrich Himmler orders the liquidation of all ghettos in Poland and the Soviet Union

Summer Armed resistance by Jews in Bedzin, Bialystok, Czestochowa, Lvov, and Tarnów ghettos

Fall Liquidation of large ghettos in Minsk, Vilna (Vilnius) and Riga

October 14 Armed revolt in Sobibor extermination camp

October-November Rescue of Danish Jewry


March 19 Germany occupies Hungary

May 15 Nazis begin deporting Hungarian Jews; by 27 June, 380,000 sent to Auschwitz

June 6 D-Day: Allied invasion at Normandy

Spring/Summer Red Army repels Nazi forces

July 20 Group of German officers attempts to assassinate Hitler

July 24 Russians liberate Majdanek killing centre

October 7 Revolt by inmates at Auschwitz; one crematorium blown up

November Last Jews deported from Theresienstadt (Terezin) to Auschwitz

November 8 Beginning of death march of approximately 40,000 Jews from Budapest to Austria


January 17 Evacuation of Auschwitz; beginning of death march

January 25 Beginning of death march for inmates of Stutthof

April 6-10 Death march of inmates of Buchenwald

April 30 Hitler commits suicide

May 8 V-E Day: Germany surrenders; end of Third Reich

August 6 Bombing of Hiroshima

August 9 Bombing of Nagasaki

August 15 V-J Day: Victory over Japan proclaimed.

September 2 Japan surrenders; end of World War II[9]

When the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945, it was a relief but also hard for those Jews who survived, ill, starved and emaciated, traumatised and often alone, with all or part of their families wiped out.

Activity 4

Discuss the effect of World War II on the Holocaust

Topic 3   Why did the Holocaust Occur?

Why did the Holocaust Occur?

These were the issues:

  • Germany’s humiliating defeat in World War 1 (1914-18) for which they falsely blamed the Jews
  • Jews were a scapegoat for the economic and social problems and political instability in Germany after the war
  • The Great Depression exacerbated economic woes
  • Antisemitism can be traced back to early civilisation but became fashionable with Social Darwinism and eugenics
  • The long-held belief of some Christians that Jesus Christ was killed by the Jews still persisted
  • The Nazis promoted extreme antisemitism based on their race-based world view that Jews were an inferior race and that Aryans were superior and could not be contaminated with Jewish blood
  • Hitler was power-hungry and had a charismatic ability to sway the masses who he controlled by fear and intimidation, using the SS (Schutzstaffel), the “political soldiers” of the Nazi party.

Antony Polonsky says that the BBC documentary, The Fatal Attraction of Adolph Hitler, made in 1989 “argues that most Germans came, after January 1933, to support Hitler because of their belief that he had brought to an end the hardships of the Great Depression and the humiliations which the country had suffered at Versailles.”[10] He was a charismatic orator and it was only Hitler’s suicide that ‘broke the spell’.

Furthermore, at the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War 1, Germany was made to accept war guilt, pay a huge reparations bill as the aggressor, was demilitarised, lost territory in Europe and its overseas territories and was dictated to regarding the terms and conditions.

Regarding questions about whether the Germans were seduced or brainwashed by Hitler and how affected they were by the loss of World War I and economic hardship, German author Peter Fritzsche, who has written a number of books based on letters of ordinary Germans at the time, said it was more than the above:

“But Hitler was very clear: World War II was not about former German territory assigned to Poland or about the national self-determination of Germans living outside Germany. The war was about creating a new racial order in which there were German superiors and Slav inferiors and in which Jews had no place. It was about creating an exploitative empire in which might determined right. The Nazis were not traditional German nationalists but radical revolutionaries in terms of foreign policy and morality.”[11]

Antisemitism was a strong factor behind Nazi ideology and the Holocaust: how do we recognise it? A recent definition of antisemitism that helps unpack it and has been signed by many countries including Australia is that of the IHRA.

The Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research initiated in 1998 by former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson has become the IHRA and has thirty-five nations on board. It supports policy makers, educationalists and international initiatives for the prevention of genocide. Persson said:

“The future we are shaping now, is the past that we will share tomorrow.”[12]

The IHRA non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism:

In the spirit of the Stockholm Declaration that states: “With humanity still scarred by …antisemitism and xenophobia the international community shares a solemn responsibility to fight those evils” the committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial called the IHRA Plenary in Budapest 2015 to adopt the following working definition of antisemitism.

On 26 May 2016, the Plenary in Bucharest decided to:
Adopt the following non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

To guide IHRA in its work, the following examples may serve as illustrations:
Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.”

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.[13]

Activity 5

Group Discussion

  1. Is there anything in this list that surprises you?
  2. Would the current BDS Movement be considered antisemitic in the light of this definition? The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement works to end international support for Israel’s existence calling it a racist state. It calls for a boycott of Israeli and international companies with economic, cultural and academic boycotts as a way of supporting the Palestinian cause.
  3. Would denying the Jews the right to a national homeland to which they have a connection of over 3,000 years fit the above criteria?

Module 2     World’s Reaction to Holocaust and Refugees

Objective: Participants will be able to evaluate the world’s response to the Holocaust and give three reasons why the response was not effective.

Topic 1   Evian and World Leaders

Activity 6

Watch the video: Evian: example of bystanders 4.54mins https://unpacked.education/video/faces-of-the-holocaust-the-bystander/

Activity 7

Group Discussion

  1. Discuss the comment that if every nation at Evian had immediately taken in 17,000 Jews, all the Jews in the Third Reich could have been saved
  2. Why were the nations so reluctant to take in Jewish refugees?
  3. What was Hitler’s response to Evian?

Jewish Refugee Problem and Evian

Below is an edited extract from Barbara Miller’s Shattered Lives Broken Dreams:

“Germany forcibly annexed Austria resulting in unification (Anschluss) on 13 March 1938, and German anti-Jewish legislation was extended to Austria immediately. The Nazis dismissed Jews from the public service and confiscated Jewish property. Jews were pressured to leave Austria. Another 185,000 Jews were now under German control. Where were they to go?

Australian Reaction to Nazi Germany’s Treatment of Jews

Reports had been reaching Australia of attacks against the Jews in Germany as early as 1933, but many Australians thought these attacks would be short-lived and that Stalinist Russia was a greater threat than Nazi Germany. Some thought that it was a problem for Europe rather than Australia. Rudolph Asmis, the German Consul General, denied the reports calling them ‘untrue and grossly exaggerated’.[14] The Herald was not deterred, reporting, ‘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’.[15]

Several prominent Australians weighed into the debate. Premier of NSW, Bertram Stevens stated, “To deny Jews the right to full citizenship and the right to observe the laws of the country is tantamount to saying they have no right to live. The 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’.[16]

This is an incredible statement because he was seeing the spiritual dynamics of what Hitler’s laws meant – a living death and headed down the track to physical death. It is also amazing that he could not see the hypocrisy of this statement as the original inhabitants of Australia, the Aborigines, did not have citizenship rights in their own land. As Premier of an Australian state, wasn’t this repugnant to him also? Apparently not. There is no evidence that he was working towards citizenship rights for Aborigines or saw the lack of it as a denial of their right to live.

The church also took up the issue, even before the Premier, with the moderator of the Presbyterian Church in NSW recommending that different churches send a protest to Germany, which had gone ‘patriotism-mad’, regarding its treatment of the Jews. He said that atrocities were worse than reported, the Nazis were killing men, women and children. He maintained we needed to think more internationally and stand up for the rights of all.[17] It is not clear whether churches sent such a protest.

Jewish Refugees

Where do the refugees go? It is estimated that about 150,000 refugees had left Germany during the first five years of Nazi rule (1933-1938), 43,000 of these going to Palestine, 55,000 going to North America with some to South America and that 52,000 had no home. Now Hitler was forcing out 185,000 Austrian Jews.

Austrian Nazis led an orgy of anti-Jewish looting and riots. The Jewish community had contributed greatly to the cultural and intellectual reputation of Vienna in Europe. Thousands of Jews rushed to foreign consulates trying to get sanctuary. Once successful Jews fully integrated into society, they were suddenly the targets of hate and crime. Their lives and families were threatened; their jobs and businesses were ripped from them; they were not protected by the law and found themselves stateless and without a home. The Jewish Chronicle of 25 March 1938 reported 1,700 suicides in the first few days of Anschluss.

The Australian government received an urgent request from London for 10,000 immigration forms to deal with requests from Vienna. Australian newspapers published a large number of desperate pleas from Austrian Jews for help, and letters and phone calls from relatives of refugees and concerned Australians flooded Australian political and religious leaders’ offices. Some Australians were so moved that they offered to sponsor refugees.

Evian Conference

Evian Conference Delegates 1938, Yad Vashem Photo Archives Jerusalem 41613_425

… Eleven days after Anschluss, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited thirty-two countries to a conference in the French resort town of Évian-les-Bains, held from 6-16 July 1938, to discuss plans for the refugees wanting to leave Germany and Austria. The conference is known as Evian for short.

Minister for the Interior, Mr J. McEwen outlined the current Australian government policy for the cabinet discussion of 8 April. He said the Jews were:

“… highly intelligent as a class and usually made a success at whatever occupation or business they follow, but in view of their religious beliefs and strict rules as regards marriage, they remain a separate race and this failure to become properly assimilated in the country of adoption appears to create difficulties in any country where they form a considerable proportion of the population.”[18]

In a memo to Cabinet on 25 May, Mc Ewen reported that not considering the racial aspect could mean the issue of 20,000 permits to Jews that year. Therefore, he proposed a quota for Jews, who, he said, were a race as distinct from a nationality. Applicants were required to state whether they were Jewish or not, but immigration officers used names, photographs and other factors to make assessments about whether they were Jewish. On 9 June 1938, the cabinet established a quota of 300 landing permits per month to be granted to Jews. Preference was to be given to Germans and Austrians over Poles who were considered harder to assimilate. Also, preference was to be related to amount of capital, occupation and age. A decision was made to approach the Australian Jewish Welfare Society (AJWS) to assist in the selection of the best type of migrant.[19]

Australia’s position at Evian was to inform the meeting of the quota and that the applications which were averaging about 600 a week would be enough to provide eligible immigrants for the next twelve months.[20]

The Australian delegation to Evian consisted of the Minister for Trade and Customs, Lt-Col Thomas Walter (T.W.) White.

However, Evian proved a failure. Apart from the Dominican Republic, no conference participants, including the American organisers, agreed to take significant numbers of refugees. Roosevelt did not send a high-level official to the conference but sent Myron C. Taylor, the former president of United States Steel. The US itself was not prepared to lead the way by easing restrictions against Jewish immigration. Antisemitism was one reason, as well as the fact that Americans were in the middle of the Great Depression and did not want the Jews competing with them for jobs or welfare. It became an exercise in ‘passing the buck’. The United States up to the time of the announcement of the Evian meeting had admitted only 27,000 Germans between 1933 and 1938 out of a quota of 130,000.[21] There was also a concern that should the conference show readiness to take refugees, Poland and Romania might institute repressive measures to try to get rid of several million Jews within their borders.

The conference did at least establish the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (ICR) which would continue to work on the problem reconvening in London on 3 August. With the Munich crisis, however, the ICR became increasingly irrelevant and was ‘virtually exterminated by the same shot that killed vom Rath, Third Secretary of the German Embassy in Paris.[22]

The Evian outcome emboldened Hitler further, giving him the green light in his treatment of the Jews. He disdainfully commented:

“It is a shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor tormented Jewish people, but remains hard-hearted and obdurate when it comes to helping them.”[23]

Australia Does Not Want to Import a Racial Problem

… Most countries cited economic reasons why they could not take the Jewish people, desperate for a safe nation where they could flee. However, the Australian delegate cited race as the reason. The nutshell of the response of Mr T. W. White from Australia is part of a display at Yad Vashem for all to see. He said, “As we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one.”

… The Sydney Morning Herald in its editorial was highly critical of the Australian delegate:

‘… There cannot but be disappointment with the negative nature of the speech made by the Australian representative …. The Minister for Trade and Commerce expressed a pious hope for “a solution of this tragic world problem.” It is a truism that the Commonwealth has no racial problem and has no desire to import one. On the other hand, it prides itself on being a democracy with a strong tradition of tolerance, and any undue suggestion of racial intolerance constitutes a betrayal of our cherished traditions.’[24]

The newspaper also pointed out that the European refugee crisis presented Australia with a unique opportunity to ‘obtain some of the best stock and finest minds of Europe.’[25]

As the nations of the world stood by, appeased Hitler and took a neutral stance, Hitler continued to kill and torture Jews and put them into concentration camps for forced labour. Three months after Evian, Hitler marched in and took Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia and,  another month later, in November, there was the destruction of Kristallnacht. No one at Evian could have envisaged the slaughter of six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, but there were very serious warning signs.

… The Evian conference was so paralysed that the words “Jew” and “Germany” were never used. How can you talk about something and then not talk about it at the same time? Von Ribbentrop, later Germany’s Foreign Minister, threatened to retaliate against German Jewry if delegates expressed anti-German ‘propaganda’ at the Evian conference. Germany was holding the nations to ransom.

Germany also made Jewish immigration difficult by refusing to allow Jews to take their money and possessions with them when they were expelled. Many countries did not want to take impoverished immigrants. Nations feared antisemitism at home and economic backlash. In October 1938, a further blow was that the Nazis invalidated Jewish passports and those passports needed for emigration were marked with the letter J for Jude or Jew.

The despair of one of the Jewish representatives at the Evian meeting was palpable:

‘When the old trees of Evian cast their shadows over Lake Geneva, and the bright lights of the casino shone across the serene waters, I was overcome with grief and despair at the situation …. the course which the Evian conference was taking, the undue haste which the representatives of the Jewish organisations had to present their remarks on their memoranda before the President of the conference was a tragedy whose certain end was destruction. The gates had been closed before us.’[26]

… It was almost impossible for Jews to enter Canada after the Canadian government raised the funds needed for Jewish applicants from $10,000 to $15,000.

The nations had the chance to stand up and be counted at Evian. But they lost their moral compass. While some commentators have excused the nations saying they could not comprehend how bad it would become under Hitler, a Jerusalem Post commentator has a more accurate reflection. Efraim Zuroff, historian and Nazi hunter, said:

“To understand the full impact of the failure of the Evian Conference, it must be emphasized that at this point the Nazis had still not decided to implement the Final Solution and were encouraging Jewish emigration from the Reich. In fact, Hitler responded to news of the conference by saying that if other nations would agree to admit the Jews living in the Reich, he would help them depart ‘even on luxury ships.’”[27]

T.W. White’s speech, with its underlying racial references, unearthed the underlying feelings of racism at the Evian conference.”[28]

Topic 2   Australian Response to Apology

However, Australia did not close the door completely to Jewish refugees. It was left a little ajar. T.W. White said “… the Commonwealth Government has decided that Australia should assist to the extent of receiving up to 15,000 refugees over a term of three years … The Government has decided therefore on broad lines the admission of refugees should conform to the same principles as those governing the entry of white aliens generally.”[29]

Australia’s policy did change after the war, with Australia taking in the largest number of Holocaust survivors per capita of any nation.

We don’t know how many Jewish refugees were killed by the Hitler regime who could have lived safely in Australia or other nations.

Apology regarding Evian in Australia


Topic 3   Bermuda Conference

The following edited extracts are from Barbara Miller’s Shattered Lives Broken Dreams:

“A declaration in the House of Commons in England by Sir Anthony Eden on 17 December 1942 confirmed the previously unbelievable rumours of the wholesale murder of the Jews of Europe. Dr J. M. Machover, who had previously worked with Jewish relief organisations in Europe, called a meeting of Australian Jewish organisations in Sydney to deal with the crisis and the United Emergency Committee (UEC) for European Jewry was formed under his chairmanship. They established close links with church leaders.

The Bermuda Conference – Another Evian

The Allied Declaration of 17 December 1942 that condemned German atrocities against the Jews stated:

‘From all the occupied countries, Jews are being transported in conditions of appalling horror and brutality to Eastern Europe. In Poland, which has been made the principal Nazi slaughterhouse, the ghettoes established by the German invaders are being systematically emptied of all Jews except for a few highly skilled workers required for war industries. None of those taken away are ever heard of again. The able-bodied are slowly worked to death in labour camps. The infirm are left to die of exposure and starvation or are deliberately massacred in mass executions. The number of victims of these blood cruelties is reckoned in many hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent men, women and children.’[32]

There was a public outcry in Britain, the USA and Australia in support of the Jews and in response, Britain and the USA decided to have a bilateral meeting in Ottawa. However, to keep unwanted visitors away, particularly Jewish organisations, it was moved to remote Bermuda. The conference opened on 19 April 1943 and proved just as fruitless as the Evian Conference. The Allies were concerned that if Germany did release the millions of Jewish refugees instead of exterminating them, what would they do with them? Britain refused to discuss immigration to Palestine, and the USA refused to fill its immigration quota, which was less than half full in 1941 and less than 20% full in 1942. Both countries agreed that the Intergovernmental Committee formed at Evian become active again, having been inactive since the outbreak of war.

Don’t Allow Genocide of Jews to Interfere with the War Effort

The United States delegation contained one Jew, Sol Bloom, and he defended the Bermuda decision not to allow genocide to interfere with the war effort. Delegates maintained the best way to help the Jews was to win the war against Hitler. Bloom explained their attitude:

‘The announcement that we were going to aid a particular group might lead to intensified persecutions, perhaps to demonstrate that meddling from the outside world could only intensify its wretchedness, perhaps to induce the payment of a huge ransom; or, quite possibly, the enemy would take unusual pains to sink a ship filled with helpless men, women and children, thus hoping to discourage further attempts at rescue,’[33]

Here was the opportunity to rescue the Jews from Hitler’s plans to murder another four million Jews. But their courage failed them. And they failed Europe’s Jews. They held history in their hands, but they lacked the vision to shape it.”[34]

Activity 8

Group Discussion

  1. Was the Holocaust preventable?
  2. What reasons were given at the Bermuda Conference for not taking Jewish refugees?
  3. Give three reasons why the world’s response to the Holocaust was not effective.

