The other Thursday was National Sorry Day in Australia. It’s not an official holiday and not a date generally recognized in Israel, but it is a day of reconciliation and recognition of the mistreatment of the country’s indigenous population, their families and communities. In the spirit of respect and acknowledgement I thought I would visit the memorial for William Cooper at Yad Vashem, take a selfie and post it. That’s the sort of vicarious, larrikin dilettante that I am.
In what is described as “the only private protest against the Germans following Kristallnacht in Germany”, William Cooper led a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League, a nascent Aboriginal rights group, at a time when Aboriginals weren’t even Australian citizens, to the German Consulate in Melbourne to deliver a petition which condemned the “cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government of Germany.” Why this marginalized group of disenfranchised British monarch’s subjects took it upon themselves to express their empathy for Jews and their disapproval of Germany’s sovereign government’s oppression is not altogether clear. It certainly wasn’t flavour of the month, antisemitism being much more entrenched and institutionalized then than it is now. As it turned out the German Consulate did not accept the petition.
In recent years the Australian Jewish community has come round to airing recognition for William Cooper’s legacy. I’d heard about some of the efforts including recognition in Israel. I’d read articles about a memorial of sorts in Yad Vashem. In my naivety I thought Cooper might possibly be commemorated as one of the Righteous Among the Nations but these articles were all kind of vague.
I looked it up in Wikipedia. “In August 2010, the Yad VaShem Holocaust museum in Israel announced they would honour Cooper for his protests against the behaviour towards Jews on Kristallnacht. Yad Vashem plans to endow a small garden at its entrance in Cooper’s honour. Cooper’s name was submitted for recognition when it was discovered that Cooper’s rally was the only private protest against Germany in the wake of Kristallnacht.”
I decided I would make a short quest of it in pursuit of the memorial garden.
I emailed Yad Vashem to make sure I wasn’t making the effort for nothing. I called them up too. The rep was polite and thorough in his efforts to verify who Cooper was and if there was any garden or memorial on the grounds. “No Cooper isn’t one of the Righteous Among the Nations,” he told me but he could report that there was a plaque in the International Institute for Holocaust Research.
There it is in the photo. Or so I believe. It’s the only one I found in the corridor.
I wonder if anyone at Yad VaShem ever intended to actually plant and endow the abovementioned garden memorial. That was in 2010 and as of now we’re in 2016.
I don’t think that’s what Sorry Day was meant to mean.