‘The face of humanity’

‘The face of humanity’

A new exhibition at NSW Parliament House honours 34 diplomats from 21 countries who collectively saved 200,000 Jews from the Nazis.

From left: Vic Alhadeff, Natalie Ward and Mark Sofer at the opening of the Beyond Duty exhibition at NSW Parliament House. Photo: Giselle Haber
From left: Vic Alhadeff, Natalie Ward and Mark Sofer at the opening of the Beyond Duty exhibition at NSW Parliament House. Photo: Giselle Haber

THE heroism of those who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust must be remembered “for generations to come”, NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel chair Natalie Ward MLC said at the Beyond Duty exhibition launch on Monday night.

The photographic exhibition, on display at NSW Parliament until February 28, honours 34 diplomats from 21 countries who together saved 200,000 Jews from the Nazis, earning the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Addressing the 150 ambassadors, consuls-general, MPs and leaders of civil society present, Ward spoke of visiting Yad Vashem just two weeks ago on a NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) MPs study tour.

“I witnessed Holocaust education through a lens I have never seen before,” she said.

“We saw the real faces of the men, women and children of the Holocaust; we heard the in-depth accounts of what they experienced in their final days; we looked into the eyes of families that were torn apart and generations that were erased.”

But she said that even at times when the world is filled with hate, violence and evil, “humanity’s benevolence will prevail” and the exhibition’s lessons “must be handed down to the next generation”.

Acknowledging the presence of survivor Marcel Weyland, saved by Chiune Sugihara, and Jan Anger, whose father worked with Raoul Wallenberg, Israeli ambassador Mark Sofer said those who saved Jews during the Shoah are owed a “debt of true gratitude”.

He said even today “diplomats are not free to say whatever they want, whenever they want”.

“In the late 1930s and 1940s this was even more the case. Consuls who went against the rigid regulations would lose their jobs and forfeit their entire careers,” he said.

“They were all under order not to issue visas of any kind, but especially not to Jews. And yet that is exactly what they did, with the vast proportion of them never having met a single Jewish person.

“They proved that in the face of evil, there is kindness, bravery and courage. They showed us the face of humanity in a time of inhuman onslaught.”

JBOD CEO Vic Alhadeff recounted the heroics of Turkish consul-general Selahattin Ulkumen, who is honoured in the exhibition.

In 1944 he saved 42 Turkish Jews on Rhodes Island from the gas chambers of Auschwitz, including five members of Alhadeff’s own family.

Ulkumen paid for his bravery by having his home bombed by the Germans, leaving his wife with fatal injuries.

Praising all the diplomats in the exhibition, Alhadeff said, “The lengths to which each of them went to save fellow human beings from being murdered is inspirational.”

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