This article is on the latter and as ANZAC is only one five days away, perhaps it is well nigh time Australia acknowledged it's shocking little secret that this nation too was involved in this horrid affair.
Two years ago it was Australian Senator Guy Barnett (Tasmania) who let the cat out of the bag for the world to hear and be disgusted, as he said in his speech on the 28 February 2011 to the Australian Senate: "I would like to speak about Australia's involvement at the Evian Conference in 1938 and call on the Australian government to apologise for the hurt that was caused."
What was this all about? What was the Evian Conference – that an Australian Senator, 73 years later, call for an apology by the Australian Government? Still the ripples are being heard, what was our part in the ultimate development of the Holocaust? Are not we a long way from Germany?
Wikipedia describes it as: "The Ã‰vian Conference was convened at the initiative of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1938 to discuss the issue of increasing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. For eight days, representatives from thirty-one countries met at Ã‰vian-les-Bains, France. Twenty-four voluntary organisations also attended, as observers, many of whom presented plans orally and in writing. Journalists came from all over the world to observe 'how the world reacted to the brutal German crushing of the rights and lives of fellow human beings.'"
Well, what part did Australia play in the Evian Conference?
Australia had three delegates:
(1) Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas W. White, DFC, VD, MP, Minister for Trade and Customs;
(2) Alfred Thorpe Stirling, Australian liaison officer in the Foreign Office, London; and
(3) A. W. Stuart-Smith, Australia House, London.
At that conference, Thomas White stated: "It will no doubt be appreciated also that as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration …"
Jewish cemetery head stones built as a Nazi wall
Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
Senator Barnett in his 2011 speech said: "It is a matter of national shame that White's statement on behalf of the government of Australia is still visible at the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Jerusalem as the single representative response for all other nations' responses of indifference at the Evian Conference and is viewed by thousands of tourists annually."
However, he did admit that a few months later after the infamous Kristallnacht when Nazis burned Jewish synagogues, businesses and books, that Australia did reassess its policy to admit 15,000 refugees over three years, compared to the previous quota of 1,800 per year.
On reflection, this was far from enough although some but progress was made. Six million died in the holocaust.
The then Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd (he had been deposed of the Prime Ministership seven months before by his Labor colleagues in favour of Julie Gillard) likewise expressed regret for Australia's initial refusal to open our doors to those fleeing Nazi persecution. He spoke to the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum in Jerusalem, December 2010.
However, the original statement of the Evian conference remains on the public forum.
I've been to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem and I held my head in shame as I read White's words as the Australian position on this issue. I tried to cover up the plaque with my body so passers bye would not read my own nation's sin of omission.
Senator Guy Barnett had further stated: "I do not believe that Australia has gone far enough to formally and deliberately apologise for those offensive and insensitive comments..
"I ask the foreign minister to express regret and an apology on his next visit to Israel as foreign minister or, indeed, as part of the next Australia-Israel Leadership Forum. The formal apology should also be acknowledged on a plaque and presented to the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Jerusalem for public display"
Australia wasn't the only one.
Ultimately the conference was a failure, at least from the point of view of the Jews and their sympathisers, with both the United States and Britain refusing to take in substantial numbers of Jews. Most of the countries at the conference followed suit, the result being that the Jews had no escape and were ultimately subject to what was known as Hitler's "Final Solution to the Jewish Question".
The conference was seen by some as an exercise in Anglo-American collaborative hypocrisy.
Nazi Gas Chamber Majanek
In her autobiography My Life (1975), Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel, described her outrage being in "the ludicrous capacity of the [Jewish] observer from Palestine, not even seated with the delegates, although the refugees under discussion were my own people...."
After the conference Meir told the press: "There is only one thing I hope to see before I die and that is that my people should not need expressions of sympathy any more."
Chaim Weizmann who later became the first President of Israel elected 1 February 1949, was quoted in The Manchester Guardian after the Evian conference (1938) as saying: "The world seemed to be divided into two parts – those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter." (en.wikipedia.org)
German Chancellor Adolf Hitler responded to the news of the conference by saying essentially that if the other nations would agree to take the Jews, he would help them leave. We do not know if he would have ever honoured his promise, as the world did not take him up on his offer. But certainly, for a short time, Jews were given passes to leave Germany.
Many Jewish children were sent by their desperate parents, unaccompanied, to England on one refugee program called the Kindertransports, which started in 1938. Experiences such as these are recorded in the autobiography of renowned scientist Leslie Baruch Brent, and reviewed here: www.nejm.org
By the time the Western world started to realise the seriousness of the problem and had agreed to take refugees, Hitler had changed his policy and was interring the Jews in what he called 'work camps', treating them as criminals (along with as gypsies, mentally ill people, homosexuals, some academics with progressive ideas and others he regarded as a danger to society), and not allowing them to leave.
Subsequently Hitler and the Nazi's introduced the Final Solution. Six million European Jews were exterminated. Many historians and commentators believe that the world's collective guilt was the well-spring of support in 1948 by the United Nations for the establishment of the State of Israel.
Today, many Christians associate the 1948 establishment of Israel as part of the economy of God. I discuss this in an article published in Christian Today (24 March 2010) titled "Theology and History", the sixth in a series he wrote on Israel and Prophecy. (au.christiantoday.com)
This is the first of five Anzac articles leading up to Anzac Day, 25 April 2014. In August we note the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI, the Great War that was to end all wars. Many Christian Ministers across the nation will lead services associated with this commemoration.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html