Module 3     Key Events in the Holocaust

Objective: Participants will be able to summarise the key events of the Holocaust and provide examples of 3 major turning points.

Topic 1   Persecution of Jews and Kristallnacht

Persecution of Jews by the Nazis involved the following:

  • Antisemitic discriminatory laws such as the Nuremberg Race Laws
  • Exclusion from society and earning an income e.g. Jewish businesses boycotted or forcibly closed, Jewish professionals and others losing their jobs, children not being able to attend school or students attend university, and homes confiscated
  • Humiliation by being forced to wear a Star of David badge, propaganda, cutting old men’s hair and “payot” in the street and taunting, making Jews scrub the streets
  • State-organised violence e.g. pogroms (violent riots) including Kristallnacht
  • Displacement by forced emigration and internment in ghettos, forced labour camps and concentration camps
  • Forced labour for the German war effort or German businesses in ghettos, labour camps and concentration camps
  • Theft of Jewish homes, businesses, jewellery, art, possessions, finances and even the clothes, hair and gold in the teeth of those murdered
  • Death marches
  • The murder of six million Jews

Kristallnacht – A Turning Point

Activity 9

Watch the video: Kristallnacht – The Night of Broken Glass 15.26 mins, edited by Arnold Finkelstein Video and DVD Productions from a 5-part series by David Kaufman and Canadian History Television https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynypuxgCbH4&t=926s

Activity 10

Questions for discussion:

  1. What stood out to you most about the video?
  2. The Kindertransport resulted in 10,000 Jewish children being rescued from Europe and taken to Britain without their parents. What would it have been like for the parents who probably never saw their children again? And what would it have been like for the children?
  3. Discuss the dehumanisation and demonisation of Jews in Nazi propaganda.

Background to Kristallnacht

These are adaptations from Shattered Lives Broken Dreams:

“’On the night of  9 November 1938, the sounds of breaking glass shattered the air in cities throughout Germany while fires across the country devoured synagogues and Jewish institutions. By the end of the rampage, gangs of Nazi storm troopers had destroyed 7,000 Jewish businesses, set fire to more than 900 synagogues, killed ninety-one Jews and deported some 30,000 Jewish men to concentration camps.’[35]

Magdeburg, Germany, people looking at ruined businesses after Kristallnacht, Yad Vashem Photo Archives Jerusalem 135GO7 (10/11/1938)

The Nazis were waiting for the excuse or opportunity to begin ridding Germany of the Jews. In March 1938, two weeks after the German invasion of Austria, the Polish government announced an Expatriates Law which meant Poles living outside Poland had to have their passports stamped by Polish consular officials by 31 October. About 70,000 Polish Jews were living in Germany, and the Nazis denied them the validating stamp, making them stateless, a fearful development as it would prevent them emigrating. As the deadline approached, the Gestapo began rounding up Polish Jews and dumping them in appalling conditions on the Polish side of the border. Polish Vice-Premier Kwiatkowski criticised Australia for not taking more Polish immigrants.[36]

On 7 November, a 17-year-old Polish Jewish student named Hershel Grynszpan shot Ernst vom Rath, the Third Secretary of the German Embassy in Paris. Grynszpan, enraged by the deportation of his parents to Poland from Hanover, Germany, where they had lived since 1914, hoped that his dramatic action would alert the world to the ominous plight of Europe’s Jews. When the French police arrested Grynszpan, he sobbed, ‘Being a Jew is not a crime. I am not a dog. I have a right to live, and the Jewish people have a right to exist on earth. Wherever I have been, I have been chased like an animal.’[37] Vom Rath died two days later, on 9 November.

Kristallnacht was the culminating event in a series of antisemitic policies set in place since Hitler took power in 1933. The law of 7 April 1933 for the Reconstruction of the Civil Service provided that civil servants of non-Aryan descent were to be retired immediately. The Nazis defined a non-Aryan as someone with a grandparent or parent who was Jewish. This led to the dismissal of many university and school teachers, doctors, scientists, some lawyers and other civil servants. This law was the first of 400 pieces of legislation designed to force Jews out of the economy and society. By the end of 1933, about 60,000 had emigrated from Germany, most of them Jews.

The Nuremberg Laws prohibited marriage between Jews and Germans to protect German blood and ‘honour’. In his bid to create an Aryan master race, Hitler was marching towards the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Problem,’ the Nazi euphemism adopted in 1942 for the extermination of Jews.

Kristallnacht was also the spark that ignited the Holocaust. 1938 seemed to be a turning point where the Nazis applied with brutal intensity the antisemitic policies they had developed since 1933. The Nazis started herding Jews into concentration camps.

November 9/10, 1938, A Synagogue in flames in Siegen, Germany during Kristallnacht, Yad Vashem Photo Archives Jerusalem 136BO9

Most reports of Kristallnacht cite 91 Jews killed, but a 2017 article in the Jerusalem Post said it was 1,600 and that it was General Reinhard Heydrich (who would later be the architect of the Final Solution) that reported it was 91. The article said:

‘The results were horrific. One thousand six hundred Jews were murdered (the official report by Heydrich listed only 91), approximately 1,500 synagogues were destroyed, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen, more than 7,000 Jewish shops and department stores were vandalized or destroyed. In short, a horrific blow to German Jewry, who, adding insult and economic ruin to injury, were forced to pay a fine of one billion marks (about $400 million at 1938 rates) as a punishment.’[38]

Events After Kristallnacht

When German troops entered Prague to establish a Protectorate in May 1939, Hitler’s betrayal of the Munich Agreement wrecked the credibility of appeasement in both Britain and Australia. However, it had already been dealt a severe blow by the Kristallnacht pogrom. The Sydney Morning Herald on 16 November 1938 declared Kristallnacht ‘struck a grievous, if not mortal, blow at the policy of appeasement.’

Within a week of Kristallnacht, the Nazis had circulated a letter declaring that Jewish businesses could not be reopened unless they were to be managed by non-Jews. On 15 November, the Nazis barred Jewish children from attending school, and shortly afterwards they issued the Decree on Eliminating the Jews from German Economic Life. This decree prohibited Jews from selling goods or services anywhere, from engaging in crafts work, from serving as the managers of any firms, and from being members of cooperatives. How would they feed themselves, banished from earning a living, intimidated and isolated at every turn?

The Nazis determined that the Jews should be liable for the damages caused during Kristallnacht, compensation going to the perpetrators, not the victims. The Decree on the Penalty Payment by Jews Who Are German Subjects also imposed a one-billion Reichsmark fine on the Jewish community, supposedly an indemnity for the death of vom Rath. ”[39] 

Topic 2   World and Aboriginal Response

The Argus, a Melbourne daily newspaper, was considered to be the general Australian newspaper of record for this period.  Australian Aboriginal William Cooper would have been reading the world’s reaction in its reports. Here are edited excerpts from Shattered Lives Broken Dreams:

“What was the world reaction? The Argus reported on 17 November a scathing rebuke from the USA to Germany for its attacks on the Jews, in language that had never before been used by a President of the United States toward a friendly nation. President Roosevelt said on 15 November:

‘The news of the last few days from Germany has deeply shocked public opinion in the United States. Such news from any part of the world would inevitably produce a similar profound reaction among American people in every part of the nation. I myself, could scarcely believe that such things could occur in 20th-century civilization….’

There was stunned surprise among journalists as President Roosevelt continued that he would recall the US ambassador to Germany. The President also instructed that the 12,000-15,000 refugees already in the U.S. on temporary visitor visas could remain in the country indefinitely.

A news item from London in The Argus the day after the Kristallnacht coverage does not report on an official British government response but does report condemnation of what happened by British and French newspapers. The Times condemned the treatment of the Jews and described it as ‘worse than merely being ridiculous’ but ‘wholly intolerable’ that the British government was blamed by the Germans for the death of vom Rath.

The Argus report from London (12 November 1938) described the gangs continuing to wreck and pillage until they had become ‘exhausted by their orgy’ of destruction; that the gangs were ‘drunk with destruction’ and nothing could curb the ‘madness of the mobs’. The headline reads ‘Nazi’s Orgy Passes.’ The Argus reported:

‘Jews who had earlier managed to elude their persecutors were hunted out and beaten. Crouching tearfully in corners, they are awaiting the next stroke of the terror, as promised by the threatened decrees of Dr Goebbels. These may include the confiscation of property and the revival of the ghettos.

Throughout yesterday, they scurried through streets, in peril of being beaten any moment, to foreign consulates, where they begged and prayed for permits to migrate, especially to Britain and her Dominions.’

What countries opened their doors to these desperate Jewish refugees? Were the hearts of the world open or closed? They were mostly closed, to our shame.

William Cooper and his friends at the Australian Aborigines’ League were reading this. What were they thinking? No doubt their hearts reached out to the Jewish people, and they wondered what they could do. When Cooper and his group walked the three hours from his home in Footscray to the German Consulate in Melbourne, what thoughts were churning through his head? No doubt the thoughts of the injustice of it all were relentless. No doubt his heart was going out to them in their plight. He may have thought, ‘What can we do, so far away? But we must try to stop this madness, this cruelty, this evil.’

William Cooper 1935

This protest walk is the only protest march that William Cooper ever led on any issue. Most of his representations on Aboriginal issues were by letter, petitions or meetings with officials. Even the Day of Mourning in Sydney was not staged as a protest at the actual event, but a meeting was held separately and simultaneously, albeit with placards. However, for the Jewish people, he decided that a protest march was needed.”[40]

This intervention by Australian Aborigines is remarkable as they were not even citizens in their own country and were fairly powerless politically, many living in poverty. However, it has been recognised as one of the few private protests worldwide against Kristallnacht, often seen as the start of the Holocaust. For this reason, William Cooper has a Chair of Resistance to the Holocaust named after him in December 2010 at Yad Vashem World Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem, Israel. William Cooper – see Module 5.

However, it is worth noting that New South Wales Aboriginals, William Ferguson and Jack Patten, formed the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA) in 1937 and they supported the Kristallnacht protest. Barbara Miller notes:

“… the APA supported the AAL re protesting the persecution of Jews at Kristallnacht. A news report in the Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate (1 December 1938) reported that the Dubbo branch of the APA (which William Ferguson led) sent a telegram to the Australian Aborigines’ League supporting its action in protesting to the German Consulate about the treatment of Jews by Nazi Germany.”[41]


Activity 11

  1. What was the reaction of the Australian press and internationally?
  2. What was the reaction of William Cooper and the AAL?

Topic 3   Final Solution

The Final Solution to the Jewish Question was the policy to systematically annihilate all European Jews. It was the last and most deadly stage of the Holocaust from 1941 to 1945.

Activity 12

Watch the Yad Vashem video: The Development of the Final Solution (11.46mins) https://www.yadvashem.org/education/educational-videos.html

This link is not specific and will take you to the list of videos and you need to search for it. Select Teaching the Holocaust as the category and The Final Solution as the topic.

Sometimes the Final Solution is presented as having been engineered at Wannsee on 20 January 1942. However, as this video from Yad Vashem (the Holocaust History Museum, Jerusalem, Israel)  points out, there has been an argument about whether Hitler intended the genocide of Europe’s Jews from the beginning or if this plan developed over time. There is compelling evidence that Nazi plans to wipe out the Jews from a whole continent developed much sooner than Wannsee. A number of points are made in the video:

  1. The systematic murder of the Jews began with the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, called Operation Barbarossa. Following on the heels of the German army, four special SS groups Einsatzgruppe D company spread out from north to south systematically shooting Jews into mass graves. By the end of the summer, tens of thousands of Jews had been shot.
  2. A genocidal atmosphere was at the centre of decision-making in Berlin and in those doing the actual killing of Soviet Jews. Tens of thousands of Germans, Austrians and locals joined in the killing of the Jews of the Soviet Union.
  3. It spread further afield via the allies of Germany like Romania and Croatia. Romania murdered all its own Jews, about 300,000-400,000 and some of Ukraine’s in a bloodthirsty rampage.
  4. In the summer of 1941, Croatia identified Jews, Serbs and Roma (Gypsies) as their enemies and murdered them without the intervention of the Germans.
  5. While this was happening, the German SS and Police Commander in Lublin, Odili Globocnik, created a think tank among intellectuals and his staff. They suggested that instead of chasing Jews to murder them, the Jews be brought to them, sealed in a top-secret installation and murdered using euthanasia. From the T4 operation in Germany, it was discovered that gas chambers using carbon monoxide exhaust from engines could kill. It would be cheap and clean.
  6. A unit of the SS was tasked with finding an alternate method of murder to operate alongside mass shootings. Under the command of SS Walter Rauff, they looked at gas vans that would asphyxiate Jews as the vans drove around.
  7. On 3 September 1941, the first experimental murder at Auschwitz took place of several hundred Soviet prisoners of war using Zyklon B gas, the use of which continued.
  8. In July 1941, SS General Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler’s most important deputy dealing with Jews, approached Hermann Goering, the second most powerful man in Germany, and asked for authorisation to go ahead with all their plans for the Jews.
  9. On 20 January 1942, Heydrich convened a meeting at Wannsee, near Berlin, of SS, government and police officials to discuss the coordination of the Final Solution. Months of research and planning had preceded it and it had the prior approval of Hitler.
  10. However, before Wannsee, the construction of the death camps of Belzec and Chelmo had already begun (around 1 November, 1941). After Wannsee, Treblinka and Sobibor were constructed and deportations to Chelmo began in December 1941 and to other camps in March 1942. By end of 1942, four million Jews had been murdered and by the end of war, six million Jews had been slaughtered.

This is an edited extract from Shattered Lives Broken Dreams:

Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution            

“In 1939, Hitler’s plan to purify Europe of Jews and other ‘undesirables’ (gypsies, those with disabilities, etc.) led him to sign a euthanasia decree which instituted a forced eugenics program. This extended existing laws for sterilisation to allow and even force doctors to take their lives rather than sterilise those considered genetically or socially unfit.

At the time of the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942 in Wannsee, a lakeside suburb of Berlin, new extermination camps were in preparation, and mass killings were ongoing, e.g. in occupied parts of the Soviet Union and Poland. What was the purpose of the conference? When a train carrying about 1,000 German Jews arrived at Riga, Latvia on 29 November 1941, they were shot. Even some SS troops were uncomfortable about shooting assimilated German Jews as opposed to Ostjuden or Eastern Jews, and the cost of ammunition made it unfeasible.[42]

It was a huge logistical challenge to deport all Jews, and the Nazis wanted cooperation from all quarters of the German regime and for them to know that orders came from the highest authority of the Reich. It also made them co-responsible for the plan. The purpose of Wannsee was to inform senior administrators of various departments dealing with Jews that Reinhard Heydrich had been appointed to execute the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. The plan meant the deportation of the Jews of Europe and French North Africa to Eastern Europe where they would work on road-building projects until they perished and those who survived would be annihilated. As it turned out, the Soviets and Allies gradually pushed back the German lines so that most of the Jews of German-occupied Europe were sent to concentration camps or killed where they lived.

As the waves lapped on the sands of Wannsee, the serenity belied the wave of terror that would be unleashed. In ninety minutes, it was over, and the lives of many Jews were to be over as a result of the decisions. While the minutes of the meeting or Wannsee Protocol do not mention the word killing, Eichmann, who wrote them, said at his later trial, that he was told to “clean them up”. He said that cognac was served towards the end of the meeting and, ‘During the conversation they minced no words about it at all…. they spoke about methods of killing, about liquidation, about extermination.’[43]

Even the cleaned-up Protocol records Heydrich as making the fate of those deported fairly clear:

‘Under proper guidance, in the course of the final solution, the Jews are to be allocated for appropriated labor in the East. Able-bodied Jews, separated according to sex, will be taken in large work columns to these areas for work on roads, in the course of which action doubtless a large portion will be eliminated by natural causes. The possible final remnant will, since it will undoubtedly consist of the most resistant portion, have to be treated accordingly, because it is the product of natural selection and would, if released, act as the seed of a new Jewish revival’.[44]

Villa Marlier where 1942 Wannsee Conference Berlin was held. Adam Jones, Ph.D., CC BY-SA 3.0[45]

Module 4     How Did People Respond?

Objective: Participants will be able to distinguish between the responses of Upstanders, Bystanders and Collaborators by describing three actions or characteristics that defined each group. Participants will also be able to describe three instances of Jewish resistance to the Holocaust.


The Allies did stop the Nazis by defeating them in World War II but why did the world watch the genocide of the Jews and not take action? How could humans commit such inhumane actions, some supposedly loving husbands and fathers, wives and mothers? In this module, we will explore stories of those who made choices to be upstanders, to resist the Nazis and rescue Jews and other victims of persecution. We will also examine the stories of bystanders, those who knew about the persecution of Jews and others but chose to look the other way and to remain silent. We look at those who decided to collaborate and add to the terror. What do our choices mean for our humanity and for our communities and nation? However, we need to resist the stereotypes that all rescuers were heroic and good, all perpetrators were evil and all bystanders were bereft of compassion.

Topic 1   Upstanders and Rescuers

Activity 13

Watch a video of German women with Jewish husbands whose husbands and children were imprisoned by the Nazis under their racial purity laws. 5.06mins. https://unpacked.education/video/faces-of-the-holocaust-the-upstander/

Activity 14

  • Think of a time recently where you wished you had stood up and expressed your view instead of holding back? If you could go back and change it, what would you do?
  • Team up with another participant and talk about times you have both been Upstanders. How did it make you feel?
  • How do you make a difference in your school, family, workplace or community? What makes you an Upstander?

Activity 15

Video of Irene Gut Opdyke, a Polish teenager who saved twelve Jews and a baby. 13.42 mins  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jn2g6cNcbPo&t=822s

Follow with a discussion around bravery and taking risks.

In 1963 Yad Vashem set up a project to pay tribute to the Righteous Among the Nations who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. One of the best known of these is the German Catholic Oskar Schindler. The Hebrew inscription on his grave in Jerusalem reads: “Righteous Among the Nations”; the German inscription reads: “The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 1200 Persecuted Jews”.

