Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and marks the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I thought it was a fitting time to recount my visit to the Sydney Jewish Museum back in November.
The museum was established in 1992 by the generation of Holocaust Survivors who settled in Australia. This very special place continues to give a voice to the victims of the Holocaust, so their individual and collective stories can spark dialogues and inspire change. As well as preserving and documenting this important historical period, the museum also beautifully illustrates the richness of Jewish life in Australian society. The ground floor displays teach many aspects of Jewish faith and traditions. This Gentile found it fascinating.
The Holocaust exhibition stretches across three levels of the building, and details the persecution and murder of European Jewry from 1933-1945. The events of Hitler’s WWII are described in chronological order, interspersed with personal Holocaust relics and photographs donated for display. Volunteer guides (many of whom are relatives of Survivors) give regular tours of the museum, and share personal family insights. Joining a tour enriches the visitor’s experience, making the Holocaust events very real, ensuring deeper emotional resonance.
Whilst the Holocaust exhibition focuses on the Jewish experience, it also addresses the many non-Jewish victims of Nazi brutality, those classified as ‘enemies of the Reich’. Millions were persecuted because of their politics, religious beliefs, ethnicity, sexuality and physical abilities/disabilities.
Anyone who relishes detail will appreciate the amount of information available here. The most ardent history buffs will likely make many discoveries such is the scope of the collection. For example, I had no idea that the yellow cloth Star of David badge had to be purchased by the wearer, or that Shanghai welcomed many displaced European Jewish persons. Wouldn’t that have been a case of culture-shock in 1945?!
There are uplifting victories, treasured family keepsakes that somehow survived the camps against all odds. Photos and heirlooms that bear the scars of war, and accounts of daring escapes, rescues, reunions and resettlement. There are also slightly macabre objects as well as the downright chilling, such as a canister for Zyklon B pellets (used in gas chambers).
These walls house many, many stories, and it’s vital they continue to do so. In 2019, the Survivor generation is dwindling, and this museum preserves memories and pays tribute to those lost, and importantly also celebrates the triumph of the human spirit. Exploring these exhibits is a solemn experience; there is inescapable grief, sadness and resentment for the atrocities of this dark period in history. But there is hope too. Hope for educating the younger generations about the dangers of racism and bigotry. Hope for genuine peace. And hope that all Holocaust stories are not forgotten. It is imperative that #WeRemember.
I highly recommend a visit. Allow at least 3 hours. (I spent over 4 hours there and didn’t see it all!)
Sydney Jewish Museum
148 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst.
Open Sun 10-4, Mon-Thur 10-4.30, Fri 10-3. Closed Saturdays.
$15 for adults (less for under 18s/seniors).