Address at The Grand Opening of the Melbourne Holocaust Museum, Elsternwick, Victoria
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honour to be here with you today.
Firstly, thank you very much to Caroline for your wonderful words, and I too acknowledge the traditional owners of land on which we meet today.
Mike, thank you very much for your inspirational words, for your leadership within the community and for your co-presidency here.
To Sue as well, in her absence, she’s obviously overseas at present.
I want to say Pauline, thank you very much to you for your time today, for the brief tour that we were able to have and I want to do it justice, and I hope that we may come back and hear more of your family story and many more, but for the work that you’ve done as a past President, thank you very much.
To the entire Holocaust Museum Board, to all of the donors and supporters who are here today, who have contributed to this amazing story, thank you very much.
To Jane, again, thank you for the work that you do as a CEO.
I want to acknowledge the presence today of the Prime Minister, and also the Premier of Victoria, Premier Allan, thank you both for your support of this museum, for bringing it to fruition.
It’s an incredibly important monument for our state of Victoria and for our country as well.
I’d also like to acknowledge today my former colleague Josh Frydenberg and his work in obtaining and driving for the funding, for here and for other Holocaust museums across the country. It should be noted, and the work of former Prime Minister Morrison in securing that funding as well.
To Abe Goldberg today, we’re all looking forward to your contribution, to hear your words, they will be particularly poignant. So, thank you.
The opening of this museum, of course, has been very much anticipated.
We knew this event would be a profound moment, an emotional moment.
But all the more so now.
We stand here today in the wake of the barbarity visited upon Israel on the 7th of October.
We stand here today having been filled, through our television screens, of the hate-fuelled mobs marching through major democratic cities calling for the slaughter of Jews.
We stand here today in the aftermath of obscene and unfathomable acts of anti-Semitism on our own soil.
In the context of these events, the opening of this museum today, is even more poignant and pertinent.
We are witnessing an unmasking, a resurgence, of the same hateful thoughts and behaviours which led to the Holocaust.
Perhaps, naively, we thought our century – or at very least, democracies in our century – would be immune from the anti-Semitism of the last century.
Vasily Grossman, on the other hand, understood the irrational nature of anti-Semitism.
He was a Jewish Ukrainian war correspondent for the Soviet army who encountered the Nazi death camps.
In 1944, he wrote The Hell of Treblinka – the first journalistic account of the Holocaust.
But it was in his 1960 novel, Life and Fate, which best evokes the insights into anti-Semitism.
Grossman described anti-Semitism as a ‘unique phenomenon’ which ‘can take many forms’.
He said it can reside ‘in the soul of an old man and in the games children play in the yard’.
He noted how anti-Semitism is unconstrained by time or by place.
He said it ‘has been as strong in the age of atomic reactors and computers as in the age of oil-lamps, sailing-boats and spinning wheels.’
Grossman illuminated the pervasive, dehumanising and demonising nature of anti-Semitism.
His cautionary words reinforce that no society – however civilised – and no country – however tolerant – is immune from anti-Semitism.
Grossman’s words – and the lives this museum commemorates – impart the same lesson:
Whenever and wherever the forces of anti-Semitism are on the march, there is a need for moral courage and moral clarity.
Right now, there is a need for unequivocal and unqualified condemnations of the anti-Semitism we are witnessing.
There must be no tolerance for that which is not tolerated.
Moral courage and moral clarity can take many forms.
For everyday Australians, a simple act of moral courage which leads to moral clarity is to visit this museum, including with your children.
To hear the voices of those who died and those who survived.
To understand how hateful ideas so easily transform into evil deeds.
To confront the truth.
Grossman wrote about a duty to confront the truth, ‘however gruelling’.
Only then will we understand the truth of the monster we are dealing with.
After that horror committed by the Nazis, humanity made a solemn commitment with a simple refrain.
The forces of civilisation said, “Never again.” Full stop.
It is our solemn duty to ensure that refrain does not become a ‘Never again’ which ends in a question mark.
It is our solemn duty to ensure that refrain never becomes an ‘Again’.
That duty starts with our providing moral courage and moral clarity.
With our responsibility to confront the truth and to have reverence for the truth.
Thank you very much.