Those who rescued Jews stood up despite the mainstream of indifference and hostility that prevailed during the Shoah. Samuel Oliner, who was rescued as a Polish boy and his wife Pearl interviewed upstanders and bystanders to see why people rescued Jews in their book The Altruistic Personality.

“The Oliners’ basic finding is that far more than bystanders, rescuers had formed friendly personal relations in the course of their upbringing with people different from themselves in social class and religion. As might be expected, rescuers were more likely to have grown up with Jewish friends and neighbours. But their ability to empathize, nourished by diversity of friendships, extended also to Gypsies and people richer or poorer than themselves.

No less striking is the authors’ evidence that rescuers, far more than bystanders, came from close, loving families where discipline was light and based on talking and reasoning as opposed to physical punishment. Rescuers reported having learned a value on caring from their parents. Bystanders were more likely than rescuers to report having learned values on obedience and economic competence…

The main conclusion of this book is that rescuers had greater capacity for what the Oliners call “extensivity,” the extension of self to include others, attachment to others and a sense of responsibility for others’ welfare. Rescuers showed more trust in people generally, thought more highly both of themselves and of others, and were disinclined to exclude others from the community. Bystanders, on the other hand, had led constricted lives, were centred on themselves, were more likely to be suspicious and insecure, and they reserved a sense of obligation to a small circle from which others were excluded.”[46]

Another rescued survivor, Nechama Tec, believed the righteous had a commitment to the helpless and a preparedness to act independently despite external pressures.[47]

Denmark Saves Its Jews

In a dramatic move, Denmark was the only occupied country that actively resisted the Nazis’ plans to deport its Jews:

“On 28 September 1943, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German diplomat, secretly informed the Danish resistance that the Nazis were planning to deport the Danish Jews. The Danes responded quickly, organizing a nationwide effort to smuggle the Jews by sea to neutral Sweden. Warned of the German plans, Jews began to leave Copenhagen, where most of the almost 8,000 Jews in Denmark lived, and other cities, by train, car, and on foot. With the help of the Danish people, they found hiding places in homes, hospitals, and churches. Within a few weeks, fishermen helped ferry some 7,200 Danish Jews and 680 non-Jewish family members to safety across the narrow body of water separating Denmark from Sweden.”[48]

There is a video included in this handbook that covers the Kindertransport. About 10,000 mostly Jewish children were rescued from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland to Great Britain. Foster families took in about half of the children while the others lived in schools, hostels or farms. Other stories of rescue include:

“Nearly 12,000 Jewish children were rescued by clergymen in France who found housing for them and even smuggled some into Switzerland and Spain. About 20,000 Polish Jews were able to survive in hiding outside the ghetto in Warsaw with the assistance of non-Jewish Poles. Some Jews were even hidden in the Warsaw Zoo by the zoo’s director, Jan Zabinski.”[49]

Topic 2   Bystanders

Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once explained that, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Many have asked, “What if people did not simply stand by and hope that someone else addressed their concern? What if they were caring rather than being indifferent? Wiesel also said, “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.”

Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke famously remarked that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

After the war, many Germans and Europeans claimed that they were “not involved,” that they were “bystanders” to the events of the Holocaust despite witnessing it and living with it for many years. There is a term “bystander effect” which refers to the phenomenon that the higher the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. Observers are more likely to help out in an emergency if there are few or no other witnesses. This suggests a perceived diffusion of responsibility.

Case Study: Poland

At the start of World War II, half the Jews of Europe lived in Poland. They also constituted one-fifth of the world’s Jews. The death camps of Belzec, Sobibor, Chelmno and Treblinka were all in Poland and shockingly, about two million Jews were killed there. About 1.1 million Jews were killed in the concentrations camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau and over 200,00 Jews were killed in Majdanek concentration camp. Others died in ghettoes and labour camps, in trains en route to death camps, on death marches or were killed while in hiding.  Some joined other Poles in partisan groups and were killed fighting. Some were killed as they valiantly resisted the Germans in the Warsaw ghetto uprising and other uprisings.

The reactions of Poles were:

  1. Bystanders – their indifference was the most common response
  2. Those who took advantage of Jews through blackmail and extortion (opportunistic)
  3. Perpetrators or collaborators
  4. Upstanders despite the law that they and their families would be killed if found out

Antisemitism was an important factor as some Poles believed in an ‘us and them’ scenario and that Jews were a separate race. This meant that economic, social and educational discrimination against Jews existed before the war.

It seems that the reasons were:

  1. Religious – that Jews were thought of as Christ-killers
  2. Ethno nationalism – that Jews were a threat to Polish values and nationalism
  3. Jewish economic success caused anxiety and resentment, some seeing it as an obstacle to Poles’ advancement

However, many Poles were witnesses to the Holocaust in one or more ways  as they:

  1. Lived next to ghettoes
  2. Saw Jews marched to trains and loaded on
  3. Saw them marched from labour camps into cities for work
  4. Could smell burning flesh and see the smoke of death camps from their villages
  5. Saw death marches

The silence of bystanders can even encourage perpetrators to be less inhibited.  Jacob Flaw says, “The stance of local residents, in other words, was to accept the camp as an unpleasant but unchangeable reality. Accordingly, they arranged their lives and psyches— and their ethics—so they did not have to deal with what was going on there.”[50] He continues, “The common perception held amongst those who turned away and ignored the Holocaust was that they were incapable of helping. Both in Germany and in Poland, the same reason has been cited by bystanders for not offering assistance: ‘There is nothing we could do about it. We are just little people. It’s the government’.”[51]

Poland is sensitive to the fact that all the death camps were in Poland saying they should not be called Polish death camps because Poland didn’t run them, the Germans did, which is the case. The Polish government did not collaborate with the Nazis as some other governments did. Poland was the only nation where the Nazis had a law against saving Jews on pain of death of the family and their children yet many took the risk for altruistic reasons and many upstanders were martyred. Poles themselves were victims of the Germans with about two million non-Jewish Poles killed in World War II. Along with about three million Jews, Poland lost about five million of its population.

But what about complicity? At the same time, some Poles were looting from empty homes and dead bodies, blackmailed Jews they found in hiding or who they were hiding themselves. Some moved into the homes of Jews and refused to move out if a Jew survived after the war. It was a common enough practice that a name was coined for it – Smalcownnicy (blackmailing a hiding Jew)Others looted ghettoes, looking for gold or other valuables.

The Germans made it illegal for Jews to own certain items such as fur so Jews would lend them to friends and neighbours for safekeeping, but these items were often not returned to surviving Jews. In the book, If I Survive, Lena Goldstein tells of how she loaned her fur coat to a Gentile friend. However, after the war when Lena had only the clothes on her back, her friend would not return the fur coat. Obviously, much of the above behaviour goes further than being a bystander and is akin to being an accessory after the fact in a crime. Some have excused it as changing morality in a time of war but there were instances of some Poles, even children, hunting Jews for sport with no German coercion involved.

There was the massacre at Jedwabne, Poland in which a large proportion of the town’s population murdered 1500 Jews in July 1941 after the Germans had retaken parts of Russian-occupied Poland. There was also a postwar pogrom at Kielce, Poland.

Topic 3   Collaborators


Activity 16

Group discussion

What do you think collaboration means? What images does it bring up for you?


Collaboration can either be on a national or a personal level. It would normally have a good connotation, that is, of people working together on a project or to solve a problem, perhaps to create something or simply to help each other. However, in the context of the Holocaust, it came down to a person or organisation or government assisting the Nazi killing machine. So, it can have a sinister aspect. It can involve crimes against humanity.


Activity 17

Group discussion

Why would people or governments collaborate with the Nazis?

While all of these are not applicable in every situation, some of the reasons are:

  • Ethnic hatred or antisemitism
  • Opportunism  – taking advantage of the situation for financial or other benefit such as power-sharing
  • Anti-communism – national socialism opposed communism
  • Self-protection – better to align with the perpetrator than the victim


Case Study: Vichy France

One of the best-known cases of national collaboration is Vichy France. It was led by Marshal Philippe Petain beginning with the Nazi defeat of France until the Allied liberation of France at the end of World War II (July 1940–September 1944). The Franco-German Armistice of 22 June 1940 divided France into two areas. The southeastern two-fifths would be under the control of the French and the rest under German military occupation. The revolutionary slogan of “Liberty, equality, fraternity” made way for “Work, family, fatherland.” On 11 November 1942, Germany occupied the whole of France and shut down the “armistice army” of Vichy with France becoming increasingly a puppet of the Germans. It included hard-core collaborators. Even some French overseas territories supported the Germans.

Resistance movements against the Germans and the Vichy government grew with young people fleeing to the hills to avoid German forced labour laws and in support of the Allied war effort. Six months before the British invaded Normandy, civil war broke out between the Resistance and the German secret police (Gestapo) and Vichy militias. At the end of the war, the fascist Vichy regime collapsed.


Case Study: Ukraine

Compared with other nations, there has been little discussion and research into the Holocaust and its impact on the Jewish community in Ukraine. However, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum held a conference on this issue in 2013 which has shed some light on the topic. The Holocaust almost destroyed Ukrainian Jewry. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union when it was invaded by Germany during World War II. A collaborator or puppet government was not set up as it had been in other nations such as France, Croatia, Hungary and Norway. Out of a pre-war population of 30 million, about 5 million Ukrainians fought in the Red Army against Hitler. Many were evacuated. It is estimated about 20,000 – 25,000 collaborated with the Nazis and about 3,000 risked their lives to save Jews. Saving Jews was a heroic act as it put the person and their family in great danger of being killed themselves. Collaboration as a proportion of the population was not as high in Ukraine as it was in countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Croatia, Estonia and Poland.[52]

However, it still had very serious consequences. The worst incident was at Babi Yar near the capital Kiev (Kyiv) with the merciless mass murder of 33, 771 Jews on 29-30 September 1941. The killing was done by the Germans with the Ukrainian auxiliary police used as guards, and to collect the victims’ belongings. The Ukrainian auxiliary police also took part in anti-Jewish violence in Belorussia and Poland. The Treblinka death camp in Poland was staffed by Ukrainian guards. There was also a Galician SS division in the German military.

Additionally, “spontaneous” pogroms by the Ukrainian people resulted in thousands of murders of Jews with the Ukrainians often incited and encouraged by the Nazis. The Nazis used constant propaganda to accuse Jews of being implicated in Stalin’s crimes against Ukrainians and encouraged Ukrainians to retaliate.


What were the motives for Ukrainians to collaborate and turn against their Jewish neighbours?

  • To save their lives and that of their families, fearing Nazi retaliation
  • To seize the property of Jews
  • Pre-war antisemitism
  • Nazi antisemitic propaganda blaming Jews for the crimes of the Stalinist Bolshevik regime


Jewish Collaborators

What is not well known is that the Nazis co-opted Jews to help run ghettos and concentration camps, often on pain of death for not cooperating. A video which explores this issue states:

“Shortly after its establishment, the State of Israel prosecuted and jailed dozens of Holocaust survivors who had served as camp kapos (prisoners who were staff) or ghetto police under the Nazis. Hebrew University Professor Dan Porat brings to light a number of little-known trials, held between the years 1950 and 1972, of survivors charged with Nazi collaboration. Scouring police investigation files and trial records, he found accounts of Jewish policemen and camp functionaries who harassed, beat, robbed, and even murdered their fellow Jews. Porat shows how these trials changed Israel’s understanding of the Holocaust and explores how the suppression of the trial records—long classified by the state—affected history and memory. Sensitive to the devastating options confronting those who chose to collaborate, Porat invites us to rethink our ideas of complicity and justice and to consider what it means to be a victim in extraordinary circumstances.”[53]


Activity 18


Group Discussion

  1. If you were a neutral observer from outside Europe at the time of the Holocaust, what would you make of it?
  2. If you were a journalist from a western nation reporting on the Holocaust, what would you say about upstanders, bystanders and collaborators?
  3. Name three characteristics of upstanders
  4. Name three characteristics of bystanders
  5. Name three characteristics of collaborators


Topic 4   Jewish Resistance and Survivors


Why didn’t the Jews resist?

Excerpt from If I Survive, a biography of  Lena Goldstein:

“Some people ask, “Why didn’t the Jews resist? Why did they go like lambs to the slaughter?” However, it is a myth that the Jews did not resist. As famous Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Prize-winning advocate for peace and human rights Elie Wiesel said, “The question is not why the Jews did not fight but how so many did! Tortured, starved, forced into hard labor … how did they find the strength to resist?”[54]

They resisted in ghettos, concentration camps and labour camps, by joining with partisan movements and by fighting with the Allied forces as part of the regular army. After the war, squads hunted down and killed known Nazi murderers who had gone into hiding to evade justice.

About 20,000 – 30,000 Jews joined Partisan groups. Resistance groups hid in the forests of Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and France, fighting the Nazis despite the danger. Those who hid like the famous Anne Frank and her family were also resisting. Jews also hid other Jews.

How do we define resistance? Eminent historian Martin Gilbert has a broad take on it. He says:

Even passivity was a form of resistance. To die with dignity was a form of resistance. To resist the demoralising, brutalising force of evil, to refuse to be reduced to the level of animals, to live through the torment, to outlive the tormentors, these too were acts of resistance. Merely to give witness of these events in testimony was, in the end, a contribution to victory. Simply to survive was a victory of the human spirit.[55]

For Lena Goldstein to survive to tell her story to thousands of adults and children in Australia is resistance. For her to write her diary and be interviewed … for some newspaper articles is resistance. Lena also actively helped the resistance in the ghetto before she escaped.

Yad Vashem identifies the spiritual resistance that occurred in the ghetto.[56] Despite the deliberate policies of dehumanisation of Jewish people and challenges to their faith from such demoralising treatment, they kept their religious, cultural and social practices as much as they could. Maintaining their human dignity, their compassion to others and their strong moral code was important. This had enabled their community to survive not only centuries but thousands of years of violent oppression, and to keep their identity …

Despite the horror of daily facing death, Jews in the ghettos organised schools, hospitals, orphanages and soup kitchens. Adults read religious texts and had prayer meetings. They observed the Sabbath and biblical feasts. Some ghettos put on concerts and theatre events, and people wrote poetry, made art and produced newspapers. Some wondered if this was frivolous, but it helped to give people the will to survive, and to maintain dignity and identity. Even the children who risked their lives to smuggle food into the ghetto were resisters against the rules of the Germans.

There were obstacles to armed resistance, however. The Germans ruled by terror and they had superior arms – tanks, cannons, machine guns – and were a trained military force, whereas the Jews in the ghetto, as well as starving and in poor health, had only a few revolvers they had managed to smuggle in, and were untrained. The Germans used deception by telling people being deported from the ghetto that they were being resettled in labour camps in the east. They offered the starving Jews quantities of bread and jam to go, so some volunteered.

Others were rounded up, mercilessly  killed on the spot if they refused. The Germans even disguised staging posts to look like regular train stations and the gas chambers to look like showers. The Germans squashed them into locked freight trains at the Umschlagplatz – a train station at the northern border of the (Warsaw) ghetto – for the horrifying journey to Treblinka. However, some of those who had been assigned to look after the clothes of the deceased managed to escape from Treblinka death camp and made it back to the Warsaw ghetto to warn the others. Still, there was a lot of scepticism that the Germans could be slaughtering Jews on such a mass scale. This level of this inhumanity was difficult to imagine or believe…”[57]

Activity 19

Read the article Jewish Uprisings in the Ghettos and Camps 1941-1944 https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/jewish-uprisings-in-ghettos-and-camps-1941-44

Activity 20

Read the following on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and then answer the following questions:

  1. What forms did Jewish resistance to the Holocaust take?
  2. Name two ghettos and two camps where resistance took place?
  3. How dangerous was the resistance and how successful was it?

This is an extract from If I Survive:

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

“The Jewish Fighting Organisation (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, or ZOB) was formed in response to these terrifying developments, with Mordechai Anielewicz becoming the leader. Another resistance movement, the Jewish Military Union (Zydowski Związek Wojskowy, or ZZW), was founded by the Betar movement and commanded by Pawel Frenkel. They made ghetto residents aware of the murderous purpose of Treblinka and called on them to prepare for an armed uprising by building bunkers and making homemade weapons.

The second expulsion, 18 January 1943

ZOB planned to have a demonstration in the ghetto on 21 January and arrest Jewish police. Placards were posted encouraging Jews not to go like sheep to slaughter and not to go to the train. ZOB was encouraging those who couldn’t fight to act in passive resistance by hiding and not cooperating. But the Germans arrived first.

On 18 January, motorcycles and trucks burst into the ghetto with armed Germans and Ukrainians. They shouted at Jews to get out into the streets and assemble. This time they refused. The soldiers brutally hauled out resisters and fired on them.. Even some members of the Judenrat (Jewish council) and their families were taken. Jews hid in attics and cellars, and behind false walls, with the Germans trying to ferret them out. The expulsion lasted until 23 January.

Anielewicz’s battle plan was basic but effective – twelve fighters would join the line going to the Umschlagplatz and then, on signal, would break out of the lines and fire on the Germans. The Jews only had pistols compared with the semi-automatic weapons of the Germans but, with the element of surprise, they executed their plan. Germans were shot and many Jews escaped with their lives. The Germans were shocked, not expecting any resistance, let alone armed resistance. Some Germans were killed, some were wounded and some ran, leaving their weapons for ZOB to collect. The Germans set fire to Anielewicz’s residence but he escaped.

The January resistance made the April rebellion possible because Jews saw they could escape and Germans could be killed. The total hopelessness disappeared. The ZOB had appeared openly in the streets and prevented Jews being taken to their death, so this made the people warm to them.

Nevertheless, 200 German SS and 800 auxiliaries from Ukraine and the Baltic states deported or killed 5,000 to 6,500 Jews, a heavy toll. On the last day, the Germans killed 1,000 Jews in a mass slaughter in retaliation for Jewish resistance.

