Saturday, July 31, 2010

Israel honours Australian Aboriginal elder for defying Nazis

From: The Australian July 31, 2010, by John Lyons :

AN Aboriginal elder is about to make history by becoming the first indigenous Australian to be honoured with his own memorial and garden at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.

Alfred Turner, grandson of Aboriginal elder William Cooper (inset), in Melbourne yesterday. Picture: Aaron Francis Source: The Australian

(also see this previous posting on JIW, and links listed below to source documents about the history)

Following a year-long examination of records, historians at Yad Vashem have approved the memorial for the late William Cooper, who led a protest march in Melbourne against the treatment of Jews in Germany only weeks after Kristallnacht in 1938.

The memorial will be the Entrance Gate Garden at the entrance of the huge Yad Vashem complex.

Yad Vashem receives about one million visitors a year -- about 600,000 from overseas and 400,000 from inside Israel -- so the positioning of the memorial means a large number of people will be exposed to the story of Cooper.

...Cooper, from Footscray in Melbourne's western suburbs, was secretary of the Australian Aborigines League and it appears he had seen reports in Melbourne's papers about Kristallnacht and gathered as many people as he could for a protest.

On December 6, 1938, they walked down Collins Street to the German consulate where they attempted to present a petition to the German consul-general, D.W. Dreschler. Dreschler would not take the petition but the protest caused a stir. The petition protested the "cruel persecution" of Jews in Germany.

The decision to approve the memorial dedication follows a year of representations by Albert Dadon, a leading Melbourne businessman and founder and chair of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange.

The ceremony to open the memorial will be held on December 15. Yad Vashem has a thorough approach to examining the many submissions it receives each year.

The process began after Dadon visited Yad Vashem last year with Warren Mundine, former national president of the ALP and now head of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce. ...Mundine this week described Cooper as "a giant".

"If only more people in the world had stood up in the 1930s like William Cooper," he said.

"What he did standing up for Jewish people makes him a giant among people."

...Cooper was born on a mission in Echuca, Victoria, in 1861 -- which means he was 77 when he led the protest.

He lived and worked on a reserve in the area doing everything from general labourer to picking up wool. He was said to be a good fisherman, at one stage opening a fish shop in Yarrawonga.

According to the Collaborating for Indigenous Rights website of the National Museum of Australia, he moved to Melbourne in 1933, aged 72, with others of Yorta Yorta descent, where they formed the Australian Aborigines League.  ...Cooper dedicated years to a petition to King George V asking for Aboriginal representation in federal parliament...

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