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Yom Hashoah Commemoration

Yom Hashoah Commemoration

19 April 2012

70 Years On

Last night, over 1000 people attended the Robert Blackwood Hall at Monash, Clayton for the annual Holocaust Commeration evening.

Nina Bassat AM, President JCCV, addressed the attendees:

In 21 hours from now, on Yom HaShoah, sirens will be sounded throughout Israel for two minutes. During that time, all action will cease and the people of Israel will stand at attention. Cars will stop on the highways; people will stop in the streets, and the whole country will come to a standstill as Israel pays silent tribute to the dead.

Seventy years, three score years and ten, the biblical life time allotted to us; it seems such a long span of years, so long ago. But to many, it is their yesterday, it is their today and tragically, it is their tomorrow. What happened at Wansee seventy years ago is not just a historical event; it is the legacy which we have all inherited; whether we are in Tel Aviv, or in Moscow or in Melbourne. We stand as one to think about the lives which were extinguished, the sorrow which many of us will bear to our dying days, and which our children will bear beyond that.  “Six Million Jews”, “one and a half million children”, “half the Jewish population of Poland”.

Numbers, so many numbers. My mind refuses to understand them, my heart does not open to them. It is too vast, too remote. So I start to think of names, of places:

- Cecilia Katz in Belzec

- Chaya Wargon in Treblinka

- Meilech Przysuski in Auschwitz

Then I think of the names for whom I have no place:

- Izydor Katz

- Srulek Wargon

- Rysia Zinger

And suddenly, I can understand it, I can feel it. It is the lives not lived, the tears not shed, the laughter never shared. It is the poets and the musicians, the bakers and the farmers, the scientists, the politicians, the philosophers and the women who did not get to nurse their babies. We have lost them all. We have been deprived of so much, that you start to wonder if the void can ever be filled. You start to despair.

And then my 5 year old granddaughter giggles at something I have said, and one of my grandsons pats me on the head as he walks past  - and the despair goes, and it is replaced by love and pride and hope and a sense of triumph. For from the remnants has grown a second and a third generation, generations which are proud to be Jewish and which contribute to the rich fabric of life, wherever they find themselves. And from the remnants has grown a nation. They are the philosophers and the poets, the sportsmen and the artists, the mothers and the children who have shown us, and indeed the whole world, that the spirit can survive everything; that no matter to what depths humanity sinks, there is always a spark of hope, a spark of courage that will endure.

So tonight, whilst we commemorate the unendurable losses, we also look around us and we know that no Wansee, no decree for a final solution can succeed. It can hurt us unbearably, it can scar us, it can even temporarily cripple us, but ultimately, we will prevail and we will go on to lead lives full of fulfilment and lives full of joy, and it is that which is our ultimate answer.


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