David Schütz, Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission
annual Christian ecumenical Shoah Memorial Service was held Monday 19
March 2018 at Melbourne Grammar School. The evening was organised by a
joint committee of members of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne
Committee for Interfaith Relations, the Catholic Archdiocese of
Melbourne Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission, and the Uniting Church
Synod of Victoria and Tasmania Working Group on Christian-Jewish
Approximately 100 people gathered in a
darkened St Peter’s Chapel and were led in prayer by the Melbourne
Grammar School chaplain, Rev Hans Christiansen, and in song by a choir
of senior boys who sang Psalm 22 and the Anthem ‘Long since in Egypt’s
Students of MGS draped the altar in a
black cloth symbolising death, a yellow star such as that with which
Jews were marked in Nazi Germany, and a white cloth symbolising holiness
and rebirth. Six candles were lighted, one for each of the million
Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and a final candle, the Candle of Hope.
The service is a Christian commemoration of the tragedy
of the Holocaust, but a Shoah survivor is always invited to speak and a
member of the Jewish community recites the Kaddish, the traditional
Jewish prayer for those who have died. This year Philip Bliss OAM, chair
of the Council of Christians and Jews, prayed the Kaddish.
repeated quiet ‘Amens’ from the congregation during the Hebrew
recitation indicated that there were a number of guests present from the
Jewish community. The ‘Amens’ resounded even more strongly when Dr
Bliss recited the Kaddish again in English.
survivor – the voice of memory – who spoke this year was Sarah Saaroni
OAM. Now in her 90’s, Sarah was a child in Poland during the Second
World War. Sarah spoke at last year’s Shoah Memorial Service too – an
indication that as time goes on there are fewer and fewer voices among
us who can recall for us those horrific events from their personal
experience. That makes opportunities like this all the more precious.
well-known Melbourne sculptor, Sarah said that it was not until 1983
that she found herself able to recount those memories – and she did it
first in her sculpture, and only later, in 1987, gave voice to her
memories by writing her biography.
She told about her
separation from her parents and family, whom she never saw again, about
her hiding as a Christian child, about being found and caught by the
Gestapo, about escaping and being caught again, and about her final
escape on the way to a concentration camp before the liberation of
Poland by the Russians.
She spoke about seeing people
killed and about people doing things that no one could have imagined.
She tells her story of ‘growing up’ simply and calmly. It is all the
more horrifying for that.
Sarah’s story was followed by a
Year 12 student of Melbourne Grammar School, Jamarl Firebrace, who
spoke about what it meant to be a part of Australia’s first peoples. He
drew connections between the Jewish experience and the experience of his
ancestors – most recently of his grandmother – during the time when
Aboriginals were not recognised by many as human beings let alone as
citizens of our nation.
He also spoke of William Cooper,
the aboriginal Melbourne Aboriginal political activist and community
leaders who was a lone voice speaking out in 1938 against the
Kristallnacht atrocities in Germany.
Other ministers who
participated in the service were Uniting Church minister Rev Julie Hall,
Chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee Fr John Dupuche, and
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Bishop Mark Edwards.
service ended with the singing of Psalm 23 (Crimond) and the praying of
the Lord’s Prayer before Bishop Mark blessed the congregation with the
words of Aaron from Numbers 6:24-26.