Jews and Poles thought the ghetto was to be completely emptied and the Jews thought they had stopped the deportations after four days. Himmler ordered the total annihilation of the ghetto and erasing of the Jews on 16 February. But it appears that in the January deportations the Germans were only reducing the number of Jews.

Himmler wanted 16,000 Jewish workers, equipment and materials transported to Lublin before the ghetto was destroyed. There was tension in the German leadership over getting rid of the Jews and keeping enough workers for the war effort, making munitions, uniforms and shoes.

Over 600 bunkers were built to withstand the inevitable German onslaughts. The better bunkers were well planned, linked to the water and electricity supply of the city and had bunk beds, sanitary arrangements, long-life food, medicines, a camouflaged source of air and a concealed entrance.

On 19 April 1943, the Eve of Passover, the Nazis attacked.

About 750 ZOB and 250 ZZW fighters were ready to face the Germans and their henchmen. Amazingly, they faced an average of over 2,000 German soldiers each day (including SS, regular army and police). The Germans had large numbers of rifles and machine guns, and some tanks. They also had three armoured cars, a cannon and a flamethrower. The Jews had pistols, hand grenades and homemade Molotov cocktails.

At 4am, the Germans attacked and Jews counterattacked, to the shock of Germans, some Germans falling. The tank burst into flames and twelve Germans died. After a half-hour battle, the Germans withdrew. “The Jews have arms!” was the cry. The Germans slaughtered most of the Jewish fighters who took part in this battle. A Jewish blue and white flag and the Polish flag flew in triumph and defiance from the roof of a ZZW house.

Shockwaves went through the German command. The Germans considered this a political and military defeat and they replaced the officer in charge, Colonel Von Sammern. SS General Stroop, his replacement, attacked the ghetto a few hours later. The 580 Jews captured on the first day were killed on the spot because this was too few for a transport.

Hitler’s fifty-fourth birthday was on 20 April. The Germans attacked the home where flags had been raised and ZZW commander Leon Rodal was killed. Polish police were assisting Germans in the ghetto warfare and ZOB wished the Polish underground could supply them better with arms.

… In another ploy, the Germans “caught” 5,200 Jews who had assembled in the munitions workshop after being told they could survive by being transferred to another work camp outside the ghetto – Poniatowa. However, by November 1943 the Jews taken to work camps in Poniatowa and Trawniki were murdered.

The Warsaw Ghetto became the centre of a Jewish–German war – “the third front”. Twenty tanks were seen going to the ghetto. The Germans cut off the water supply and electricity, worsening the siege-like conditions. However, there were some wells in the ghetto area.

Although the fighters rescued hundreds of Jews destined for transportation, there were still many they could not save. On 25 April, the Germans captured 1,690 Jews and shot 270, with hundreds more buried in blown-up bunkers or burned in the flames.

The “bunker wars” went on for a month, with the Germans systematically burning and exploding buildings. Some Jews were burnt alive in the bunkers, and high numbers, including children, jumped from burning buildings or used bedsheets to get out. The Germans shot those who survived. A few managed to escape to the Aryan side and join the Polish partisans in their fight against the Germans. Burnt buildings were falling on top of bunkers, burying the people. The Germans used dogs and listening devices to locate those still hiding and lobbed poisonous gases into the bunkers.

Despite regular sympathetic updates in their Polish underground newsletters of the massacres of Jews in the ghetto, and despite a request from the Polish government in exile in Britain to assist them, Britain gave none. The Jews were alone. Most Poles watched the fires and smoke from the ghetto and heard the thunder of bombs and explosives destroying it, and kept silent, did nothing.

On 3 May, the Germans attacked a bunker on Franciszkanska Street and killed half the ZOB fighters, some escaping to 18 Mila Street. A group of criminals had a well-supplied bunker there and took them in. Three hundred people, including 120 Jewish fighters, were in what has become known as ‘Mila 18’ and it became the centre of the uprising. Shmuel Asher was in charge of the criminal underworld and they had electricity, a well and food smuggled from Warsaw via the sewers.

Mila 18 captured, 8 May

Commander Stroop reports capturing the bunker on 8 May and executing the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Many women fighters used guns and many women were couriers, smuggling food, weapons, medicine, documents and people through the sewers. Marek Edelman, one of few surviving commanders, managed to escape the attack on Mila 18 that day, through the sewers. Of those who fled Mila 18, seven suffered poisoning, including Tosia Altman and did not live after all.

However, the resistance didn’t stop. There were still bunkers with Jews returning fire.

ZZW fighters had planned to fight and then escape from the ghetto but as their contacts on the Polish side were poor, few survived.

The fighting continued for twenty-eight days with an incredible show of bravery from those with so few weapons to defend themselves. Most perished in the fires, and the Nazis sent the remainder to Treblinka, Madjanek and Lublin camps. On 16 May, the Germans proclaimed their victory over the Jews of Warsaw by destroying the Great Synagogue on Tlomackie Street. Jurgen Stroop, the commander of the SS unit that suppressed the uprising, was determined to destroy the Jewish quarter of Warsaw.

Stroop called the Jews bandits and he reported to Krüger, the head of the HSSPF (Higher SS and Police Leader) and police, that of the 56,065 Jews who were caught, 7,000 were wiped out on the spot in the great action, 6,929 were wiped out in Treblinka and they killed 5,000 to 6,000 in bombing and fires.[58]

The image of Jews was no longer one of a passive people, but one of young warriors who met an honourable death. It was not Jewish passivity that drove the final solution but Nazi depravity, as their rage heightened with Jewish resistance.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest single uprising by Jews in World War 11, and it inspired others to rise up. Uprisings followed in the Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor death camps and in the Czestochowa, Bialystok, Vilna, Tuczyn and Minsk ghettos.”[59]

Warsaw, Poland, 1943, Waffen SS Soldiers Beside a Burning Building during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Yad Vashem Archives Jerusalem 4613/733
Jews Pulled from a Bunker, Stroop Report, Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, photo by Wikimedia Commons
German Stormtroopers Force Warsaw Ghetto Dwellers to Evacuate Their Homes, Yad Vashem Archives Jerusalem FA 359/76
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Jews Deported, photo Stroop Report, photo by Wikimedia Commons



Lena Goldstein (nee Helena Midler), was a young Polish Jew. She kept a diary while hiding in a bunker in the sewers under Warsaw with others while the war raged above them. Starving, unable to wash, wearing the same set of clothes for months on end, unable even to stand up in the cramped bunker, she wrote, in November 1944:

“I long for the splatter of autumn rain. I long for the monotonous music of raindrops beating with fine drizzle against a window pane; for the grey, melancholy, clouded November sky. And I long for the thoughts; thoughts at a twilight hour, the thoughts which, sad as they might be, never begin with the words, “If I survive …”, and never carry the burden of doubt that all this thinking is empty and pointless, because … I will not survive anyway. Outside the rain is falling.”[60]

Lena Goldstein (nee Helena Midler) photo provided by Lena

This is another excerpt from If I Survive:

“Some survivors don’t want to remember but can’t forget. The past is always there. They live with it, sleep with it and face the day with it, feeling there’s no escape from the memories. Some shared little, not wanting to traumatise their families by talking about the Holocaust. They even played it down, but listeners still thought they were exaggerating. However, for some survivors, the desire to tell their stories is just as pressing as the desire to forget. This book is about Lena’s promise to her brother to tell people what happened so that the world would know. It is also about the cry of those who didn’t make it to “remember me”.

In looking at profiles of survivors, Dr Yael Danieli, Director of the Group Project for Holocaust Survivors and Their Children, identified, in 1981, ‘four types of families of survivors: victim families, numb families, fighter families and families of those who made it.’[61] Dr Portney said Holocaust survivors who became parents sometimes experienced traumatic reliving of events or emotional numbing or detachment from experiences, putting life in different compartments. These reactions “do not help a child develop a reasonable sense of safety and predictability in the world”.[62]

A person who experiences or sees a terrifying or traumatic event can experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affecting their mental health and well-being. Symptoms can include nightmares, flashbacks and severe anxiety. One woman, a child of a survivor, commented on how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced by some Holocaust survivors was passed on to children and grandchildren, becoming intergenerational trauma:

Keeping their children — whether born during, at, or after the end of World War II — safe and protected from the world was a common theme for families of Holocaust survivors. Most second-generation survivors, or “2Gs” as we call ourselves, grew up in highly overprotective environments and were allowed few freedoms. Constant location checks were the norm and some of us rarely went anywhere without our parents — or at least without strict supervision.

As my 2G cohort entered adulthood and became parents, we continued the cycle of intergenerational trauma with our children.[63]

There is an incredible resilience of Holocaust survivors considering the dehumanising treatment they have come through. Hypervigilance or screening the environment for threats, fear something would happen to their children, sleep disturbance, irritability and flashbacks are common to those suffering PTSD. Some survivors describe hardening themselves to protect themselves from emotional pain so they could cope with life. They had to learn to trust people again.

Continuity is a big issue. Life was cruelly interrupted. They lost their childhoods, their innocence and their families. The Holocaust robbed them of education and careers. Some survivors have no photos of family pre-Holocaust and memories of what they looked like fade. Lena was able to escape with a few precious photos. Children of survivors can grow up with no uncles or aunties or grandparents to love them. Having grandchildren is very important to most survivors. Jews killed in the Holocaust were deprived of all the descendants they could have had, amounting to generational genocide.

Like many other survivors, Lena has learned not to pity herself or think too much about what she has lost, as it doesn’t help. She has learned to look on the bright side of life …”[64]

Module 5     Australian Aboriginal Upstanders

Objective: Participants will be able to name the Aboriginal leader and his organisation who confronted Germany about its treatment of Jews at Kristallnacht, outline what he did, describe three influences on him and how he was honoured in Israel.

Topic 1   Influences on William Cooper

Activity 21

Show an excerpt from the video: First Australians – A Fair Deal for the Black Race, Episode 6, 52mins.

This video, which is part of a series, focuses on Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls, the nephew of William Cooper. Cooper badgered Nicholls to get involved in the Aboriginal cause but there is much on William Cooper in the video. A good resource is White Australia Has A Black History: William Cooper and First Nations Peoples’ Political Activism.[65]

With his Aboriginal people suffering and dying around him, Australian William Cooper took up the fight for justice and equality, founding the first national black organisation in 1932 – the Australian Aborigines’ League (AAL).

William Cooper (centre) and the Australian Aborigines’ League, 1930s

His story is included here because he led one of the few protests worldwide against Kristallnacht, the start of the Holocaust. This was all the more remarkable because Aboriginal people were not citizens of Australia until the 1960’s. Let’s look at who William Cooper was and what were the influences on him.

William Cooper (1860-1941) was a Yorta Yorta man. His tribal mother Kitty saw the first white men come to her land in the Murray River area on the border of New South Wales and Victoria near Echuca. William’s father was Jack Cooper, a white itinerant worker who wasn’t involved much in his son’s life. William was mission educated, wrote copious letters to parliamentarians and newspapers, met with Prime Minister Joseph Lyons and organised a national petition to King George V for better conditions for his people.

William was supported in his work for the AAL by his family – wife Sarah, son Lynch, sister Ada, brother-in-law Thomas James, nephew Shadrach James, nephew Pastor Doug Nicholls – and friends, Margaret Tucker, Bill and Eric Onus, Caleb and Anne Morgan and others. This included non-Indigenous supporters Arthur Burdeau and Helen Baillie. As an Aboriginal activist, he is the closest Australia has to Martin Luther King Jr.


The influences on him were:

  • His Christian faith including listening to songs about the Israelites being freed from slavery in Egypt
  • Listening to and singing Negro spirituals when they sang about freedom from slavery
  • A visit by emancipated Negroes, the Fisk Jubilee Singers who brought their songs with them, one of which was translated into Yorta Yorta
  • Being influenced by the missionary of Maloga, Daniel Mathews, to campaign for better conditions for Indigenous people
  • Being mission educated and a quick learner
  • Driving a parliamentarian, Mr O’Shanassy, with horse and buggy from his property near the mission to Melbourne for parliament
  • Being an itinerant worker so he travelled around
  • Being a union organiser
  • A strong family and a strong tribe of Yorta Yorta people who made up most of the members of the AAL


Daniel and Janet Mathews set up Maloga mission in 1874. Daniel was anti-slave trade (his father was a reformed slave trader) and encouraged Aborigines, including William Cooper, to petition the government for land and better conditions. The NSW government shut down Maloga and its outspoken missionary in 1888 and set up Cummeragunja reserve nearby, run by harsh managers.

Imagine for a moment that we get a peek at William Cooper in his seventies after he moves to Melbourne so he could get the old age pension as reserve Aborigines were not eligible. Ever the gentleman, he dresses in a suit and has a bushy white moustache. Flashes of memory go through his mind. He has just walked about two hours from his home in Footscray to the Melbourne CBD carrying his soapbox so he could join others climbing up on their soapboxes at Yarra Bank’s Speakers Corner. He would do this regularly to try to get the message out about the treatment of his people.

As he packs up for the long walk home, he envisages his mother Kitty being shocked to see the first white people with their sheep start to take over their Yorta Yorta land near the Murray River. He pictures how missionaries Daniel and Janet Mathews gathered the children and protected them from the men wanting girls for sex and getting into some fights over it. He remembers the missionary telling them to stand up for themselves and petition the government to get some of their land back for farming; which he did when he was twenty six years old. However, the government did not respond positively. He loved the Negro spirituals they would sing around the campfire and the stories of the Hebrew people coming out of slavery in Egypt inspired him. This is where he developed a passion for justice, believing all men are equal. He called his life’s work as working for the “uplift” of his people.

One day, he remembers, he was surprised to find the black American Fisk Jubilee Singers come to their little mission of Maloga all the way from the USA. They had just been emancipated from slavery and travelled the world singing to raise money for their black university in Nashville, Tennessee which took freed slaves. No doubt William thought one day his people will be free too!

He’s almost home. It’s a long walk to his home in Footscray. He remembers when, as a child, he used to drive the horse and buggy for a parliamentarian from his property near the mission all the way to Melbourne for parliamentary sittings. It was an opportunity to get an inkling of how politics worked. William didn’t think of it as child labour at the time. Later, as a trade union organiser, he learned a thing or two about organising people.

After greeting his wife Sarah and the grandchildren they looked after, and having a simple meal, he sat by the fireplace in the front room of his home as the room filled with members of the Australian Aborigines’ League that he had formed. Most of them were Yorta Yorta mob (people) from Maloga or Cummera. Two white supporters joined them. The candlelight flickered over the mantelpiece as they discussed their plans animatedly.  This organisation still exists but under a different name. Today it has a Victorian focus instead of national focus – the Aboriginal Advancement League. There are murals of some of the founders including William Cooper.

Letter Writing Lobbying

After they left, he would write letters to politicians and newspapers all over the country, trying to get better conditions for his people. He couldn’t afford heating in the cold Melbourne winters, or lighting. As he got older and sicker, he would sit up in bed at night and keep writing letters. Somehow, he managed to pay for the stamps. Something had to change someday. Disappointed and frustrated many times, he never gave up.

In fact, it hurt him deeply to see how his people were dying so regularly before their time – dying of starvation, inadequate housing and hygiene and lack of medical facilities. He knew the Bible said all men were created equal so he had to make a difference.

Petition to the King of England

He believed that although Aboriginals were not Australian citizens, they were still British subjects so he decided to appeal to the British crown for help. In 1933, William gathered 1814 signatures from Aboriginals in most states of Australia on a petition to the King of England, George V. However, the Australian government would not forward it to the king because Aborigines had lost their citizenship at federation in 1901. How William organised this was remarkable as he had little money and there was no social media, computers or TV at the time. Someone drove him to different states to get the signatures by hand.

What did the petition ask for? William’s big concern was the possible extinction of Aboriginal people and the need for Aboriginal people’s representation in Federal Parliament. The government had policies of “smoothing the dying pillow” as many Aboriginal people had been wiped out by massacres or introduced diseases. On top of this, a number of state governments had an assimilation policy to “breed out” the Aboriginal by removing part-Aboriginal children from their families and communities by force and rearing them in almost slave labour conditions as domestics. The plan was that then they would marry white people and produce lighter children.

There was no minister for Aboriginal affairs, black or white and no Indigenous representation at the time. Today there are a rising number of First Nations people in parliament and a minister for Indigenous Australians. The petition asked for improvement in the living standards of Aboriginal people in many areas and hence was a forerunner call for the Closing the Gap programs today.

1967 Referendum

The failure of Prime Minister Joseph Lyons to pass on the petition to the King of England sparked the campaign for citizenship and for Indigenous people to be counted in the census. 1948 brought citizenship, the 1960’s brought the vote and, after a 10-year battle, the 1967 referendum enabled Indigenous people to be counted in the census and the federal government to make laws for them. The organisation William founded was reformed after the war and campaigned for this.

Day of Mourning

While the nation celebrated 150 years since white settlement on 26 January 1938, Aboriginal people would be mourning their lack of citizenship and their inequality. William joined with Bill Ferguson and Jack Patten and others from NSW to hold an alternative event at the Australia Hall in Sydney where they protested the conditions of Indigenous people. They called it a Day of Mourning with Cooper’s AAL members driving to Sydney from Melbourne.

The Day of Mourning Aboriginal group watched the procession go by on 26 January holding placards saying “Aborigines Claim Citizenship Rights” and then went to their own fiery meeting releasing a resolution.

Day of Mourning, Man Magazine March 1938, photo Mitchell Library


Meeting Prime Minister Lyons

A few days later on 31 January 1938, an Aboriginal delegation met Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, his wife Enid and John McEwen, the Minister for the Interior at Parliament House Canberra. The delegation consisted of Cooper, Patten, Ferguson, Tom Foster, Pearl Gibbs and Helen Grosvenor.

