Yom Hashoah LGBTIQ commemoration

MemorialOn the evening of April 11, 2018, the Sydney Jewish Museum held a Yom Hashoah commemoration in collaboration with Dayenu and the Pride History Group, to remember the homosexual victims of the Holocaust. The ceremony began at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Holocaust Memorial, located in Green Park, across the road from the Museum.

The ceremony was led by Emanuel Synagogue's Rabbi Jaqueline Nino and the Great Synagogue's Rabbi Ben Elton and was followed by a panel discussion at the Museum.
The event was in addition to the events commemorating Jewish victims that are held each year.

Following is the text of their speeches:

Speech by Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio at the LGBTIQ Holocaust Memorial

I look at the cracked, age spotted photo, one of the few pieces of concrete evidence. Faces turned towards the camera, gaunt, haunted eyes, blank yet at the same time filled with fear, pain, suffering. Striped clothing hangs from their bones as they huddle together, trying to shelter, escape, shrink into themselves so nobody notices, nobody sees. Two men link arms, one holding the other, willing him to remain upright, to remain strong. On the corner of their shirts a pink triangle, denoting them as other. Amongst the non Jewish prisoners, the most cruel and barbaric treatment was saved for them, “extermination through work” found them in the pits of clay, like pharaoh’s slaves, carting, hauling, digging, creating edifices for their tormentors. 60% did not survive, more than amongst any group in Germany other than the Jews. Their bodies were not their own, subject to horrific experiments, castration, sexual crimes of the most heinous kind all reserved for them. They suffered and the haunted eyes in the photo speak to us, plead with us, to remember, to understand, to know, to tell their story. But the pages of history for too long were silent. After the suffering, the few who survived the concentration camps returned to a world which shunned them, pushed them to the corners or worse, arrested and imprisoned them to be further humiliated, tortured and murdered. Families ostracized their own children, shut them out of their homes and they faced continued persecution. These souls were not counted in the victims of the Holocust and their struggle did not end with the opening of the doors to freedom.

The silence cries to us from the unwritten pages of history, calls upon us to tell their story, to remember, to share in their struggle, to honour and acknowledge them. It is upon us to reach into the silence, to find the words and speak them. But it is hard. The last survivor who wore the pink triangle died in 2011, speaking his story only a year before his death. Others, afraid and traumatised were trapped in a prison of silence and the world did not reach in, cradle them in loving arms and offer to listen to bear witness. And so we are left with so many untold stories blown into the winds of oblivion and so much of what we know is in the voice of the perpetrators. We must now hold out our arms to those lost souls, embrace them and remember, honour and never forget.

Before the war 100s of 1000s of Germans identified as LGBTQI, there was a flourishing of communal life, but at the same time an insidious darkness was swirling at their feet, invading their safety, and soon it would engulf them in a storm of hate. Lists were being kept, people recorded, noted, their demise engraved in the ink on the page. The law was changed, it was an offense not only to act but also to look, think, feel to be. People were arrested on the most flimsy of evidence; a word, a glance, a thought. 100,000 arrested, 50,000 imprisoned and 15,000 sent to the concentration camps, marked with the pink triangle, tortured, humiliated, murdered. There were others branded with the green or black triangle, each one persecuted because of their sexual orientation, their gender presentation. The numbers of survivors is not known, the number murdered not known, so much unspoken, so much untold.

And so today we gather to remember to bear witness, to speak the words and say the prayers which will begin to tell the stories. There is a story in the rabbinic tradition about a great wise man who would go into a special place in the forest there he would light a fire, recite the ancient words and his prayers would be answered. In time, the wise man died and the community wanted to continue his prayer but they did not know how to light the fire. So they went to the place in the woods, they recited the prayer and it was enough. Soon the community no longer knew the words but they knew the place in the forest, so they went and it was enough. But then they no longer knew the place in the forest, they did not know the words, they did not know how to light the fire, all they knew was the story, and they hoped it would be enough. And it was.

We don’t know the numbers, we don’t know all the names, we don’t know it all but we do know the story and if we tell it, if we acknowledge, honour, pay tribute and remember it will be enough.

