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Annual Ecumenical Holocaust Memorial Service (May 3, 2016)

Christians Remember the Holocaust

David Schütz (4 May 2016)

The annual Christian Holocaust Memorial Service was held on Tuesday night (3 May 2016) at Our Lady of Sion College in Box Hill. During the service, Grace, a student of the College, said:

‘At a Holocaust Memorial Service it must be asked: What have we learned and what must we do? The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. From those who were not indifferent, we can learn what we can achieve if we stand up for people in need and be a voice for others who do not have one.’

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Service. In May 1991, the late Sr Verna Holyhead sgs gathered a small group of Christians and Jews together in the wind and the rain outside the Jewish Memorial in Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney for a Holocaust Memorial Service.

She later recalled:

“The amplifying system didn’t work, the candles blew out, and as we packed up despondently, I thought, ‘Well, that’s the end of that’. Then an elderly man with a yellow Star of David on the sleeve of his old jacket came up to me and said: ‘I haven’t worn this since I was liberated from Auschwitz, and I never thought I would wear it again to pray with Christians. Thank you’. I knew then that it was not the end but a beginning of such a service.”

Two years later, Sr Verna moved to Melbourne and brought with her this idea for a Memorial Service in which Christians could recall and mourn the Shoah together with their Jewish friends. For many years the annual service was led by Sr Verna and a small group of helpers at St Francis Church in Elizabeth Street. Later, members of the Uniting and Anglican Churches also became involved and the service was held at Wesley Uniting Church and St Paul’s Cathedral. One of Verna’s visions was for the integral involvement of school students in the service, as a way of encouraging new generations to remember the Holocaust.

This year, the principal of Sion College, Tina Apostolopoulos, welcomed the gathering of about 150 people. The service was almost entirely led by students of the College. Grainne, the Liturgy Captain, and Alexandra, the Social Justice Captain were the main readers. Grace, a Year 11 student, voiced her own reflections as a young person on the Shoah. Zoë played an evocative cello piece written by Ernest Bloch. The school choir led us in singing Psalm 136 ‘For your love is never ending’, Kyrie Eleison and Shalom Chaverim (‘Shalom my friends’). Year 10 students from the College draped the altar with a black cloth (a symbol of darkness) on which there was a yellow star of David (the mark each Jew had to wear under the Third Reich) and a white cloth (a symbol of holiness, atonement and burial). They placed six lit candles on the altar – one for each million Jews killed in the Shoah. Finally at the end of the service, they lit a new candle for hope.

The main speaker at the service was 91 year old Saba Feniger, former curator at the Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre in Elsternwick. The night of the service, 3 May, was the 71st anniversary of her liberation in 1945 from the concentration camps. Born in Lodz, Poland, in 1924, she was 20 years old when she was herded into railway cars and transported from the ghetto to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her simple recounting of her suffering and survival while all her other family members with her died of starvation, disease, mistreatment and murder, was harrowing. Yet to hear this living witness of the Shoah was a honour for all present.

All present stood while Walter Rapoport, the president of the Council of Christians and Jews, recited the mourner’s Kaddish. As he read this prayer praising the Creator, Jewish members of the audience joined in the response ‘Amen.’ Fr John Dupuche then led the Christians present in saying the Our Father and blessing the congregation with the words of Aaron from Numbers 6:24-26.

Students and teachers from a number of other schools came to the service, including Melbourne Grammar School where the Memorial Service was held last year. The organising committee consisted of Fr John Dupuche and Martin Chatfield (Catholic), Rev. Hans Christiansen and Bishop Peter Danaher (Anglican), Rev. Lorraine Parkinson and Rev. Neil Atkinson (Uniting Church) and Liz Parker from the Council of Christians and Jews. They were greatly assisted by the staff of the College, especially the Religious Education Learning Leader Anna Gionfriddo and the Director of Voice Kristen Bourke.


Alexandra and Grainne lead the service  The Assembly  Fr John Dupuche leads the Lords prayer  Grace and Saba Feniger  Sion College choir members Alyssa Rebecca and Jessica with Saba Feniger  Old and Young!  Martin Chatfield, Walter Rapoport, John Dupuche, Saba Feniger, Anna Gionfriddo, Hans Christiansen  Walter and Sion sisters and friends 


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