Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8798


Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (19:45): On Thursday 5 July, the Polish and Israeli embassies co-hosted in marvellous Melbourne's new recital hall, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, an event to honour Irena Sendler. The packed recital hall heard an aesthetically beautiful opera, together with memorable remarks from the Polish ambassador, Andrzej Jaroszynski, and the Israeli ambassador, Yuval Rotem, in a tribute to the great Polish social worker who saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto and the clutches of the Nazis.

Ms Sendler was one of the righteous individuals who chose defiance in those days. She was the head of the children's bureau, Zegota, an underground organisation set up to save Jews after the Nazis invaded Poland. Irena Sendler, with the assistance of volunteers, mostly women, managed to save babies, young children and teenagers from certain death and moved them to safety in other parts of Poland. As Prime Minister Julia Gillard pointed out in a speech a few days later at the Jewish Holocaust Centre where she also made an important announcement, Irena herself described it this way:

… I sent most of the children to religious establishments. I knew I could count on the Sisters.

In an obituary in the New York Times about Irena Sandler it was recalled that she said of herself:

Here I am a stranger, asking them to place their child in my care. They ask if I can guarantee their safety. I have to answer no. Sometimes they would give me their child. Other times they would say come back. I would come back a few days later and the family had already been deported.

Irena Sendler was a light in the darkness. Hundreds of people who attended the function at the Murdoch recital centre thanked the Israeli and Polish embassies for their fitting and moving tribute to her life.

The event was followed by a special announcement a few days later by the Prime Minister in my electorate of Melbourne Ports when she joined me, Cabinet Secretary Mark Dreyfus and the member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg at a very important museum in Selwyn Street, Elsternwick—the Jewish Holocaust Centre—to announce Australia's contribution to an initiative of the Polish government called the Auschwitz foundation project. Australia will join the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, France, New Zealand and Poland in providing funding to preserve this important site which is paradigm of evil for all people—Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Amongst the 330 attendees, I found it particularly moving that my friend the Bosnian ambassador, Damir Arnaut, was there, as were the US Consul General, the Polish Consul General, the French Consul General and the UK Consul General. The Prime Minster announced half a million dollars will be donated to the project, which shows that Australia has a stake in this important facility for memorialising what happened to all of those people. The announcement demonstrated that the Australian government recognises our survivors of the holocaust and the impact they have had on Australian society.

My good friend and sprightly survivor Abe Goldberg guided the Prime Minister around the centre's very moving museum. Together with the PM we paused with survivor Kita Altman, lighting a candle to honour the millions who perished in the Shoah. That is a Hebrew word meaning catastrophe or cataclysm. For the handful of survivors in Australia, the Prime Minister's visit, let alone her announcement, was a validation of their lives here in Australia and their survival of those terrible times. Hopefully I will visit Auschwitz-Birkenau later this year on an official visit to Poland and continue to cement our relationship and that important initiative on the site.

Gerard Henderson said on the ABC Insiders program that, 'At the commencement of the London Olympics it is important to remember. This statement of the Prime Minister's was a good decision. Her timing was excellent.'

As a side note, I want to reflect on a comment I made just before question time on the decision of the High Court not to extradite alleged war criminal Zentai to Hungary to face charges of murder. I want Hansard to record the name of the 18-year-old man—Peter Balazs—murdered in Budapest in November 1944. In Hungary at the time prior to 1945 in Nazi occupied Europe there was no charge of war crimes. Of course there was a charge of murder. In any system of justice, in my opinion, this man should have been extradited to face the charges that the Hungarian government has brought against him. The idea that in countries of Nazi occupied Europe there would have been a specific offence of war crimes prior to 1945, in my view, demonstrates such black-and-white legalism and ahistoricism that it is difficult to believe. I hope the Hungarian authorities have the courage to reframe their request for an extradition on the charges of murder in the terms that the High Court requires.