Cummera Strike

Just days before the federal government announced its New Deal for Aboriginals, Cummera people went on strike. It was 3 February 1939. Over eighty Aboriginals had already left Cummera because conditions were unbearable or they had been expelled by the white manager who had complete control. Now another 200 of the 300 residents packed what they could onto their flat-bottomed boats and rowed from the NSW side of the border where Cummera was situated to the Victorian side of the Murray River. They called this exodus a strike. Cooper and the AAL supplied them with food and blankets but could not keep up sufficient support due to lack of funds. Eventually, some returned, defeated, but it was a long time before the intimidating manager, McQuiggan, was replaced.


William wanted the following Australia Day after the Day of Mourning to be a Day of Hope. He persuaded the National Missionary Council to promote an annual Aboriginal Sunday, the first of which was on 28 January 1940. Cooper is known as the Father of NAIDOC because later it became Aborigines Day, a secular event. It was changed to a day in July and then a week-long event called National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) and it is a time that First Nations people and others can celebrate.

Ngarra Burra Ferra

There is a song William Cooper sang that touches the soul of oppressed people, particularly those of faith. It is Ngarra Burra Ferra, a Yorta Yorta (Aboriginal) version of a Negro spiritual or gospel song. It became popular after it was sung in the 2012 movie The Sapphires which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie was based on the true story of four young Yorta Yorta women who went to Vietnam in 1968 to entertain troops during the Vietnam War.

The Negro spiritual was based on two songs from Exodus 15 – the Song of Moses or Song of the Sea and the Song of Miriam, songs of deliverance. It was called Drowned old Pharaoh’s Army. The first verse goes with Burra Ferra meaning Boss Pharaoh:

“When Moses struck the waters

The waters came together

And drowned (old) boss Pharaoh’s army, alleluiah.”[66]

There is another translation called Turn Back Pharaoh’s Army. How did this songline reach from the Red Sea to an Aboriginal group by the Murray River in Australia? And how did it travel that vast distance in time, nearly 4,000 years? The black slaves on the cotton plantations of the USA had a deep faith in the Lord of the Bible and a desperate need for freedom from persecution and slavery. They had a burning desire to find their “Promised Land” of living in dignity, liberty and equality. The story of Exodus struck a strong chord in their spirits. The whips of the oppressors in Egypt and the USA could have broken their spirits, but the songs of freedom, including the Negro spirituals kept their hope alive. This song was one of them.

Fisk Jubilee Singers, photo Fisk University

Tony Briggs, who wrote the play on which the Sapphires movie was based, says it was his great-grandmother Theresa Clements who translated Turn Back Pharaoh’s Army into the Yorta Yorta language becoming Ngarra Burra Ferra — or Burra Ferra for short. Amazingly, the song was performed by the Yorta Yorta at the Centenary of Melbourne concert in May 1937.

It was one of William Cooper’s favourite songs. As the Cummera people were used to singing this song, did they sing it in their AAL protest walk to the German Consulate to protest Kristallnacht in 1938? It is possible as songs are usually used in these circumstances to inspire people and bring unity.

Activity 22

Group discussion

  1. What stands out to you most about this story of William Cooper?
  2. Name three influences on William Cooper

Topic 2   William Cooper and AAL Protest


Activity 23

Group Discussion

  1. What would have been the barriers to a group of Aborigines in Australia protesting about the treatment of Jews in Europe in 1938?

Discuss the following answers:

  • They were not citizens in Australia and had poor conditions themselves so may have had a local focus
  • News media was limited in that day, no TV, no social media, no internet
  • Aboriginal people were considered a powerless group and there was little activism, much of it ineffective
  • They were on the other side of the world, nearly 16,000 km away

One thing that needs to be made clear is that there were other protests around the world besides that of William Cooper and the AAL’s. He has been honoured because it was extraordinary that a disenfranchised politically powerless group of Aboriginal people on the other side of the world protested and took that protest right to the doorstep of Hitler’s representatives in their nation.

Jews were grateful for anyone who stood up for them when so many were silent. This can be encapsulated by the diary of Abraham Lewin, a member of the clandestine Oyneg Shabbes Archive recording the Holocaust. He described the shocking scenes in the Warsaw Ghetto and the transportation to Treblinka death camp. He wrote in anguish, “Why is the world deaf to our screams?”[67]

This is an edited excerpt from the book Shattered Lives Broken Dreams:

Australian Reaction to Kristallnacht

“When reports about Kristallnacht reached Australia, the press stepped up its campaign for more favourable treatment of Jewish refugees. The Sydney Morning Herald [68] maintained Australia share international responsibility. The West Australian declared that Australia was seen overseas as having a “rather prickly attitude to immigration.”[69] The NSW Trades and Labour Council demanded that the German Consul General, Dr Asmis, be deported as a protest.

William Cooper was one of those who cared about and stood up for the Jewish people. Disenfranchised, and on the other side of the world, far from the fray, he did what was in his power to do by leading a protest of his people to the German Consulate.

Not only was the glass of Jewish homes and shops shattered that night, but also the lives and hopes and dreams of a peace-loving and innocent people. It was a night where not only were synagogues burnt, but sacred books, sacred furnishings and objects were destroyed, and the centres of community life and worship went up in flames. It was meant to rip the heart and soul out of the Jewish people. It is a tribute to the strength and resilience of the Jewish people that they survived not only this nightmare but the worse that was to come.[70]

The protest walk or march by William Cooper and the AAL is described here:”

“What happened that day in 1938 in Australia? A fire, not lit by arsons but by the Australian Government in 1949, burnt the pre-1939 records of the German Consulate in Melbourne.[71] News reports of the 1938 event lay buried in archives for decades. What happened was hidden from our eyes. But when researchers unearthed it, the reverberations were felt as far away as Israel. It catapulted a humble Aboriginal man into the limelight, making him a hero, and it linked the hearts of Jews and Aborigines.

Let’s reconstruct it as best we can. It was Tuesday 6 December 1938. The German Consulate was at 419-425 Collins Street, in the heart of the Melbourne CBD. Collins Street was one of the most desired addresses in the city, and its Victorian architecture was imposing. World War II had not yet been declared. An elderly white-haired Aboriginal gentleman with a bushy white moustache named William Cooper made an appointment to see consular officials on 6 December at 11.30 am. He was just a name on a list, at that point. No doubt the Consulate would have seen the article in The Argus newspaper on Saturday 3 December alerting them that this appointment was not so routine. The paper revealed that a deputation from the Australian Aborigines’ League (AAL) would meet with the German Consul to protest the “cruel persecution” of Jewish people and ask that they convey it to their government.

Perhaps it was a startled guard who first raised the alarm. A large group of Aborigines was fast approaching. It looked like a mob, not a deputation of two or three. They didn’t appear to have any weapons, but they were striding with purpose and getting closer. Would they try to overrun the Consulate? Bust their way inside? Damage any property? Perhaps their dark skin itself was threatening enough with Nazi Germany’s theories of the supremacy of the white race.

The tension mounted. Gruff voices. Commands. Keep them out! Lock the door! We can’t meet with a rowdy mob! No telling what might happen. Don’t take any chances!

If the Consulate had not been located in a peaceful country like Australia, would warning shots have been fired over their heads – or worse?

By now, William Cooper and the AAL members were close enough that the fierce determination in their eyes could be seen. This was the only protest march the AAL ever embarked on, and it was for Jewish people in faraway Europe, not for themselves, even though they were not citizens in their own land. Having lived under racism and discrimination in Australia, they felt empathy with another persecuted group. They were cut to the core by what happened to the Jewish people and wanted it to stop. They wanted to stand up and do whatever was in their power to stop the persecution and death of Jews.

Perhaps the Aborigines were simply met with silence and locked doors that day. Closed hearts; closed minds. Or maybe they received curt orders and shouts to disperse. Maybe William Cooper knocked on the door to no avail. Did he push the AAL’s protest letter under the door or did a security guard receive it? The letter has not survived, but its contents contained the AAL resolution recorded in The Argus:

“At a meeting of the Australian Aborigines’ League, a resolution was passed voicing, on behalf of the aborigines of Australia, a strong protest against “the cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi Government of Germany, and asking that this persecution be brought to an end.”

A deputation of aborigines who are members of the league will wait on the German Consul on Tuesday at 11.30 a.m. to present the resolution and ask him to convey it to his Government.”[72]

… Early on the morning of the 6 December 1938, they gathered at 73 Southampton St, Footscray. William was secretary of the AAL, and he had the letter ready.  Dressed in his suit, he donned his hat which covered his white hair, rallied the troops, and set off. He was 77 years old and not in good health, but he steadfastly led the 12 km walk to the German Consulate. In the December heat, he would have used a hanky to wipe away the sweat…

What would have struck a casual observer was how respectably dressed the group was with the men in their suits, ties and hats. William would have worn his vest as well. He was a tall man and somewhat overweight. The women wore their best dresses and hats and clutched their handbags. Most of the group were elderly, but they were not going to let age or health deter them for their long walk from the leafy suburbs, past houses with Victorian architecture, to this rich city with its skyscrapers.

The Argus briefly covers what happened under the heading “Deputation Not Admitted:”

“A deputation from the Australian Aborigines’ League, which visited the German Consulate yesterday, with the intention of conveying to the Consul (Dr R. W. Drechsler) a resolution condemning the persecution of Jews and Christians in Germany, was refused admittance.

A letter requesting Dr Drechsler to forward the resolution to his Government was left at the Consulate. The resolution voiced, ‘on behalf of the aborigines of Australia, a strong protest at the cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi Government of Germany, and asks that this persecution be brought to an end’.” [73]

There is a suggestion in this press article that the AAL would be attending an immigration conference the following night and Saturday run by the Council for Civil Liberties. This meeting may have been looking at a possible influx of Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution in Europe. Jewish organisations, as well as churches, trade unions and migrant groups, would be attending, showing that William Cooper was meeting with Jewish people at the time. The Argus goes on to state:

“Delegates will attend the immigration conference called by the Council for Civil Liberties at the Assembly Hall tomorrow night and on Saturday from four Protestant Churches, six foreign communities, several Jewish and non-Jewish organisations, and six trade unions. Lieut-Colonel White MHR will deliver an address on Saturday night. The sessions will be open to the public.”

Lieut-Colonel T.W. White spoke at this meeting.  He was Minister for Trade and Customs in Prime Minister Joseph Lyons’ government. In July 1938, he represented Australia at a conference at Evian, France, to discuss the crisis of Jewish refugees from Nazism. He came out with the infamous statement, “As we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration”. However, Australia agreed to accept 15,000 refugees over three years.

This news report shows it is highly likely William Cooper knew just how serious the situation in Nazi Germany and Europe was for Jewish people. His knowledge was not just from newspaper reports of Kristallnacht but from meeting with politicians and key community groups of the day, including Jewish.

What thoughts ran through William Cooper’s mind as they made their way back through the streets? What did he say to the others? Perhaps he wondered if their stand that day might somehow pierce the darkness of this evil regime in Germany. How many world leaders knew that Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass in Germany, Austria and Sudetenland was only the start of an attempt to wipe Jewish people off the face of the earth, or at least wipe them off the map of Europe – genocide. Somehow, deep in his spirit, William Cooper may have had an inkling. He certainly knew the signs were not good.

It might have seemed a waste of time. Some might have regarded it as an insignificant event. No doubt the Consulate would have cabled the Nazi government of Adolph Hitler reporting the event, but officials have not been able to find any record of it in Germany.[74] However, this story is still changing lives today. The stand of William Cooper and the AAL is still inspiring people today to speak up and take action; not to stand by silently and allow persecution to rear its ugly head.

William had read in the newspaper about Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass 9-10 November 1938 and was horrified that action on behalf of national governments was so limited. He could not stand by. He waited and watched for an uproar over the treatment of Jews and not finding it, took matters into his own hands with a willing AAL who were also incensed. A little more than three weeks after the event, he acted…”[75]

Topic 3   Honouring William Cooper in Australia and Israel


Module 6     German Apology


Module 7     What Can We Do Today?

Objective: Participants will be able to identify three examples of antisemitic activities today and describe three ways they could be an Upstander or act to reduce antisemitism.

Topic 1   What Forms Does Antisemitism Take Today?

A reminder of the IHRA non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism that was covered in Module 1.

We regularly hear of Jewish people losing their lives in attacks on shopping centres, synagogues and other venues around the world. One example is of Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Jewish woman and Holocaust survivor who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and was murdered in her Paris apartment on 23 March 2018. This shocking crime was committed by a neighbour who had known her since he was a child. The authorities declared it an antisemitic hate crime.  Jewish schools, synagogues and community organisations in Australia and other countries have security guards to keep them safe from attack. Is this the way a group of people should be living in this day and age?

White nationalists attacked a synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 and eleven people were massacred. Another white supremacist attacked a synagogue in California in 2019.   On the other end of the spectrum, black extremists shot up a kosher supermarket in New Jersey in 2019. A lone assailant stabbed Jews at a 2019 Hannukah gathering at a Rabbi’s home in New York.

Activity 29

Watch the video: Why is Antisemitism Still Around? (6.35mins) https://unpacked.education/video/why-is-antisemitism-still-around/

The video says the Holocaust was not just the most extreme form of antisemitism. It was the culmination of hundreds of years of religious, scientific, cultural, educational, economic and political antisemitism. For centuries, European Jews were barred from most professions, forcibly converted and subjected to violent pogroms, faced expulsion from nations and periodic inquisitions. So, the mass murder of European Jewry would not have been possible without a scaffold of anti-Jewish prejudice, anti-Jewish stereotypes, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, anti-Jewish literature and anti-Jewish scapegoating which built a ladder up to the Holocaust.

The video also points out that just as the end of slavery in the US didn’t end racism, the end of the Holocaust did not mean the end of antisemitism. Most hate crimes in the US are against Jews although they make up only 2% of the population. In 2013 and 2018, researchers at the European Agency for Fundamental Rights asked Jews about antisemitism. Nearly 40% of them were afraid of publicly identifying as Jewish. Nearly half were worried about being the victim of antisemitic harassment in the coming twelve months and one-third feared being the victim of a physical assault. Jews are feeling unsafe seventy eight years after the Holocaust and many have left Europe and the Middle East because of it.

If we only confront antisemitism when it looks like the Holocaust, that will be too late. We need to remove the scaffolding that props it up. Remove the rungs on the ladder.

Activity 30

Discuss what impacted you most about this video.

Activity 31

Watch the video: Beyond Left or Right: Whose Fault is Antisemitism? (8.15mins) https://unpacked.education/video/whose-fault-is-antisemitism/

The video notes that antisemitism has been around since ancient times, is exhibited by a number of political ideologies, religions and cultures. It is pervasive and very much alive today. We need to stand up to it regardless of its source, even if we are closely aligned with that group. Jews have been criticised by both Communists such as Marx and Stalin and Nazis such at Hitler, current left-wing and right-wing leaders, Christian leaders like Martin Luther, Islamic leaders like the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husayni, a friend of Hitler, and enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire.


The video continues that although this may be confusing, it is understandable when you realise antisemitism predates our modern categories and the source of antisemitism is our inability to tolerate difference. Jews are one of the world’s oldest minorities and have maintained a separate identity from the majority culture. While this is generally true, some consider the Jews of Germany as fairly well assimilated, which is one reason why they were so shocked by the rise of Nazism and its atrocities.


Those who call out antisemitism tend not to do so in their own group but only in other groups. Though it is harder to call it out in your own group, this is where you are likely to make the most impact. We need to stop thinking of it as a left-wing or right-wing or a Christian or Muslim problem as this is a way of saying it’s someone else’s problem. Instead, we need to see it as OUR problem.


Activity 32

Two discussion questions have been selected from Why is Antisemitism Still Around_ Educators Guide Unpacked for Educators 2021.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do you think humans have difficulty tolerating differences in other people? What can we do to encourage people to not only tolerate but embrace differences among different communities?
  2. Why is it more important to focus on the antisemitic ideas expressed rather than the individuals expressing them? What are the implications of focusing on the individuals expressing them rather than the ideas themselves?

Topic 2   What Would William Cooper Do Today?

William Cooper Argus File Photo 813504

Activity 33


If William Cooper were alive today and led a demonstration in Australia or your country in support of Jews, what issue would he stand up for?

Choose one of the following and discuss why you chose it:

  1. Antisemitism in the media
  2. Antisemitism at universities and schools
  3. Antisemitism in the church, business or government
  4. Antisemitic lobby groups
  5. The United Nations Bias Against Israel as seen in its resolutions
  6. UN and government funding programs that get channeled into anti-Israel terror groups
  7. The BDS – The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a Palestinian-led movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel.
  8. The accusation that Israel is an illegal settler apartheid state

Activity 34

Discuss the effectiveness of various forms of advocacy:

  1. Writing letters to parliamentarians and news outlets
  2. Using social media and/or websites to educate and comment
  3. Attending physical or zoom meetings that discuss these issues
  4. Setting up a group to lobby against antisemitism in businesses and national and international organisations
  5. Marches or sit-ins
  6. Creative events that draw attention to the issue
  7. Writing journal articles or books or educational materials
  8. Simply being friends with Jewish people

Topic 3   How Can You Make It a Better World?

Activity 35

Provide the article as a handoutAnti-semitism: 90 Ways You Can Respond, Anti-Defamation League 2018 https://cdn.fedweb.org/fed-104/309/Responding%2520to%2520Antisemitism%2520.pdf

After giving participants time to read it, ask them to pick out three things they plan to do and why they chose them. This can be done in small groups or the whole group.

Activity 36

The handout also contains information on Guidelines to Responding to Anti-semitism and How To Make a Stand Against Anti-semitism.

Discuss these guidelines as a whole group. The guidelines look at safety, timing and appropriateness of responses.


Photocopy this course evaluation form and provide one for each student.

Title of training ………………………………………………

Location ………………………………….

