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2018 Annual Shoah Memorial Service (19 March 2018)

David Schütz, Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission


The annual Christian ecumenical Shoah Memorial Service was held Monday 19 March 2018 at Melbourne Grammar School. The evening was organised by a joint committee of members of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne Committee for Interfaith Relations, the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission, and the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania Working Group on Christian-Jewish Relations.

Approximately 100 people gathered in a darkened St Peter’s Chapel and were led in prayer by the Melbourne Grammar School chaplain, Rev Hans Christiansen, and in song by a choir of senior boys who sang Psalm 22 and the Anthem ‘Long since in Egypt’s plenteous land’.

Students of MGS draped the altar in a black cloth symbolising death, a yellow star such as that with which Jews were marked in Nazi Germany, and a white cloth symbolising holiness and rebirth. Six candles were lighted, one for each of the million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and a final candle, the Candle of Hope.

The service is a Christian commemoration of the tragedy of the Holocaust, but a Shoah survivor is always invited to speak and a member of the Jewish community recites the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for those who have died. This year Philip Bliss OAM, chair of the Council of Christians and Jews, prayed the Kaddish.

The repeated quiet ‘Amens’ from the congregation during the Hebrew recitation indicated that there were a number of guests present from the Jewish community. The ‘Amens’ resounded even more strongly when Dr Bliss recited the Kaddish again in English.

The Shoah survivor – the voice of memory – who spoke this year was Sarah Saaroni OAM. Now in her 90’s, Sarah was a child in Poland during the Second World War. Sarah spoke at last year’s Shoah Memorial Service too – an indication that as time goes on there are fewer and fewer voices among us who can recall for us those horrific events from their personal experience. That makes opportunities like this all the more precious.

A well-known Melbourne sculptor, Sarah said that it was not until 1983 that she found herself able to recount those memories – and she did it first in her sculpture, and only later, in 1987, gave voice to her memories by writing her biography.

She told about her separation from her parents and family, whom she never saw again, about her hiding as a Christian child, about being found and caught by the Gestapo, about escaping and being caught again, and about her final escape on the way to a concentration camp before the liberation of Poland by the Russians.

She spoke about seeing people killed and about people doing things that no one could have imagined. She tells her story of ‘growing up’ simply and calmly. It is all the more horrifying for that.

Sarah’s story was followed by a Year 12 student of Melbourne Grammar School, Jamarl Firebrace, who spoke about what it meant to be a part of Australia’s first peoples. He drew connections between the Jewish experience and the experience of his ancestors – most recently of his grandmother – during the time when Aboriginals were not recognised by many as human beings let alone as citizens of our nation.

He also spoke of William Cooper, the aboriginal Melbourne Aboriginal political activist and community leaders who was a lone voice speaking out in 1938 against the Kristallnacht atrocities in Germany.

Other ministers who participated in the service were Uniting Church minister Rev Julie Hall, Chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee Fr John Dupuche, and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Bishop Mark Edwards.

The service ended with the singing of Psalm 23 (Crimond) and the praying of the Lord’s Prayer before Bishop Mark blessed the congregation with the words of Aaron from Numbers 6:24-26.

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