M V Tronson thinks it is a good time to remind ourselves of the situation at that time.
What was the Evian Conference - to have an Australian Senator, 73 years later, call for an apology by the Australian Government?
Wikipedia describes it as: "The Ãâ°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 Ãâ°vian-les-Bains, France. Twenty-four voluntary organizations 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.'"
What part did Australia play in the Evian Conference?
Australia had three delegates: Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas W. White, DFC, VD, MP, Minister for Trade and Customs; Alfred Thorpe Stirling, Australian liaison officer in the Foreign Office, London; and 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 â¦"
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. Perhaps, on reflection, this was still not enough, but progress was made.
His speech follows one by Kevin Rudd, Australia's Foreign Minister, who had expressed regret for Australia's initial refusal to open our doors to those fleeing Nazi persecution at anaddress to the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum in Jerusalem, December 2010.
However, the original statement of the Evian conference remains on the public forum.
Mark Tronson has been to the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and explained how he held his head in shame as he read White's words as the Australian position on this issue. He noted how he tried to use his body to cover up the words so passers bye would not read his own nation's sin of omission.
Senator Guy Barnett 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"
However, Mark Tronson stated, 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.
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 â those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter."
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/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMbkrev0902954
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. Mark Tronson discusses 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.