Date ………………………………………

Trainer ……………………………………

Instructions: Please indicate your level of agreement with the following statements with 1 meaning strongly disagree and 5 meaning strongly agree:

1          2          3          4          5

  1. The objectives of the training were clearly defined
  2. The training objectives were met
  3. Participation and interaction were encouraged
  4. The course material was organised and useful
  5. The topics covered were relevant
  6. The trainer was knowledgeable about the topic
  7. The time allotted for the training was sufficient
  8. The room and facilities were suitable
  9. The training was transformational


1 The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/resources/educational-materials/summary-why-what-and-how-teach-about-holocaust

[2] Recommendations for Teaching and Learning About the Holocaust P13 https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/sites/default/files/inline-files/IHRA-Recommendations-Teaching-and-Learning-about-Holocaust.pdf

[3] IRHA Working Definition of Holocaust Denial and Distortion https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/resources/working-definitions-charters/working-definition-holocaust-denial-and-distortion

[4] Yad Vashem The World Holocaust Remembrance Center Genocide: Defining the Terms https://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/holocaust-antisemitism/terms-genocide.html

[5] Ibid.

[6] European Jewish Population Distribution CA 1933 by United States Holocaust Memorial Museum https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/gallery/the-holocaust-maps

[7] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2018a), “Invasion of Poland, Fall 1939”, Holocaust Encyclopaedia, https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005070

[8] Miller, Barbara (2019) If I Survive: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 100-year-old Lena Goldstein’s Miracle Story, Barbara Miller Books P22-23

[9]Museum of Tolerance Timeline of the Holocaust: 1933-1945 https://www.museumoftolerance.com/assets/documents/timeline-of-the-holocaust.pdf

[10] The Journal for multimedia History Vol 2 1999. https://www.albany.edu/jmmh/vol2no1/fatalattraction.html

[11] Chamberlain, Greg (2014) 26 August, Illinois News Bureau, 75 years later, why did Germans follow the Nazis into Holocaust? https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/198435

[12] International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/

[13] International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance What is Antisemitism? Non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/resources/working-definitions-charters/working-definition-antisemitism

[14] Sydney Morning Herald 30 March 1933

[15] Sydney Morning Herald 1 April 1933

[16] Sydney Morning Herald 19 May 1933

[17] Sydney Morning Herald 4 April 1933

[18] Department of Interior Memorandum 7 April 1938, CRS A434, 50.3.41837 in Blakeney, Michael (1985) Australia and the Jewish Refugees 1933-1948 Sydney: Croom Helm Australia P123-4

[19] Blakeney, Michael (1985) Australia and the Jewish Refugees 1933-1948 Sydney: Croom Helm Australia P125

[20] Cable PM Lyons to Bruce, 4 July 1938 CRS A981 in Blakeney, Michael (1985) Australia and the Jewish Refugees 1933-1948 Sydney: Croom Helm Australia P126

[21] Blakeney, Michael (1985) Australia and the Jewish Refugees 1933-1948 Sydney: Croom Helm Australia P123

[22] Ibid. P131

[23] NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (2010) The Holocaust, The Nazi Genocide Against the Jewish People P17

[24] Sydney Morning Herald 9 July 1938

[25] Ibid.

[26] Lacey, Josie “Remembering Evian” WIZO Review April 1988 P3

[27] Zuroff, Efraim (2017) 8 November 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/79th-anniversary-of-Kristallnacht-513744

[28] Miller, Barbara (2020) Shattered Lives Broken Dreams: William Cooper and Australian Aborigines Protest Kristallnacht, Barbara Miller Books P51-67

[29] Department of External Affairs (11), Correspondence file, alphabetical series: Inter-Governmental Committee (Including Evian Conference), 1938-1940 Commonwealth Archives Office: CRS A981. Item Refugees 4

[30] “Rudd Addresses the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum” J-Wire, posted by Agencies 14 December 2010

[31] Miller, Barbara (2020) Shattered Lives Broken Dreams: William Cooper and Australian Aborigines Protest Kristallnacht, Barbara Miller Books P106-107

[32]“Hansard, H. of C.”, 17 December 1942 in Blakeney, Michael (1985) Australia and the Jewish Refugees 1933-1948 Sydney: Croom Helm Australia P281

[33] Bloom, S (1948) “The Autobiography of Sol Bloom”, New York in Blakeney, Michael (1985) Australia and the Jewish Refugees 1933-1948 Sydney: Croom Helm Australia P286

[34] Miller, Barbara (2020) Shattered Lives Broken Dreams: William Cooper and Australian Aborigines Protest Kristallnacht, Barbara Miller Books P79-81

[35] American Experience Newsletter http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/holocaust/peopleevents/pandeAMEX99.html

[36] Sydney Morning Herald 1 November, 1938

[37] JNi.Media (2015) Kristallnacht — The Origins, The Facts and The Figures  https://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/kristallnacht-the-origins-the-facts-and-the-figures/2015/11/09/

[38] Zuroff, Efraim (2017) 8 November 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/79th-anniversary-of-Kristallnacht-513744

[39] Miller, Barbara (2020) Shattered Lives Broken Dreams: William Cooper and Australian Aborigines Protest Kristallnacht, Barbara Miller Books P15-19

[40] Ibid. P24-26

[41] Ibid. P14

[42] Breitman, Richard (2004) The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and the Final Solution Pimlico P220  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wansee_Conference

[43] Browning, Christopher R (2004) The Origins of the Final Solution University of Nebraska Press, P413 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wansee_Conference

[44] Wansee Protokoll P7 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wansee_Conference P7

[45] Villa Marlier where 1942 Wannsee Conference Berlin was held. Adam Jones, Ph.D., CC BY-SA 3.0<https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

[46] Westhues, Kenneth (1988)  Review Of Samuel P. Oliner And Pearl M Oliner, The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers Of Jews In Nazi Europe Free Press https://www.kwesthues.com/cnt-oli.htm)

[47] Tec, Nechama (1987) When Light Pierced the Darkness: Christian Rescue of Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland, Oxford University Press

[48] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Rescue in Denmark https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/rescue-in-denmark

[49] Ibid.

[50] Flaws, Jacob A (2011) Bystanders, blackmailers, and perpetrators: Polish complicity during the Holocaust, P92 https://dr.lib.iastate.edu/server/api/core/bitstreams/cb47d2a6-5c6c-471c-9355-ff785dfc7896/content

[51] Ibid.

[52] Podolsky, Anatoly Collaboration In Ukraine During The Holocaust: Aspects Of Historiography And Research https://www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20130500-holocaust-in-ukraine.pdf

[53] Museum of Jewish Heritage, A Living Memorial to the Holocaust Bitter Reckoning, Israel Tries Holocaust Survivors as Nazi Collaborators, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uAB7O3ohuk

[54] Zuckerman, Marvin (2013), “Why Were the Nazis So Successful at Killing Six Million Jews?”, Jewish Currents, https://jewishcurrents.org/editor/why-were-the-nazis-so-successful-at-killing-six-million-jews/

[55] Gilbert, Martin (1986), The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy, London: St Edmundsbury Press

[56] Yad Vashem (2018d), “January 1943: The First Armed Resistance in the Ghetto”, Voices from the Inferno, http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/warsaw_ghetto_testimonies/resistance.asp

[57] Miller, Barbara (2019) If I Survive: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 100-year-old Lena Goldstein’s Miracle Story, Barbara Miller Books P74-76

[58] Gutman, Israel (2012), Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Kindle Reprint edition

[59] Miller, Barbara (2019) If I Survive: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 100-year-old Lena Goldstein’s Miracle Story, Barbara Miller Books P77-87

[60] Ibid. P1-2

[61] Portney, Charles, MD (2003), “Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma: An Introduction for the Clinician”, Psychiatric Times 20(4), http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/comorbidity-psychiatry/intergenerational-transmission-trauma-introduction-clinician

[62] Portney, Charles, MD (2003), “Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma: An Introduction for the Clinician”, Psychiatric Times 20(4), http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/comorbidity-psychiatry/intergenerational-transmission-trauma-introduction-clinician

[63] Cohen, Emily, (2018), “Intergenerational Trauma and the Holocaust”, Scribe, https://forward.com/scribe/395287/intergenerational-trauma-and-the-holocaust/

[64] Miller, Barbara (2019) If I Survive: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 100-year-old Lena Goldstein’s Miracle Story, Barbara Miller Books P161-163

[65] Miller, Barbara (2019) White Australia Has A Black History: William Cooper and First Nations Peoples’ Political Activism, Barbara Miller Books

[66] Lyrics Translate https://lyricstranslate.com/en/ngarra-burra-ferra-drowned-old-pharoahs-army.html

[67] Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center The Great Deportation in the Warsaw Ghetto – Abraham Lewin’s Diary https://www.yadvashem.org/education/educational-videos/video-toolbox/hevt-lewin.html

[68] Sydney Morning Herald 18 November 1938

[69] West Australian 23 November 1938

[70] Miller, Barbara (2020) Shattered Lives Broken Dreams: William Cooper and Australian Aborigines Protest Holocaust Barbara Miller Books P19-22

[71] Letter from Dr Michael Witter, German Ambassador to Australia, Canberra to Abe Schwarz 13.04.10

[72] “Aborigines Protest” The Argus Saturday 3 December 1938 P7

[73] “Deputation Not Admitted” The Argus 7 December 1938 P3

[74] Letter from Dr Michael Witter, German Ambassador to Australia, Canberra to Abe Schwarz 13.04.10

[75] Miller, Barbara (2020) Shattered Lives Broken Dreams: William Cooper and Australian Aborigines Protest Holocaust Barbara Miller Books P1-10

[76] Kohn, Peter “Aborigines’ Nazi Protest Honoured” The Australian Jewish News 20 December 2002

[77] “Cooper recognised by ECAJ” J-Wire December 1, 2010

[78] Miller, Barbara (2020) Shattered Lives Broken Dreams: William Cooper and Australian Aborigines Protest Holocaust Barbara Miller Books P131-141

[79] Ibid. P228-229

[80] Ibid. P247-248

[81] Ibid. P285

[82] A small leather box containing Hebrew texts on vellum, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer as a reminder to keep the law

[83] National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee

[84] Josem, Jayne (2013) “William Cooper’s Aboriginal Protest Re-enacted” Jewish Holocaust Centre, Centre News https://www.jhc.org.au/wpcontent/uploads/2013/04/centrenews_CentreNews_2013_Issue1.pdf

[85] Donovan, Samantha (2012) 6 December “Aboriginal Protest Against Nazism Remembered” PM https://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2012/s3649212.htm

[86] Miller, Barbara (2020) Shattered Lives Broken Dreams: William Cooper and Australian Aborigines Protest Holocaust Barbara Miller Books P190-199

[87] Kohn, Peter (2017) 16 Nov “Indigenous Kristallnacht protest finally accepted” The Australian Jewish News.

[88] Topsfield, Jewel 6 Dec 2020 “Germany Sorry For Snubbing Aboriginal Protest at Persecution of Jews” Sydney Morning Herald https://www.smh.com.au/national/germany-sorry-for-snubbing-aboriginal-protest-at-persecution-of-jews-20201204-p56kov.html



Apology regarding Evian in Australia

In October and November of 2002, Norman and Barbara Miller of the Centre for International Reconciliation and Peace gave a verbal apology and presented a Certificate of Apology for Australia’s position at Evian to the Jewish community in Cairns. In Sydney the apology was given to the following: Jeremy Jones of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry; Ephraim Ben-Matityahu, the Consul General of Israel; the Sydney Jewish Museum and the Women’s International Zionist Organisation (WIZO).

Apology to Yad Vashem

Barbara Miller recounts: Australian Jill Curry was taking a team to Israel in December 2003-January 2004. We said Norman and I wanted go to Yad Vashem and say sorry for Evian. So, our group met Solly Kaplinski of the English Desk, International Relations and Asia-Pacific regional director at Yad Vashem on 5 January 2004. Norman gave him a painting of Be’er-Sheva and the Australian light horse.

At the site of the Evian Plaque, we apologised and gave Solly the Certificate of Apology. Our team was in tears and Solly was deeply touched. Solly sent this email to Norman and me:

“It was a real privilege to meet you here at Yad Vashem. In fact, our encounter together was profoundly moving and emotional.

There is a saying in the Talmud that what comes from the heart enters the heart, and you certainly touched my heart and soul.

Your repentance, unconditional love and support for the Jewish people and the State of Israel gives us the strength to carry on and your unbelievable work of art is so inspiring. Thank you.”

Barbara and Norman Miller Giving a Painting to Solly Kaplinski, photo Dianne Taylor

Peter Kohn covered the story for the Australian Jewish News on March 12, 2004:

“In a symbolic act of reconciliation, a delegation of twelve practising Australian Christians has toured Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and officially asked forgiveness on behalf of Australia for its refusal to admit refugees in the years leading up to World War 11.

The group expressed its sadness at the outcome of the 1938 Evian Conference on Refugees to which Australia was a party – and which roundly rejected the concept of refugee absorption from Nazi Germany and countries under Nazi occupation.

Jill Curry, coordinator of the Jewish Prayer Focus Group, a national organisation with more than 2000 members, told the AJN the group is also trying to get an apology from the Federal Government and has approached Veterans Affairs Minister Danna Vale about it.”

Campaign for a Government-to-Government Response

Barbara Miller continues: Along with Jill Curry and Hilary Moroney, we waged a long campaign to get the Australian government to apologise to the Israel government for Australia’s response at Evian. It culminated in then Foreign Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, doing so in December 2010 at the same time as Australian Aboriginal elder and activist William Cooper was honoured at Yad Vashem.  Rudd led a bipartisan group of seventeen Australian Members of Parliament to Israel for the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange. It was fortuitous that the William Cooper and Evian stories came together at Yad Vashem when the Academic Chair of Resistance to the Holocaust was named after William Cooper. The following day Kevin Rudd said sorry again for Evian at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem with Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) members present.

Kevin Rudd said at Yad Vashem:

“It has been mentioned tonight that we, as Australia, among the other nations of the world, attended the conference at Evian in 1938, and we, in Australia, like so many other countries around the world, closed our hearts. And what we did then as a nation was wrong; just plain wrong.”

King David Hotel

On 13 December, Kevin Rudd addressed the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. This was an intergovernmental meeting. William Cooper’s family were guests and, before telling the story of William Cooper, Rudd said:

“Of course, in the years following the war, Australia also received tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors and other Jewish refugees from Europe as they came to Australia to make their home.

Regrettably, history records that we were not always so generous. As I acknowledged last night at Yad Vashem, when Australia met with thirty-one other nations at the Evian Conference in 1938, we refused to open our hearts, and we refused to open our doors to the Jewish people of Europe despite the unfolding persecution against them.”[30]

Europeans Say Sorry on Location at Evian

An edited excerpt from Shattered Lives Broken Dreams:

“Tomas Sandell is the Director of the European Coalition for Israel (ECI), a coalition of pro-Israel Christian groups who work with the European Union. In 1988, on the 50th anniversary of Evian, a large prayer meeting had been held in Berlin to repent of the sin of the nations and the church for the Evian decision. A smaller delegation was later sent to Evian to repent on site.

In looking at the most strategic approach, the ECI decided not to choose July 2008 but the week of 20-24 April 2009 during the UN World Conference Against Racism in Geneva, called the Durban Review Conference or Durban 11. It would still be the 70th year. Why this occasion?

Durban 1 was held in South Africa in September 2001, just before 9/11 in New York. It unleashed disturbing antisemitism, and many countries had to withdraw from it because of Israel being singled out as the most racist state. The same spirit behind antisemitism in 1938 seemed to be on the rise again.

The ECI chose the evening of 21 April for the initial commemoration, and then they realised this was Shoah (Holocaust) Remembrance Day, so it took on extra significance. They gathered with the wider community in a ceremony in front of the UN. The following morning, the official ECI Evian Commemoration was held in the Synagogue at Evian with local Jewish participation.

Most European nations involved at Evian attended as well a representative from Canada, USA and Australia. Several MPs attended from different nations and read out statements of apology or regret. Hilary Moroney represented Australia, and she was invited to read out the Private Members Bill that Mark Dreyfus had planned to read to the Australian Parliament. This gave Hilary a sense of release that what needed to be accomplished spiritually, had been. It made up for the disappointment that the Bill had not been read in the Australian Parliament or passed. Interestingly, 2009 was also the UN Year of Reconciliation.”[31]

Shaya Ben Yehuda Receives Plaque

Dr Susanna Kokkonen, Shaya Ben Yehuda and Barbara and Norman Miller with the Plaque the Millers presented to Shaya, Photo by Yad Vashem staff

On 14 December 2010, Barbara and Norman Miller gave Shaya Ben Yehuda, Managing Director of International Relations at Yad Vashem the plaque they had brought with them from Australia with the Apology for Evian engraved on it. Shaya was gracious in his acceptance of the plaque, and said that, while he could not extend forgiveness on behalf of Holocaust survivors, he saw the need for repairing relations between our nations. The Millers understood and were not expecting forgiveness but wanted to acknowledge what happened was wrong and have it recorded on the plaque. Dr Susanna Kokkonen joined them.

80th Anniversary of Evian

There was another move for the Australian Parliament to apologise to Jewish people for the position of Australia at Evian on the 70th anniversary of the formation of the modern state of Israel which was also the 80th anniversary of the Evian decision. There had been a visit of the Christian Allies Caucus of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, to Australia, which may have stirred the hearts of Australian MPs, particularly of those who were Christians. Stuart Robert, the Liberal Member for Fadden, successfully moved the motion.


Topic 3   Honouring William Cooper in Australia and Israel

Activity 24

Watch 2010 video: William Cooper, A Walk to Remember, 7.19mins, 7.30 Report https://alchetron.com/William-Cooper-(Aboriginal-Australian)

Activity 25

Watch 2017 video: Israel honoring aboriginal activist William Cooper, 3.59mins, i24News.tv  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D48raR9tZ-s

This video briefly covers the 2017 visit of William Cooper’s grandson Uncle Boydie (Alf Turner) and his team to Israel to continue honouring the memory of William Cooper and to lay a wreath at Be’er-Sheva to commemorate the centenary of the World War 1 battle site. Australian soldiers, including Indigenous and Jewish, are buried at the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery there. Uncle Boydie and his son Lance Turner are shown at the Yatir Forest where there is a plaque and a grove of trees to honour William Cooper.

