Watch “The Ties that Bind” from the Jewish Holocaust Centre

 In Everyday Heroes

At Hero Town, it is our utmost priority to empower people to stand up in the face of adversity and injustice. It was our immense honour, then, that we were invited to the premiere of a documentary directed by Viv Parry titled Ties that Bind: From Auschwitz to Cummeragunja. We spent the full day at the Jewish Holocaust Centre and we left feeling deeply affected, saddened at the tragedy but also awed at the tales of survival, heroism, and resilience that we were invited to share.

The Jewish Holocaust Centre

The Jewish Holocaust Centre is located in St. Elsternwick and was established in 1984 by Holocaust survivors living in Melbourne. As one of the few Holocaust memorials in Australia, they are dedicated to remembering the many lives lost during the Holocaust, and awareness of the ideologies behind it, as outlined in their mission:

We consider the finest memorial to all victims of racist policies to be an educational program which aims to combat antisemitism, racism and prejudice in the community and foster understanding between people

We were greeted graciously by Lisa Phillips, the Director of Education at the Centre. The Centre works closely with schools to deliver educational information on the Holocaust and to teach young people about the atrocities committed during World War 2. She encouraged us to join a school group who were touring through the museum, a grim but eye-opening collection of historical documents, artwork, replicas and testimony from survivors. One of the most upsetting displays in the centre was the preserved dress of a young girl, who had been brutally murdered in one of the concentration camps. The dress was no bigger than that of a doll’s.

We went on to the theatre hall where one of the survivors, Jack Fogel, shared his incredible story of survival through the Holocaust and the concentration camps. Fogel was one of the few survivors of the British Royal Air Force bombing on the Cap Arcona, under the belief that it was carrying German soldiers instead of concentration camp prisoners. We found ourselves moved to tears as a student asked Fogel if he experienced sympathy from and of the German soldiers and he replied with a flat, “No, not a single one.” It was an honour to hear his story in person and to be able to shake his hand afterwards. You can watch Jack Fogel’s full story on Youtube.

Ties that Bind: From Auschwitz to Cummeragunja

The documentary features a conversation between Alf Turner, also known as Uncle Boydie, and Moishe Fiszman, a Holocaust survivor. Turner is the grandson of the Indigenous activist William Cooper, who led a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League with a petition against the Nazi movement in 1938. These events were following Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass”, when Nazi soldiers destroyed every Jewish business and synagogue in Germany, and abducted 40,000 Jewish people into the concentration camps of Dachau. The two discuss the immense impact of Cooper’s protest as the only private protest against the Germans in the wake of Kristallnacht. Fiszman pays his respects for Cooper’s activism and heroism by stating that:

I cannot imagine, I mean, after all the Aborigines were not exactly treated as everyone else in the country. And to come down and protest against the German government is just an unbelievable thing … he was an unbelievable man.

You can watch the film in full below:

Prior to viewing the film, we had the privilege of  listening to Stan Yarramunua‘s performance on the Didgeridoo, an enthralling and uniquely Australian experience. We also heard foreword addresses from both the men in the film and poetry from some of the Galiamble Aboriginal men. These men had been working with the Galiamble Men’s Alcohol and Recovery Centre for rehabilitation and culturally-relevant recovery. As part of this program, the men produced artwork reflecting the connection between the Aboriginal and the Jewish communities through hardship, resilience, and unity. The art that is featured in this blog post was created by Joshua Birtwistle. On the first floor of the Jewish Holocaust Centre, the artwork was featured in a gallery alongside photographic portraits of the survivors who worked in the Centre. It was a sobering moment to hear Lisa point to each portrait and reveal just how many of them were no longer with us.

Memories of Ordinary People

One very special moment that I personally shared towards the end of our visit was when our Hero Town team sat down with Lisa to discuss working together. We began talking about Holocaust literature, and as a literature student I was very interested in her thoughts on this topic. Although films like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are very well-known, they fail to tell the story of the Holocaust from the Jewish survivors’ point of view. This is where memoir is a powerful storytelling medium for Holocaust survivors, by giving them the agency to tell their own stories.

As we prepared to leave, Lisa took a book from the front desk and pressed it into my hand. “You need to read this,” she insisted. There were many books for sale here, all written by different survivors about their experience — for many of them, their childhood — of living through the Holocaust. The book that Lisa gave me was titled Memories of Ordinary People by Kitia Altman. The autobiography documents Altman’s upbringing in Bedzin, Poland and is written with a keenly observational and childlike tone. There are photographs in between some of the chapters, a somber reminder of the book’s harrowing first line: “They’re all dead now.”

Visit the Jewish Holocaust Centre website for more information on the Eyewitness Project, the library containing survivor’s memoirs and historical resources, and to book a tour.

Steph Downing
Stephanie Downing is the administrative assistant for Hero Town Geelong. Born and raised in Geelong, Australia, Stephanie is a graduate of Deakin University with her Honours degree in Professional and Creative Writing. She adores words of all sorts and is especially infatuated with the medium of poetry and fiction, with publications of her work being featured in magazines such as WORDLY Magazine, Plumwood Mountain Journal and Cordite Poetry Review.
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