Flat White

Kristallnacht in Canberra

8 November 2018

2:42 PM

8 November 2018

2:42 PM

Peter Witting of Yarralumla, Canberra, 10 years old in 1938, remembered leading his nine-year-old sister to school, past destroyed shops owned by Jewish families, the ground underfoot thick with broken glass.

Kristallnacht 1938.

Ruth Landau, nine years old, like Peter’s sister, was taken by her father to see the desolation. “I want you to remember this,” her father said, himself on the run to evade capture and being sent to a concentration camp.

A world way, in Australia, William Cooper, a Yorta Yorta man, and a few mates, walked from Footscray to the German Consulate in Melbourne to register a protest about the treatment of Jews in Germany but were turned away at the gates. Two of Cooper’s descendants, Barbara McDonogh, Cooper’s great grand-daughter, and her son Michael, are here this evening, remembering their ancestor’s action.

On Wednesday evening Jews, Christians, Cooper’s family, Elena Kats-Chernin, one of Australia’s foremost composers, musicians and singers from both bodies and the German ambassador joined together at a multi-faith commemoration sponsored jointly by the National Jewish Memorial Centre and Wesley Uniting Church, named, appropriately, ‘To Mend Broken Crystal’.

Announced as “a gathering to hope together for peace and love” the occasion fulfilled its purpose, bringing together not just Jews and Christians, but Christians of other faiths.

“Where are the kneelers ?” a puzzled, obviously Catholic, older woman, whispered to her husband. “You know, they’re Protestants,” he replied, as they seated themselves in Uniting Church pews to listen to Rabbi Shimon Eddi and Reverend Ockert Meyer, who together conducted the service and introduced singers from the ACT Jewish Community and the Wesley Uniting Church Choir singing Adonai R’oi, the Twenty-third Psalm – The Lord is my shepherd – in Hebrew.

This was followed by Ruth Landau and Peter Willing, both firm-voiced, both standing, leaning only slightly on walking stick and walking frame, telling of their memories of Kristallnacht, followed by the prayers of El Male Rahamim and Kaddish.

Elena Kats-Chernin’s new musical composition, commissioned by former Consul-General and Trade Minister in Hong Kong, Professor Jocelyn Chey, was performed by Daniel Mendelow on trumpet and soprano Catherine Lukin with Brendon Lukin on organ.

Peter Willing, who was born in Gleivich (now Glivice, Poland) in 1928 still keeps his Reich-issued identity card, its cover bearing a ‘J’.

This evening, remembering the eightieth anniversary of that terrible night, he shares the hope and faith of those listening to him, that small boy who lived through those terrible times.

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