Honouring William Cooper for Aboriginal Activism

There has been an effort since 2010 by his family and by Jewish organisations to remember and honour William Cooper, who was a humble man, for his contribution. In 2014, a footbridge was named after him near his former home in Footscray. The William Cooper Justice Centre was named after him. The Batman electorate was renamed Cooper on 13 July 2018. This is significant as the only treaty ever made in Australia between First Nations people and white settlers had been by Batman. A mural of William Cooper and his nephew Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls was unveiled in Shepparton in 2017. Nicholls was the first Indigenous governor of South Australia and of any state. A 1.8m bronze statue of Cooper was unveiled on 27 March 2018 at Queen’s Park, Shepparton. Shepparton is Yorta Yorta country and Cooper and Nicholls are buried in the cemetery at nearby Cummera.

This does not include the huge amount of honouring of William Cooper by the Australian and international Jewish community for leading one of the few private protests worldwide against Kristallnacht.

Below are edited excerpts from Shattered Lives Broken Dreams:

Noble Deed, Hidden in History, Comes to Light

“How did the story of the protest by William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines’ League come to the notice of the Jewish community? A small article on the protest was published in two Melbourne newspapers in 1938, but then the incident was forgotten.

Buried in history, it was unearthed by Andrew Markus researching his 1988 book Blood from a Stone: William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines’ League. In 1999, Gary Foley, an Aboriginal activist and academic who had studied the Holocaust at Melbourne University, came across the book. Excited, he contacted Jonathan Morris, then executive director of the Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre in Melbourne.

Also, in 2001 and 2002, Jewish Australian author and journalist, Stan Marks, was researching The Argus newspaper articles for November-December 1938 and found the references to William Cooper. Intrigued, he wondered why nothing had been done in 60 years to honour this act …

Plaque to William Cooper Dedicated by Melbourne Jews

The Jewish Holocaust Centre (JHC) in Melbourne became the first Jewish organisation in Australia to officially recognise the stand of William Cooper and the AAL. The JHC decided to dedicate a plaque in commemoration of the protest. Another plaque was also dedicated, acknowledging that the Kulin people are the traditional owners of the land on which the JHC was built in 1984. This was a significant event for the Melbourne Jewish community which numbered about 50,000, including about 8,000 Holocaust survivors.

Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre Plaque Honouring Aborigines re 1938 Protest Against Persecution of Jews by Nazis

To the stirring sounds of the didjeridoo, the ceremony was held on 15 December 2002, and about 300 members of the Jewish community, including Holocaust survivors, Aboriginal representatives and local, state and federal politicians attended.

Wayne Atkinson, a great-nephew of William Cooper and a lecturer in Indigenous Studies at Melbourne University attended. Jewish Holocaust Centre President, Shmuel Rosenkranz said, ‘The world was silent – except here on this island continent of barely seven million people, where an ancient people took action. We salute them.’[76]

Council of Christians and Jews

Continuing with edited excerpts from Shattered Lives Broken Dreams:

The Council of Christians and Jews Victoria organised an event in 2005 at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum with guest speakers, Dr Wayne Atkinson and Uncle Boydie, both William Cooper descendants. This interest in the William Cooper story led in 2017 to them auspicing the William Cooper Legacy Project under the leadership of Dr Philip Bliss, the President.

William Cooper Memorial Walk

In 2007, forty years after the 1967 referendum, the Western Suburbs Indigenous Gathering Place (WSIGP) under the leadership of Colleen Marrion, organised the William Cooper Memorial Walk to honour both William Cooper and the 1967 referendum.

The WSIGP began an annual football game and barbeque with members of the police as an act of reconciliation, to rebuild trust and to honour William Cooper. The event is usually held on the Sunday after NAIDOC.

70th Anniversary of Kristallnacht

Returning from working at Echuca, where he had learned the inspiring story of William Cooper in the early 2000s, Abe Schwarz joined with Colleen Marrion to spread the word of what William Cooper had done. The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) paid homage to William Cooper on 2 December 2008, for the 70th anniversary of William Cooper’s little-known protest. Uncle Boydie and many other members of the Yorta Yorta tribe assembled in the Victorian Parliament. Also in attendance were Victorian Premier John Brumby, Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, lawmakers, diplomats and Jewish leaders.

Yuval Rotem, Israel Ambassador to Australia, presented Uncle Boydie with a certificate. He said that for the 70th anniversary of William Cooper’s stand, seventy trees would be planted in a Jewish National Fund (JNF) forest in Israel as a permanent record of his courageous act.

Martyrs’ Forest and Aborigines’ Advancement League

A delegation of eleven descendants of William Cooper, accompanied by Abe Schwarz went to Israel for the historic tree planting. Five trees were planted at the Martyrs’ Forest near Jerusalem on Yom Hazikaron, the national Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers. While these trees were planted in William Cooper’s honour in April 2009, a simultaneous event with a simulcast was held at the Aborigines Advancement League in Melbourne. Melbourne Aborigines and Jews gathered that Tuesday afternoon to honour the AAL’s 1938 protest. The remaining sixty-five trees were later planted in the South Australia-Israel Friendship Forest in Israel which included a plaque unveiling ceremony.

One of the family members, Peter Ferguson, brought soil from Yorta Yorta country to mix with soil from the Holy Land and water from Barmah Lake to sprinkle on the saplings. This was a remarkable joining of the soil, the water and the hearts of Jews and Aborigines in the Holy Land and Australia.

Among the dignitaries attending the ceremony in Israel, organised by the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Australia, were Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat; KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler; JNF CEO Australia Robert Schneider; Australian Ambassador to Israel James Larsen and  Israel’s Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem.

In 2009, Abe Schwarz, Uncle Boydie and other family members instigated a program of talks about William Cooper at synagogues, schools and conferences.

Courage to Care

Courage to Care (Vic) is a project run by one of the largest and oldest Jewish organisations in the world, B’nai B’rith. They have developed an exhibition that they take to schools and other places to educate the public about people who stood up and made a difference instead of remaining silent in the face of racism or intolerance. A panel on William Cooper and the AAL called “The Koori Action” was added to the permanent exhibition to remember his stand. This expanded to other states.

Yom Hashoah Canberra

Uncle Boydie and Abe Schwarz attended a moving ceremony in Canberra on Yom Hashoah 2010. This is an annual commemoration of the Holocaust, and the voices of the survivors are heard. A number of ambassadors were present, including the German ambassador to Australia, the Hon Michael Witter and the former Australian ambassador to Israel, Mr James Larsen.

ECAJ Recognises William Cooper

On 1 December 2010 ECAJ officially recognised the historic protest by William Cooper and the AAL. ECAJ applauded the work of the Jewish communities in Melbourne, Sydney and Israel to honour William Cooper and called on “the Australian government as soon as possible to introduce a suitable form of national commemoration of the life and work of this great Australian.”[77]

William Cooper’s Family Walks the Walk

Kevin Russell and Uncle Boydie walked in William’s footsteps by re-enacting the walk from William’s house in Southampton St, Footscray to Federation Square on December 5, 2010.[78]

Australian MPs  Visit Yad Vashem for William Cooper Events

A bipartisan group of seventeen Australian parliamentarians went to Israel in December 2010 for the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum organised by Jewish Australian Albert Dadon. Invited by William Cooper’s family and with permission from Yad Vashem, Barbara and Norman Miller attended the event on 12 December 2010. Kevin Russell, great grandson of William Cooper, had written to Norman Miller, saying, “Your work for reconciliation and peace are certainly mirrors of William’s hopes and dreams, if only they would have listened.”

Kevin Rudd left with Albert Dadon after the unveiling of the William Cooper Plaque at Yad Vashem 2010

Hall of Remembrance

Barbara Miller recounts the events of the visit: “After the dinner at Yad Vashem, we all went to the Hall of Remembrance, where Kevin Rudd lit the flame of remembrance and laid a wreath. It was a moving moment. The group, consisting of many dignitaries as well as the Australian parliamentarians and the Cooper family went to the Lecture Hall of the International School of Holocaust Studies for the unveiling of the donor’s plaque and moving speeches by the Minister for Education, Albert Dadon, the donor, representatives of Yad Vashem and Kevin Russell. An Academic Chair of Resistance to the Holocaust was named after William Cooper.”

2012 Visit by Cooper family to Martyrs’ Forest and Yatir Forest

JNF organised for the Cooper family and Barbara and Norman Miller to go to the South Australia-Israel Friendship Forest which is part of the Yatir Forest 20km from Be’er-Sheva. They were able to see the trees planted in honour of William Cooper on a previous visit and to unveil a plaque to William Cooper. They then went to Martyrs Forest near Jerusalem to see the five trees planted there and the plaque in honour of William Cooper.

William Cooper’s Descendants and Friends in Front of Plaques at Yatir Forest with Back Row – Erez Rota, farmer, Abe, Korola, Buddy, Middle Row – Rachel, Chris, Kevin, Uncle Boydie, Dr Yossi Sapir, Barbara and Norman, Front Row – Steve, Cheryl, Margaret, Laurel, Danny, Coora and Colleen, photo KKL-JNF

2017 Visit to Israel by Uncle Boydie and Team

In 2017 Rob and Suzy Schneider from the Jewish National Fund (JNF) took Uncle Boydie and his team to Martyrs’ Forest. Uncle Boydie was keen to show his son Lance Turner the Forest of the Martyrs where he and his daughter, Leonie Drummond, had planted the first of five trees in honour of William Cooper in 2009 at the invitation of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF). i24 News captured the moment.

Planted by KKL-JNF and B’nai B’rith in the Judean Hills near Jerusalem, it is the largest memorial to the Holocaust in the world. The Forest of the Martyrs is made up of six million trees, a living, breathing memorial. Four and a half million pine trees represent the adults who lost their lives in the Holocaust, while 1.5 million cypress trees commemorate the children who were killed.

Abe Schwarz said a prayer over the trees, and then Lance Turner watered one of them, an especially poignant moment for him as it was his first visit to Israel.[79] They also visited the South Australia – Israel Friendship Forest, Yatir Forest for another moving moment.

Yad Vashem

They were back in Jerusalem by 1 November and had a warm meeting with Shaya Ben Yehuda, Director of International Relations at Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. A guided tour followed the meeting, including visiting the William Cooper plaque. Although Yad Vashem named an Academic Chair of Resistance to the Holocaust after William Cooper in December 2010, the funding had run out, so the plaque was housed in an administrative building rather than in a public viewing area. As Uncle Boydie and his son Lance Turner viewed the glass plaques, one in English and one in Hebrew, they wore the microphones that enabled them to listen to the guided tour.

In Jerusalem on 5 November Uncle Boydie shared the William Cooper story once again. The Australian Ambassador to Israel Chris Canaan and Abe Schwartz spoke as well.” [80] Uncle Boydie continued on to Berlin to complete the handing over of his grandfather’s petition.

Uncle Boydie and Lance Turner View the William Cooper Plaque at Yad Vashem, photo David Jack

Other events to Honour William Cooper

  • The Day of Mourning was held at Australia Hall in Sydney on the 150th anniversary of Australia Day 26 January 1938 and a commemoration for William Cooper and the Aboriginal protestors was held on 7 September 2017.
  • The Sydney Metropolitan Land Council hosted the 80th anniversary of the Day of Mourning protest by Australian Aborigines’ League and the Aborigines Progressive Association on 26 January 2018. Barbara and Norman Miller and William Cooper’s descendants attended this important and moving event.
  • The World Premiere of a Musical Commemoration of the 80th Anniversary of Kristallnacht was held on 18 November 2018 at the Australian Catholic University.
  • Following the 2012 re-enactment walk, supporters held a commemorative walk in 2018 on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
  • An imposing bronze statue of William Cooper, 1.8 metres high, was unveiled on 27 March 2018 in Queens Park, Shepparton. He is holding a letter of protest to the German government for the atrocities of Kristallnacht.
  • There has been an ongoing educational exchange between Mt Scopus College, Melbourne and the Yorta Yorta people. This included the Mt Scopus College Yorta Yorta B’Yachad Year 9 trip visiting Leonie Drummond, great-granddaughter of William Cooper in Shepparton.
  • For the 80th anniversary of the AAL Kristallnacht protest, Monash University and Gandel Philanthropy partnered to announce the William Cooper Indigenous Scholarship Fund for Indigenous students.
  • The Catholic “Secondary Student Social Justice Day” was held at the Australian Catholic University by the “Justice Education in Catholic Schools (JECS)” initiative on the first Day of Reconciliation Week, 27 May 2019. It had a focus on William Cooper.
  • The Council for Christians and Jews WA hosted the 2019 Kristallnacht commemoration at Perth Modern School and the Partisans’ Song was sung in four languages – Yiddish, Hebrew, Noongar (the local Aboriginal language) and English. This is a project of Eli Rabinowitz, of the WE ARE HERE! Foundation using the song to inspire young people to stand up in the face of prejudice.
  • The Richmond Football Club (the Tigers) honoured William Cooper in 2019 by naming the William Cooper Centre after him. Cooper’s son Lynch was a world-famous athlete, and the new centre will have an educational and cultural focus as well as training sportsmen and women. Barbara Miller was a speaker at the event.
  • Barbara Miller was privileged to present an Author Talk on William Cooper at the Lamm Jewish Library in Caulfield, Melbourne on 3 December 2019, talking about her second and third books. David Jack interviewed her on Jewish radio J-Air on 4 December on Kristallnacht and William Cooper’s response.
  • On the 81st anniversary of the 1938 AAL protest, Monash University launched the William Cooper Institute with the help of Gandel Philanthropy. Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt said he had recently returned from Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a speech, had paid tribute to William Cooper.
  • The ARK Centre held their second special Aboriginal-themed Shabbat service on the 6 December 2019, the anniversary of Cooper’s protest walk.
  • The Friday evening Shabbat service at Sydney’s historic Great Synagogue on 6 December 2019 honoured William Cooper. The Synagogue and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies hosted Jewish and Indigenous leaders in the tribute. Rob Schneider, CEO, Australian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, represented the William Cooper Legacy Project.
  • The Kristallnacht Cantata: A Voice of Courage held its world premiere on 8 December 2019 at Temple Beth Israel St. Kilda, Melbourne. A tribute to William Cooper, the Cantata imagines a duet between Cooper and Otto Jontof-Hutter who was arrested in Stuttgart during Kristallnacht and sent to Dachau Concentration Camp. It was imaginative and powerful.
  • William Cooper is remembered at Kristallnacht events each year in a number of Australian states and Holocaust Museums which include the honouring of William Cooper are being expanded to most Australian states.
William Cooper Commemorative Walk, Uncle Boydie in Lead 2018, photo by David Jack
Statue of William Cooper, Shepparton, photo David Jack
Unveiling of Plaque at Monash University L-R Simon McKeon, Jacinta Elston, John Gandel AC, Leonie Drummond, Pauline Gandel, Uncle Boydie, Susan Elliott and Minister Ken Wyatt 6.12.19, photo David Jack

Cooper’s biographer said, “Some say that William Cooper only performed one act of solidarity in protesting to the Germans cruel treatment of the Jews. However, I sense that he has become more than a Christian Aboriginal upstander. He has become a symbol of the bond between Jews and Aborigines which was formed through his protest and which has deepened with the commemoration of his actions.”[81]

Activity 26

  1. Give two examples of how William Cooper has been honoured in Australia by the Jewish community
  2. Give two examples of how William Cooper has been honoured in Israel by the Jewish community


Module 6    German Apology

Objective: Participants will be able to provide three examples of the response of Germany over time to the Australian Aboriginal protest and name the descendant of William Cooper who has been a key person in continuing Cooper’s legacy.

Topic 1   Re-enactment of Protest in Australia

Activity 27

Watch the video: A walk to remember Timna Jacks jntv 6.12.2012, 2.02mins, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqCP8fiFdnc


This contains footage of the 2012 re-enactment of the William Cooper and AAL protest of 1938 against Kristallnacht. Uncle Boydie (Alf Turner) and Michael Pearce, the Hon. Consul General of the German Consulate in Melbourne are speaking.

Barbara Miller continues: “I had a number of interviews with family and visits to Yorta Yorta country around Echuca, Mooroopna and Shepparton including spending time with Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative where many descendants of William Cooper and Thomas James, his brother-in-law worked. So, the book William Cooper Gentle Warrior: Standing Up for Australian Aborigines and Persecuted Jews was ready to be launched. Fittingly, I launched it first on country at Rumbalara on 5 December 2012. A Jewish friend in Sydney, Josie Lacey was key to my launching it at the Sydney Jewish Museum on Hanukkah. A Jewish friend in Melbourne, Abe Schwarz, who is closely associated with Uncle Boydie, helped arrange my Melbourne launch at the Holocaust Museum in Melbourne on my planned date of 6 December.

Josie suggested I launch it in Melbourne at the German Consulate which I would not have thought of. William Cooper’s family had done a re-enactment of the AAL walk from Cooper’s home in Footscray in December 2010 but not to the German Consulate. It was to Federation Square. I put the two ideas together and thought I would like to launch my book with a re-enactment of the AAL walk or march to the German Consulate. I had moved but I wanted the walk to end at the 1938 site of the consulate. When I spoke to Uncle Boydie, he was keen to finish his grandfather’s business by handing a copy to the consulate of the original letter his grandfather had tried to hand over.

I contacted Michael Pearce, the Hon. Consul General of the Melbourne consulate who was favourable, and, after getting a letter from me, he got clearance from the German Embassy in Canberra very quickly including having press there. He told me the 1938 location of the consulate and that there are law firms there now and that he had ties with them and could arrange it. Abe Schwarz and the Melbourne Holocaust Museum organised for Holocaust survivors and children of survivors to join the walk from Footscray, the elderly being bussed in and walking the last block only. There was much excitement as many of us, Aboriginals, Jews and Christians met and did the three-hour walk from Footscray with a couple of stops on the way at a synagogue and the newly-named William Cooper Justice centre for meetings.

