The Holocaust was not just a crime committed against the Jewish people, it was a crime against humanity.
Roma, Sinti, homosexuals, people with disabilities, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political and religious leaders were all victims of the evil, brutal Nazi killing machine.
By the end of the war, 6 million Jews were murdered, including 1.5 million children.
If a minute’s silence was observed for each victim, the silence would last more than 11 years.
It was the darkest hour of mankind that forced the international community to pledge “never again”.
But with time, memories fade, events are forgotten and most of those who bore witness are no longer here to tell their stories.
This is why 27 January, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, is so important.
It is a date designated by the United Nations General Assembly after a resolution passed in 2005, co-sponsored by Australia.
It marks the day in 1945 that the largest concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by the Soviet Red Army.
It is a day we honour the memories of the innocent who were murdered.
When US General Dwight Eisenhower liberated the concentration camps and saw the death and destruction caused by Nazi forces, he said there would come a time when the people of the world would not believe what had occurred and would deny the Holocaust ever happened.
We need to work together to prevent such historical revisionism from ever taking hold and better educate the community about the lessons of the past.
It was a message Paul Keating also conveyed back in 1994 when he opened a Children of the Holocaust exhibition at the Australian War Memorial.
In commencing his speech, then prime minister Keating declared that he was “daunted by the requirement to speak. To be required to speak about the unspeakable.”
At that time, Mr Keating said the exhibition was so important because it “forces us to think, forces us to remember. It reminds us of how profoundly important it is to keep alive the memory and forever reaffirm the reality of the Holocaust. It reminds us that those people who keep it alive do so for all of us, not just for the Jewish people and the survivors and descendants of the others who were persecuted, but for all of us.”
This is why federal, state and territory governments, regardless of their political persuasion, are joining forces in a bipartisan way to support the establishment and upgrading of Holocaust museums around the country, promoting tolerance and understanding while combating racism and anti-Semitism.
Through literature, testimonies and other exhibits, every Australian, young and old, can and should have the opportunity to learn what happened.
Holocaust education should be taught in Australian classrooms so the children of today and tomorrow learn from the past and work towards a brighter, more tolerant and inclusive future.
Both of us have had families who perished in the Holocaust.
The Frydenberg family lost great-grandparents and great-aunts but were also fortunate to have a great-aunt, Mary Frydenberg, survive. Every day she lived was a miracle, but it was with her own history and scars. And it was with her own number tattooed onto her arm from her time in Auschwitz.
My wife Amie’s grandmother survived but lost both of her parents and nine siblings. My wife’s grandfather lost his mother and eight siblings.
Gerda Cohen, the grandmother of Josh Burns, was four when she fled Hitler’s Germany in October 1938. It was the week before Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass. She fled because even at just four years of age, she was deemed unequal and impure.
While she was one of the truly lucky ones, her grandparents and extended family were not as fortunate. They were among the first to be sent to the Auschwitz death camp.
Our families’ stories are not unique but reflect the background of a generation who fled persecution arriving in Australia to seek a better life.
We have seen the consequences of ignorance and hate.
We have seen the crimes that began with dehumanising one’s fellow countrymen.
But this experience has instilled in us a deep commitment to multiculturalism and diversity.
We differ in our political membership but we share a pride in the many cultures, religions and identities that make up Australia.
It is here in our great country that many survivors were welcomed and finally found peace. As John Howard said as prime minister in 2007:
“Australians will never forget the unmitigated evil which led to the murder of 6 million Jews and countless thousands of others in Nazi concentration camps. I am proud of the fact that Australia was to become home for many Holocaust survivors.”
Walking through Auschwitz, you are commonly left with the eerie feeling of emptiness and disbelief.
That the so-called cultured people who produced Bach, Mozart and Weber could descend to such inhumanity themselves.
It is still hard to believe that it all has happened.
There is no defence for what took place.
But by learning from history and by promoting action, not indifference, we all have a role to play in ensuring that “never again” means exactly that.
On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, in this spirit, we political opponents come together with a shared message of humanity, history and the rejection of hate.
This opinion piece by Australia’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was first published in The Age on Wednesday, 27 January 2021.