Michael Kretzmer

In Australia, Something Extraordinary Just Took Place

 I’m still reeling from the Australia J’Accuse! Tour and it’s got nothing to do with jetlag. Something quite remarkable happened Down Under, on so many levels, in so many ways. The magnificent, confident, thriving Jewish community of Australia has fired the J’Accuse! campaign for Justice, Truth and Honour with a new confidence that makes me think we can actually succeed.

First, a snapshot: in two weeks we did about 40 engagements with practically every sector and age group, from elderly Holocaust survivors to schools. We yakked away from about 8 in the morning to well into the night. We spoke in synagogues before great rabbis. We spoke to young professionals, Bnei Brith, educationalists, historians, teachers and Holocaust museum curators. We spoke to survivors, survivors’ children and many, many survivors’ grandchildren. We spoke at cinemas that were literally sold-out. And you know what? Every audience – every one! – knew the film belonged to them, and told their story.

I felt especially  privileged to speak at so many synagogues. There is a very strong religious aspect to this film and it was rewarding to be able to articulate what I have come to regard as a key issue of the Lithuanian Holocaust: that the violence and determination to dehumanise us was a Chillul Hashem, an affront to the Almighty. In our last moment of suffering, when we had lost everything, the murderers wanted us to renounce Hashem, and Judaism. This is another compelling reason why we should not let the liars and killers write our history. How dare they even try.

One of the most amazing things about this tour was the way Silvia was received. Every audience in every location honoured and recognised her heroism. And to my mind it said so much about the Jewish People. I felt so proud that we as a people possess the compassion, moral wisdom and generosity to instinctively bestow on this brave woman all the affection and kavod she deserves. And we did it everywhere, immediately, without hesitation, with all our hearts. It was just wonderful and it underlined how easily reconciliation could follow once Lithuania stops telling lies.

For me the most enjoyable visits were the schools. Hundreds of kids only saw the first fifteen minutes of the film, but absolutely got it. The questions were rapid, enthusiastic and brilliant and in every school the teachers wished we’d booked a double session. In particular I loved the way the Jewish girls questioned Silvia: deep, personal, compassionate questions that inevitably penetrated to heart of the matter. And not just the girls. The question that remains in my mind came from a young, serious religious boy who asked : “Your film’s great but would it be better if we never knew?” I reminded him that there is no word for ‘history’ in Hebrew, that we use the word ‘Zachor’ – Memory – and that why it is essential that we know and that the Truth is told.

And everything was done brilliantly, by volunteers.  There was Danny Lamm and Cedric Geffen who ran the Melbourne leg. There was Rochy and Jonny Miller, Lee McNamee and Peter Hegedus in Brisbane,  Shirley Atlas, Judith Lawrence, Illana Hitner Klevansky and Siggy and Hanne Cohen in Perth. There was Janine and Gary Wolman and Merle and Johnny Klug from Sydney. All of them amazing people who achieved wonders.

Two women  made this little miracle happen. They are the reason we went to Australia and in two weeks turned J’Accuse! into an international Jewish movement for Justice and Honour. They did this because I think they understood the significance of J’Accuse! even more profoundly than I did. From nowhere Bernice Charif and Sharon Wahlhaus took it upon themselves to change the world. And they did.

We are recalibrating the dialogue with Lithuania. At stake is Holocaust Truth. And you know what? I think Truth is winning against all odds.

About the Author
Bulawayo born, a former travel writer for the Sunday Times and director/producer for the BBC and other once important media organisations, a keeper of chickens and grower of fruit and veg, a biker, a student of Torah, a Dad and Grandad... and a man determined to fight for justice in Lithuania.
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