On arrival, Uncle Boydie read out a replica of William Cooper’s letter of protest and to our shock, Michael Pearce made an apology in reply. There were tears from the Holocaust survivors and children of survivors. It was very moving. It was some measure of healing from a deep scar of history.”

Re-enactment of Cooper Walk

Here is an edited excerpt from Shattered Lives Broken Dreams:

“The big day had come – Thursday 6 December 2012, 8am. Jewish, Aboriginal and Christian supporters gathered outside William’s heritage restored home. Abe and the Cooper family had organised black sweatshirts with a photo of William Cooper on the front and The Argus article on the back with the heading ‘Deputation Not Admitted.’ Several walkers put them on.

Kevin Russell, with close-cropped hair, gave Norman a big bearhug, glad we had come all the way from Cairns, and it caught The Age newspaper the next day. Kevin had my book clasped in one hand. An international film crew filmed the whole walk planning to make a movie or documentary someday. David Jack and Robert de Young were there with their video cameras to record the event for posterity.

At 8.30am, a high-level deputation from the Jewish Holocaust Centre arrived – President Pauline Rockman, Executive Director Warren Fineberg, Development Manager Reuben Zylberszpic, Curator and Head of Collections Jayne Josem, and Board Member Elly Brooks. Kevin showed them some sights significant to William’s story and read at each location from his speeches.

About thirty people started the 3-hour walk at 10am with Kevin Russell, Uncle Boydie and Norman Miller striding out to lead the way. Kevin and Norman had on their Cooper sweatshirts, with Kevin wearing tracksuit pants and Norman wearing jeans. Uncle Boydie, however, was in his traditional suit, this time a grey one with a blue tie and blue cap. I was behind them with Kevin’s sister Cheryl. Other family members were there as was Abe wearing his kippur (head covering), phylacteries [82] on his forehead and his tallit (Jewish prayer shawl). He later removed these for a black cap. Colleen Marrion was in the rear with Debra Harding and her husband David Morris behind her carrying the Aboriginal and Israel flags. Other keen people joining us were Loree Rudd from Queensland, friends from the Northern Territory and Dr Jack Morris from Melbourne.

Group Leaving Cooper’s Footscray Home for the German Consulate, photo David Jack

The scenery between Footscray and the city would have changed greatly in 74 years with much more development, businesses, houses and families coming and going over time but its Indigenous people are always a strong feature. Migrants from Asia, Europe and Africa have come and added their food and culture to the flavour of Footscray and surrounding suburbs.

Abe and Uncle Boydie drove to the East Melbourne Synagogue to meet another group of supporters, including a few survivors of Kristallnacht. Over a warm welcome from Rabbi Dovid Gutnick and morning tea, Abe gave an impassioned talk about the significance of the AAL’s 1938 protest. Uncle Boydie and I also gave rousing speeches. Uncle was seated, hat off, revealing a bald head on the top and grey hair around the sides. Colleen Marrion sat beside him with Jewish elders seated at the table while many of us gathered around it in a cosy atmosphere. Dr Jack Morris and his partner stuck close to Abe’s side.

We marched down Lonsdale Street to the William Cooper Justice Centre, 223 William Street, on the corner of Lonsdale Street. Named after William Cooper, it is part of Melbourne’s legal precinct, a fitting tribute to the social justice activist.  Here we met up with those, including Norman, who had walked the whole distance from Footscray.  We streamed into the centre. After a welcome from the Acting Director, Court Services, Jon Cina and an impassioned speech from Kevin Russell, the group had swelled to over a hundred supporters. Heading down William Street to Collins Street. Uncle Boydie was striding ahead, buoyed from the enthusiastic support. Kevin, Norman and Abe were at his side as were other family members.

Outside Site of German Consulate in 1938 L-R Norman and Barbara Miller, Abe Schwarz, Lucas and Kevin Russell, Uncle Boydie and Leon Saunders 6.12.12, photo by Devi Rajaram

Leon Saunders from Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative had joined the walk, wearing a back Tshirt with a red and yellow NAIDOC[83] design and kept close to Uncle Boydie. Leon is a descendant of Thomas James. David Jack had to give me a lift part of the way as I had to set up the Silk Road venue at 425 Collins St for my Author Talk and Book Signing which would be straight after the protest letter handover. The Jewish Holocaust Centre bused in some Jewish Holocaust survivors and children of survivors who couldn’t walk the distance so they only had to walk the last couple of blocks. It was a big event to organise and credit to Abe Schwarz, the JHC and others.

Momentum was gathering. As we rounded the corner into Collins Street, a trio of flags – Aboriginal, Australian and Israeli, bunched at the top, and tied to a pole, were carried by David and Debra Morris and Michael Russell right behind Uncle Boydie. Two worlds were about to meet. While showing the influence of American high-rise office design, the former brown AMP building which housed the German Consulate in 1938 was similar to much commercial building in Melbourne.at the time and is now heritage listed. Amid high rise buildings, the greenery of trees, street signs and lights, the cameras flashed. My windswept blonde hair went haywire. The crowd and even the yellow-vested marshalls closed in for a photo of Uncle Boydie and the group. A placard protesting Nazism made a poignant statement.

The solemnity of the moment caused eighty-four-year-old Uncle Boydie and his contingent to stop, to take in the moment, while cameras flashed. Uncle Boydie adjusted his Jewish National Fund hat. The Hon Consul General of Germany, Michael Pearce was waiting for the group, ready for this solemn moment. Uncle Boydie reached into his pocket to take out the precious letter of protest that was reconstructed by David Jack from the original resolution of William Cooper and his band of Koori activists who made up the AAL. Uncle Boydie said firmly with a determined look:

“We’ve all got a job to do, and I’ve got mine. So, let’s do it.”

He then read out the letter as a hushed silence fell over the crowd, which had swollen to over 200, filling the pavement to overflowing. Some streamed onto the steps of the former German embassy which now houses a restaurant and law offices. Uncle Boydie said he was delivering the letter his grandfather William Cooper and the delegation of the Australian Aborigines’ League tried to present to the German Consulate in 1938. Shaking a little, but with a determined voice, he said:

‘The resolution voiced, on behalf of the aborigines of Australia, a strong protest at the cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi Government of Germany, and asks that this persecution be brought to an end.

Michael Pearce, dressed in a dark grey suit, adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat. Accepting the petition, Pearce responded in a sincere tone:

‘Uncle Boydie, Ms Pauline Rockman, President of the Jewish Holocaust Centre, Holocaust survivors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen: I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand, the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I also acknowledge the presence here today of members of the Yorta Yorta people.

I am very pleased on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany to receive from Uncle Boydie this replica letter, and the resolution of the Australian Aborigines’ League passed in December 1938.

I am pleased thereby to right the wrong committed by the German Consul on this spot exactly 74 years ago, when he refused to accept the original from Uncle Boydie’s grandfather, William Cooper.

In the context of the horrific crimes that were then being committed against the Jews in Germany and were yet to be committed in Germany and in German-occupied Europe, the wrong committed here by the German Consul in 1938 may seem small and insignificant.

Yet the Consul’s refusal to accept the letter and the resolution was undoubtedly wrong. It was wrong because it denied the German Government’s responsibility for the crimes being committed against the Jews.

It was also wrong because it failed to acknowledge the courageous gesture of a people whose freedom and rights in their own land were heavily circumscribed and whose survival remained precarious.

Of course, not every wrong can be righted. For some wrongs no amount of compensation can ever be enough. Some things too are beyond forgiveness and beyond reconciliation.

However, it is very important for the government and the people of Germany to take every opportunity to correct past wrongs. It is, therefore, with deep gratitude on their behalf that I receive this letter from Uncle Boydie.

I will pass it on to the German Foreign Office in Berlin and do my best to see that it receives a prompt and sufficient response. In that, I will have the support of the German Embassy in Canberra.’

You could not hear a pin drop as Pearce spoke but then the tears started. Holocaust survivors and children of survivors were overwhelmed at the unexpected apology. And so was I. It was more than I had hoped for in organising for the walk or march to go to the actual 1938 venue of the German Consulate and to have Hon. Consul Michael Pearce receive the letter. But an apology! For some, the gentle tears rolling down faces became heaving chests and floods of tears. For some, it was a cathartic moment. An apology can’t undo the horrors of what happened but to admit the wrong and say sorry helps the healing process.

Jayne Josem reflected on the experience when she wrote about for the JHC afterwards:

‘While Pearce spoke, I felt strong emotions, reflecting that in 1938 the Holocaust had not yet occurred and all those millions of Jews who subsequently died were still alive. I wondered whether people protesting really have the ability to change the course of history. William Cooper and his group had the historical insight of their own life experiences to understand where such blatant flaunting of people’s civil and human rights could end. Sadly no one wanted to hear what they had to say in 1938.

In front of me stood a group of survivors – guides from the Jewish Holocaust Centre, including Willy Lermer, Abram Goldberg, Halina Zylberman and Rosa Krakowski. They were all wearing t-shirts with the JHC logo. Willy had managed to put his t-shirt on over the top of his suit. On the back was written REMEMBER the past, CHANGE the future.’[84]

Samantha Donovan of the ABC[85] interviewed Uncle Boydie, Abe Schwarz and Michael Pearce. Uncle Boydie told her how this was a dream come true for him and his family. Abe told Samantha:

‘Uncle William Cooper had a dream to right the wrongs that he found in history whether they were of his own people or for another people. When he heard about the wrongs being perpetrated to the Jews of Nazi Europe, he tried to right that wrong from a position of no human or civil rights of his own. His grandson and family have followed that dream to pursue their grandfather’s wishes. As a proud Jew I could not be more delighted.

It’s phenomenal that he had the capacity, the wherewithal, the lateral thinking, the time, the interest to fight for the rights of others and think about the rights of others when he had so many rights of his own to fight for.’

Michael Pearce said, ‘Well, I feel it’s been an opportunity to right a wrong from the past, 74 years ago the then German consul should have accepted this letter and this resolution. He refused to do that.’

Samantha asked him, ‘I’m wondering back in 1938 would the German consul of the time not have accepted the letter because of its content or because of the fact that Mr Cooper was Aboriginal?’

Michael Pearce answered, ‘We can only speculate about it but there was a sense I suppose in those days in which Aborigines were very much invisible members of society and it may well, the refusal to receive them may well have reflected that as well as the obvious reluctance to accept any acknowledgement of what was being done to the Jews at the time in Germany’.” [86]

Left, Uncle Boydie, Facing Us, Gives the Letter to Michael Pearce, Back to Us, With Throngs of People Around, photo David Jack

What it has done is that Michael Pearce has worked more closely with the Jewish and Aboriginal communities since this event and has worked with Abe Schwarz and Uncle Boydie to further the William Cooper legacy.

Cooper Book Launch at Jewish Holocaust Centre Melbourne, photo David Jack
Cooper family and friends at Sydney Jewish Museum 2 Feb 2020 for the launch of 2 books on William Cooper: White Australia Has A Black History and Shattered Lives Broken Dreams. Photo Norman Miller. On 9 Dec 2012, William Cooper Gentle Warrior was launched there.

Topic 2   Uncle Boydie Goes to Germany

The apology by Germany occurred twice:

  • By Michael Pearce at the former German Consulate in Melbourne 6 December 2012
  • By Dr Felix Klein of Germany on an anniversary documentary 6 December 2020 viewed live at Temple Beth Israel Melbourne and online

Edited Excerpts from Shattered Lives Broken Dreams:

Berlin – Completing the Mitzvah (Good Deed) 2017

Uncle Boydie travelled to Berlin with his son Lance Turner, Abe Schwarz, David Jack and Manny Santos. “Uncle Boydie and delegation arrived in Berlin on 7 November. Their first official engagement in Berlin was a welcome with delegations from three governments present – Germany, Israel and Australia.

The Australian Embassy in Berlin held a special evening on 8 November where Uncle Boydie was to present a copy of the William Cooper protest letter to Dr Felix Klein, German Ambassador for Relations With Jewish Communities. The Deputy Australian Ambassador to Germany, Dr Lauren Bain, ushered the Australian delegation into a room designed to promote Australia. The white walls were adorned with a large photo of a beach scene with a life-size young woman kneeling on the sand face to face with a kangaroo, calm blue sea in the background. As well as the delegation from Australia, Dr Philip Bliss, Chair of the Council for Christians and Jews Victoria, and his wife Andrea attended the event. The Council had provided financial support for the delegation’s visit. Marilyn Keenan from London also joined them.

After asking Abe Schwarz to read it, Uncle Boydie made the solemn presentation of a copy of the letter of protest by the Australian Aborigines’ League to the German Government 79 years earlier. In doing so, he completed the mitzvah started by his grandfather nearly four decades earlier. Dr Klein, receiving it, was aware of the weight of the moment. Adjusting his glasses, he expressed:

‘… my deep respect and sincere gratitude to Uncle Boydie as a representative of William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines’ League in the fight against the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.

… the 1938 resolution gives testimony to the condemnation of the persecution of Jews, by the Aboriginal people of Australia and their strong commitment to the unity and solidarity of the people of the world.

I wish to assure you in the name of the Federal German government and my fellow citizens of the lasting remembrance of the victims of persecution and those who stood up against it.’[87]

Uncle Boydie hands the letter to Dr Felix Klein, photo Emmanuel Santos, William Cooper Legacy Project

It had finally arrived! It was finally accepted. Though the Hon Consul of  Germany in Melbourne, Michael Pearce, had accepted it in a re-enactment of the walk on 6 December 2012, Uncle Boydie was relieved it was finally in Germany itself. Mission accomplished. Uncle Boydie said, ‘I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.’

Party at Handover of Protest Letter by Uncle Boydie to German Government L-R Emmanuel Santos, Marilyn Keenan, Andrea Bliss, Abe Schwarz, Dr Lauren Bain, Lance Turner, Uncle Boydie, Dr Felix Klein, Dr Philip Bliss and David Jack (videographer) 2017, photo Emmanuel Santos, William Cooper Legacy Project

At an even more solemn and moving ceremony outside the Jewish Community Center in Berlin, Uncle Boydie, Lance Turner and  their team listened to the annual roll call of Jews who perished in the Shoah (Holocaust). It was the 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht (Reichspogromnacht), and Abe was asked to take his turn reading a few hundred names of the victims. Amazingly, he was given the list of names starting with ‘Sch’, and he read out the names of those with the same surname as him – ‘Schwarz’ and also ‘Schneider’ and ‘Schindler’. Abe’s voice faltered for a moment with emotion at this precious and moving opportunity. Uncle Boydie was asked to speak at the end of the evening and expressed his solidarity with the Jewish people and told them of his grandfather’s stand, many hearing it for the first time and being touched by the story. For two nights, Uncle Boydie shared his grandfather’s story to interested crowds.

It takes twenty four hours to read out the nearly 56,000 names of Berlin Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. This is done outside the Jewish Centre as a public witness. Uncle Boydie and Abe spoke inside and, after music, more names were read out. They went outside again and an eternal flame was lit. A cantor sang a prayer in a very powerful and touching event.

Uncle Boydie speaking at Kristallnacht Commemoration Berlin 2017, photo David Jack

Germany has made a concerted effort to remember. There are engraved stones (called stolpersteine) nationwide marking homes where Jews lived before they were removed and often killed. Berlin also has a 4.7-acre memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. On the night Uncle Boydie and his team were at the Berlin Kristallnacht commemorations, Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter was present in Munich as names of the city’s victims of the Shoah were read aloud. On the 79th anniversary, there was also discussion by Berlin’s city-state council about rebuilding a synagogue built in 1916 and nearly destroyed at Kristallnacht. Congregants still meet in a remaining wing for religious services.

9 November also marked the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of communism in 1989. This has led to the restoration of many synagogues and Jewish cemeteries across post-communist Europe.

The Council for Christians and Jews organised a celebratory meeting on 10 December 2017 at the Jewish Holocaust Centre Melbourne so that Uncle Boydie and Abe Schwarz could give feedback on their overseas trip. Abe made an audio-visual presentation and was pleased their meeting was on the UN Declaration of Human Rights Day. Michael Pearce also spoke as the German government had provided him with a report on Uncle Boydie’s visit to Berlin.

Activity 28

Read the following articles and discuss:

  1. What do you think is the value or otherwise of making an apology?
  2. Why was the acknowledgement to Uncle Boydie in Berlin in 2017 turned into an apology in 2020?
  3. Who were the apologies made by?
  4. What was the essence of the apology?

Topsfield, Jewel 6 Dec 2020 “Germany Sorry For Snubbing Aboriginal Protest at Persecution of Jews” Sydney Morning Herald https://www.smh.com.au/national/germany-sorry-for-snubbing-aboriginal-protest-at-persecution-of-jews-20201204-p56kov.html

In December 2020, Dr Felix Klein, the Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism issued an historic apology because its consulate had refused, eighty two years previously, to accept a letter from the Australian Aborigines’ League about Nazi persecution of the Jews. The apology was delivered by video link on behalf of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. The apology was received in time to be screened at an event marking the anniversary of the protest. It was inserted into a documentary made of the stand by William Cooper and the AAL and events to recognise their stand. While the video is not publicly available, here is what Dr Klein said according to the above article:

“Officially, on behalf of the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, we are sorry that the 1938 Consul General in Melbourne would not accept the letter of the Australian Aborigines’ League, nor forward it onto the political leadership here in Berlin as would have been the right and morally correct thing for a consulate official to do.”

The apology was accepted by Lois Peeler, Yorta Yorta activist and educator, on behalf of her people. The above article also records that Germany’s ambassador to Australia, Thomas Fitschen, said Mr Cooper’s letter showed the Aboriginal people of Australia were “keenly aware of the terrible events in Germany”.

“We owe sincere gratitude to … Alfred Turner, known as Uncle Boydie, for nurturing lasting remembrance of the victims of persecution and those who stood up against it,” Dr Fitschen said in a statement.[88]

It is worth noting that Germany pays large reparations to Jewish families all over the world who are Holocaust survivors so this apology is not just a symbolic gesture.

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