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Public forms of holocaust remembrance in Jewish communities in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, 1945-96

Berman, Judith (1998) Public forms of holocaust remembrance in Jewish communities in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney, 1945-96. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Recent research has shown that different societies, and different groups within those societies, have remembered the Holocaust and interpreted its meanings in diverse ways according to their past experiences and current realities. This thesis is the first comprehensive analysis of the origins, establishment and nature of public, institutional forms of Holocaust remembrance in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney during the period 1945-96. My thesis examines whether selected Australian Jewish institutions within these three cities have conveyed shared or differing understandings of the Holocaust and its meanings, and whether these Australian experiences are similar to or different from the forms of Holocaust remembrance in Israel and the United States of America. A rich and varied collection of source material has been utilised for this thesis, new primary sources have been generated, and other primary sources used for the first time.

Three complementary forms of public Holocaust remembrance, each expressing a distinct mix of the memory and the history of the Holocaust, have been established in Jewish communities in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. For thirty years following the Second World War the annual Yom haShoah commemorations remained the main public form of Holocaust remembrance. From the mid-1970s, as the Holocaust began to be seen as a major element in Australian Jewish identity, formal teaching about the Holocaust was gradually introduced as a permanent part of the curricula of all mainstream Australian Jewish high schools. In more recent years, the emotion-filled Yom haShoah ceremonies and formal Holocaust education in Jewish day schools have been supplemented by Holocaust museums, which were established in Melbourne (1984), Perth (1990) and Sydney (1992).

These three Australian Jewish forms of Holocaust remembrance have concentrated primarily on the events which devastated European Jewry from 1933-45. Jews have been presented as the primary victims of Nazism, unique in being singled out for total, systematic annihilation. Less attention has been paid to the sufferings and tragedies of other peoples under Nazism, and to any universal aspects and lessons of the Holocaust.

My thesis argues that the basic parallels between the establishment, focus, and nature of these public forms of Holocaust remembrance suggest that there is a shared Australian Jewish understanding of the Holocaust and its meanings. That shared understanding has emerged from similarities in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney Jewry’s past experiences and traditions, as well as current realities and needs. The continuing focus on the events which overwhelmed European Jewry between 1933-45 has fulfilled the perceived needs of Jewish culture, and of Australian Jewry’s disproportionately large number of Holocaust survivors, whose priority has been to ensure that knowledge and remembrance of the Holocaust is transmitted to future generations of Jews. Remembrance of the unique fate of their Jewish brethren has served to promote Australian Jewish identity and unity, two factors perceived as essential by the inward-looking Jewish communities in Australia, intensely concerned about Jewish survival in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Moreover, the Zionist orientation of Australian Jewry has meant that commemorative developments in Israel have given direction to, and further encouraged common approaches to Holocaust remembrance in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

Fifty years after the destruction of European Jewry, as the generation of survivors of the Holocaust is slowly disappearing, there is evidence that their children and grandchildren will assume responsibility for preserving the memory of the Holocaust by committing themselves to the perpetuation of these public forms of Holocaust remembrance in the future.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Hooper, John and Bosworth, Richard
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