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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Daisy Dumas

Holocaust survivors ask Australians to ‘denounce antisemitism and hatred’

Members of the Australian Jewish community
Members of the Australian Jewish community participate in a rally in Sydney in late October. Photograph: David Gray/AFP/Getty Images

More than 100 Australian Holocaust survivors have united to denounce a wave of “senseless and virulent” antisemitism that they fear is growing in the country.

The “last witnesses to the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi regime” – many in their 90s – have penned a letter against abusive incidents that have targeted the Jewish community as Israeli retaliations continue after the brutal Hamas attacks and kidnappings of 7 October.

“We are witnesses to the antisemitic propaganda that turned our friends, neighbours and the general public against us in Europe. We remember the six million Jewish lives lost because of this hatred,” the 102 Australian survivors wrote in the letter published in the Australian on Thursday.

The letter coincided with the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht – when Jewish communities, synagogues and neighbourhoods were savagely attacked by the Nazi regime.

“Rather than condemn these atrocities, the world stood by and watched,” the survivors wrote.

Antisemitic incidents have increased globally since 7 October, with cases of abuse towards Jews reported in the US, Pakistan, France, the UK, Tunisia, Russia, Germany and Australia.

Incidents documented by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry include death threats, threats to schools and synagogues, verbal abuse, hate mail, graffiti and damage to property.

“Never have we, the survivors of the Holocaust felt the need to make a collective statement such as this until now. Never did we think that we would witness a re-enactment of the senseless and virulent hatred of Jews that we faced in Europe. The actions of Hamas are so familiar, so barbaric, yet instead of condemning this, the response across the globe is a shameful spike in antisemitism,” the letter states.

“We ask all Australians to denounce the antisemitism and hatred that we see today in our beautiful country and across the globe. We ask you to stand with us.”

On Monday, the broader Jewish community in Australia marked 30 days since Hamas attacked Israel killing 1,400 people and kidnapping a further 230. There were vigils in several locations and Israeli flags were hoisted in Melbourne’s Federation Square.

There was also a rally calling for the release of Israeli hostages before candle-lighting ceremonies. Shloshim, Hebrew for 30, ends the traditional first month of mourning in Judaism and is accompanied by ceremonies and reflection.

Zeddy Lawrence, executive director of Zionism Victoria, helped organise the lighting of 1,400 candles across all states and territories on Monday evening, each representing a victim of the 7 October attacks. Shloshim ceremonies included prayers and song.

“The Australian Jewish community has been tremendously moved by what took place in Israel a month ago and, in many cases, we have relatives who have been caught up in the violence or the kidnapping … or who are in the IDF trying to rescue the hostages,” Lawrence said.

“We’ve been grieving along with the rest of the Jewish world for the 1,400 victims who were so brutally slain in the terrorist atrocities last month.”

A gathering at Melbourne’s Caulfield Park called for the release of hostages held by Hamas including children. The community of Emanuel Synagogue in Sydney joined the candle-lighting ceremonies as did synagogues across the country.

A Bondi vigil for victims on all sides of the conflict, organised by the New Israel Fund Australia, was held last week. The moment gave Jewish mourners a space to grieve for lives lost in both Gaza and Israel, said organiser Eve Altman.

“It was a really beautiful time to come together, think about the hostages and think about the grief we’re all feeling and to have the space to hold that,” Altman said.

Separately, a newly formed group, Jewish Australians for a Ceasefire in Gaza, said it had gathered nearly 700 signatures on a petition arguing Israel’s actions put the goal of sustainable peace in the region “further out of reach”.

“We urge the Australian government to call now for both the release of innocent hostages and for a full ceasefire,” the petition states.

“Australia cannot stand by while Israel continues to subject Palestinian civilians to its campaign of collective punishment. Our Jewish values are incompatible with the unjustified cruelty and reckless disregard for human life and dignity that the Israeli government is displaying.”

The Australian government does not endorse the claim that Israel’s actions in Gaza amount to “collective punishment” of civilians although some ministers have used the phrase.

The petition was sent to several high-profile politicians on Friday after it reached 500 signatures.

“The hope is that they begin to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza,” a spokesperson said.

Australia has continued to call for a humanitarian pause to allow food, water and medicine to reach those trapped within Gaza.

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