“IT’S hard for someone to digest what the Holocaust was but you sit down with somebody like Peter Halas, you actually feel that it’s real,” the chair of the NSW Community of South Sudanese and Other Marginalised Areas (CSSOMA), Mawat Majok, told The AJN this week.
Majok, who was a child in South Sudan during the time of the civil war there, seeing most of his family murdered, spent eight years in a refugee camp in Kenya before eventually settling in Australia.
He recently took part in the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD)’s We Are All Sydney (WAAS) program for leaders of diverse communities, which included a tour of the Sydney Jewish Museum and a Zoom session with Halas, a child Holocaust survivor whose mother and grandparents were murdered by the Nazis.
Finding common ground in their experiences, the two men subsequently had lunch together and have struck up a unique friendship.
Majok, who said his own experiences allowed him to relate to what he saw at the museum, said the pair also shared similarities in that they arrived in Australia with nothing.
“He talked to me about when he first arrived here in Australia, he didn’t know English, he started looking for a job, he started working hard until now. He established himself,” Majok said.
“I was telling him the same. I came [in 2003] with only a paper, written by the government to come to Australia, that’s all I had. I felt lost, I didn’t know what would happen next.”
Halas reached out recently when he heard there had been flooding in South Sudan to check if Majok’s parents and relatives were safe, and the pair plan to catch up with their families – Majok is married with three children – before the end of January.
Halas told The AJN that Majok “is a very engaging, very nice young man”.
“He has a very sad story and he’s done exceptionally well,” he said.
“I promised to take him and his family out on my son’s boat one day when I get back to Sydney so I can keep the relationship going.”
JBOD community relations and policy manager Lynda Ben Menashe, who is responsible for the WAAS program, said at the graduation dinner for its 2020 cohort, “It is both a pleasure and a privilege for our Jewish community to forge new and deeper bonds of friendship with so many emerging and established leaders.
“Bonds built on mutual respect, shared interests and a unity of purpose to make this city which we all live in a better and safer place for all of us.”