Australian MP proposes apology for failure to act during Holocaust

Stuart Robert says country ‘turned its back on our Jewish friends at the exact time they needed us’ by refusing to give refuge

Australian lawmaker Stuart Robert in 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Australian lawmaker Stuart Robert in 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube)

An Australian federal lawmaker has proposed a motion in parliament that would oblige the government to apologize for its failure to assist Jewish refugees in the years leading up to the Holocaust.

“Our nation’s government turned its back on our Jewish friends at the exact time they needed us. Our parliament said nothing,” Stuart Robert told parliament in a special session on Monday, according to the Australian Associated Press news agency.

“Australia was not alone; the world turned its back. For Australia’s indifference, this parliament says sorry,” he said.

Robert, of the Liberal National Party, said Australia’s refusal to accept Jewish refugees from Europe in the 1938 Evian Conference in France contributed to the Holocaust’s enormous death toll.

According to The Australian Jewish News (AJN), Robert’s motion states that “the Australian Minister for Trade and Customs in 1938, Lieutenant Colonel T.W. White, declined to further assist the Jewish people, stating ‘Australia has her own particular difficulties … migration has naturally been predominantly British, and it (is not) desired that this be largely departed from while British settlers are forthcoming.’

A May 1944 ‘selection’ of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Birkenau, where one-million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust (Wikimedia Commons)

“Post-Kristallnacht, when the Nazis burned Jewish synagogues, businesses and books, Australia did reassess its policy to admit 15,000 refugees over three years, compared to the previous quota of 1800 per year. An estimated six million Jews and millions of others died during the Holocaust, exacerbated by the failure of Australia and other nations of the world to more fully protect the Jewish people,” it added.

The AJN report earlier this month added that Robert aims for the apology to be featured at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, alongside White’s explanation why Australia couldn’t take in more Jews, which is currently displayed there as an example of indifference around the world to the Jews’ plight.

But the bill has been opposed by Peter Wertheim, co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, who said that “this apparently well-intentioned motion is misconceived,” AJN reported.

He noted that Australia had taken in more Jews per capita than the United States, Canada or South Africa, and claimed that the country had agreed to admit 15,000 Jewish refugees at the Evian conference, while the motion contends it did so only after Kristallnacht.

The Australian parliament will debate issuing the apology at a later date.

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