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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 22 Feb 2019 07:52 PM and ends Sat 23 Feb 2019 08:50 PM
י"א חשון ה' אלפים תשס"ט
Aborigines' League founder William Cooper.
IN 1938, William Cooper was 77 years old. No one would have begrudged the Australian Aborigines' League founder, a lifelong indigenous rights campaigner, if he had put his feet up and retired.
But a new, non-Aboriginal cause spurred an angry Mr Cooper into action.
Tomorrow marks the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or Night of the Broken Glass, when Nazis went on a rampage through Jewish communities in Germany and Austria.
In two days, November 9 and 10, 1938, 91 Jews were murdered and 30,000 deported to concentration camps. Hundreds of synagogues and homes were burnt down and stores were looted.
Officially, according to the Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies, Kristallnacht was launched in retaliation for the assassination on November 7 of Ernst vom Rath, a German embassy official in Paris, by a young Jewish refugee named Herschel Grynszpan, but the Nazis used it to institute more severe anti-Jewish measures.
The director of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, Geoffrey Zygier, said few people overseas bothered to protest the atrocity.
But William Cooper did, in a small but powerful way. On December 6, 1938, he led a delegation of Aborigines who walked from his Footscray home to the German consulate in Albert Road, South Melbourne.
The Argus newspaper reported the next day: "A deputation from the Australian Aborigines' League, which visited the German consulate yesterday, with the intention of conveying to the consul (Dr R.W. Drechsler) a resolution condemning the persecution of Jews and Christians in Germany, was refused admittance.
"The resolution voiced, 'on behalf of the Aborigines of Australia, a strong protest at the cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government of Germany, and asks that this persecution be brought to an end'."
On December 2 at state Parliament House, the Israeli ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, will present Mr Cooper's grandson, Boydie Turner, with a certificate stating that 70 Australian trees will be planted at the Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance centre in Jerusalem in Mr Cooper's honour.
Premier John Brumby will speak and Mr Zygier's sister-in-law, singer Deborah Conway, will perform with an Aboriginal artist.
Mr Zygier said it was remarkable that a man still fighting for basic rights for indigenous Australians, such as citizenship, the vote, and health care made time and had compassion for another suffering group.
Great-grandson Kevin Russell said it was sad that William Cooper was not well known and feted by the wider mainstream Australian community.
"He was a fighter, he was a leader, he was a visionary, and the Jewish community acknowledge what he was, who he was, what he stood for."
The Jewish and Aboriginal communities have forged strong ties. In 1985, Jewish businessmen Ron Merkel and Ron Castan helped Koori leader Jim Berg form the Koori Heritage Trust.
The Gandel and Pratt families helped build the trust's King Street headquarters and funded history and education programs.
Mr Zygier described a "remarkable synergy" between the two groups. "The Jewish community is an ancient and oppressed people, as the Aborigines are; we were the indigenous people of the land of Israel who were kicked out of our land 2000 years ago."