The Isreality gang got together in Melbourne on the first Thursday of December to visit the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick, Melbourne. Our first official gathering since debriefing from the 2016 Experience Israel trip, we gathered to gain personal insight into the horrors of World War II. Meeting for lunch before hand, our group consisted of Arts, Law and Journalism undergrad and postgrad students, as well as a recent high school graduate looking to go into Engineering. Upon arrival at the museum, we were to watch a documentary, speak with a Polish holocaust survivor, before being taken on a guided tour of the museum’s displays.
“Races are a cultural delusion!”: This was the message that came across in the documentary shown to our group upon arrival at the museum, which hosts a research centre dealing with academic approaches to addressing what went wrong in the lead up to the holocaust. The general narrative presented was that while the existence races are generally taken for granted on contemporary multicultural societies, biological distinctions which are necessary to delineate between races are very difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint. This argument has been put forward in an article by Darren Curnoe of the University of New South Wales, in the Australian publication The Conversation, which can be found here.
The main reason that we gathered was to hear the personal experiences Gustav Josef Gajcar, who since moving to Australia has adopted the Aussie name of Gary. In his slow meter and thick Polish accent, Gary recounted the sorrow of being separated from his family in Sosnowiec, Poland in April 1942, to be incarcerated for three years in slave labour and concentration camps. The sole survivor of his immediate family, Gary spoke of the importance of family and with a quick wit dropped in snippets of a flourishing love with his future wife in the concentration camp. Ben, a recent high school graduate reflected, “Looking back, it was fantastic how Gary spoke. I think it was a blessing that he was not only willing and passionate about speaking but also a wonderful story-teller. His accent enriched it a whole too haha”. It added to the authenticity of the meeting. “To me, it just made it a bit more special”. While living in Warsaw in 1958, Gary learned that he had two Aunts living in Melbourne, who he soon set out to join. Living here ever since, Gary has written down his experiences in a novel entitled A Spoonful of Soup, which has had its chapters published in various anthologies, of magazines and newspapers.
The guided tour of the museum instilled in us not only the horrors of Nazi rule, but also inspiration from those who had stood by the Jews by hiding them or rescuing them in the most dangerous of situations. The story of Chiune Sugihara had the biggest impact on me. Sugihara was a Japanese consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, who saved over 2,000 Polish Jewish refugees during the war by issuing Japanese transit visas that allowed them to space to the Far East. Over a two-month period, July to August 1940, Sugihara defied his superiors and hand-wrote thousands of permits for Jews. When he returned to Japan at the end of the war, Sugihara was dismissed from the Foreign Service with a small pension, most likely a punishment for disobedience.
Overall, the visit to the Holocaust museum proved a moving experience, and gave us a deeper appreciation for the context in which the modern state of Israel was formed, as well as an understanding of the recent familial history of our Jewish friends here in Melbourne.
As Isreality looks forward to the second annual Experience Israel tour, we will be hosting more meetings around the world, including seminars on the legal status of Israel. For more information, or if you would like to become involved in this movement, please email us at email@example.com