The words inscribed on this memorial read:

We remember you who have suffered or died at the hands of others, 

women who have loved women; 

men who have loved men; 

and all those who have refused the roles others have expected us to play. 

Nothing shall purge your death from our memories.

So today we honour, we remember, we grieve, we mourn and we tell the story of each soul, each gay, transgender, bisexual and lesbian who was persecuted, who suffered who died and we vow to stand together against injustice, against those discriminate, who hate. We do this for every soul who was persecuted because of their sexuality because of their gender presentation. We vow to remember and to work to ensure that their suffering is not forgotten. We vow to join hands and make this world a more kind and gentle place for all by speaking out against injustice, by seeing the suffering of others, listening to the stories, and acknowledging there is so much yet to be done, so much healing. The artist said that the soft pink light of the triangle was to represent hope and life, we are blessed to stand here with hope and life, hope for a better tomorrow and life to join hands and create the future for which we yearn. 

Zichronam Livrecha, may each of the LGBTQI souls who have been lost forever be a blessing     

Speech by Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton at the LGBTIQ Holocaust Memorial

Friends, good evening.

Every year I attend and take part in events to commemorate the Shoah and show respect to its victims. Last Saturday at The Great Synagogue as part of the memorial prayers that are recited on the last day of each festival we remembered the martyrs of the Holocaust, and this coming Saturday, at the end of the week in which we mark Yom HaShoah we will offer special prayers again. As Jews we mourn our own, but we must also recall the memories and grieve the murders, of others who perished at the hands of the Nazis and their accomplices, and that it what we are doing this evening as we stand at this Sydney Gay and Lesbian Holocaust Memorial, and commemorate all those from each of the communities now described as LGBTIQ who perished between 1933 and 1945, some of whom, of course, were also Jewish. I commend the Sydney Jewish Museum for organising this event, and I am grateful and honoured for the invitation to take part.

I come as a human being, mourning the destruction of other human beings, a Jew, who come from a community that has been oppressed and therefore has empathy with others who are oppressed, and as Rabbi, trying to uphold and to teach the Divine truth, that all people are created in the image of God, and when we harm another person we desecrate the Almighty. As a Rabbi, I come with the Torah, God’s holy Word, and in that spirit I share words of Torah tonight.

We are currently in the period between Pesach, Passover, the celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, and Shavuot, Pentecost, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. This time is known as Sefirat HaOmer, the Counting of the Omer, because we count the forty nine days between the two festivals. Each night we recite a blessing a announce the new day, one day closer to our arrival at the slopes of Sinai and to receiving the Torah again.

Forty nine days comprises seven weeks of seven days, and the number seven has always possessed deep religious significance in our tradition. The Jewish mystics associated the days of Counting the Omer with seven of the Sefirot, the Kabbalistic emanations of God through metaphysical and physical worlds. Each week is identified with one of the Sefirot, and each day within that week, so that every one of the forty nine days has a unique combination of two Sefirot in a particular order.

Jewish days start at night, so as it gets dark, the day of the Omer that we are entering has the identity Hod Shebigvurah, Hod is humility and Gevurah is Justice. Hod Shebigvurah is therefore Humility in Justice. That should be a guide to how we approach tonight’s commemoration. We come here motivated by justice. Those who were killed because they were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or because their sexuality or gender did not fit with Nazi ideology, have a right to be remembered and mourned, by all people who oppose bigotry, intolerance and the murder of the innocent. Gathering here and holding this ceremony is an act of gevurah, of justice.

But we must enter this moment of justice with profound humility. First, because in the past the commemoration of LGBTIQ victims of the Holocaust has not been as central as it ought to have been. These murdered souls were not given the respect they deserved, certainly not outside their own communities, that was a failing and should be a source of regret and sorrow. Secondly, because after 1945 in many countries around the world, those who fought against the Nazis as well as with them, LGBTIQ individuals were persecuted, punished, subjected to cruel procedures, driven to despair, self-loathing and suicide. Finally, even today, homophobic bullying, hate crimes and discrimination remains all too prevalent. LGBTIQ people suffer disproportionately from homelessness, poverty, and mental and physical health problems. We cannot spend time patting ourselves on the back as modern and enlightened individuals while these injustices remain in place. Now remains a time for Hod, extreme humility in that face of what still needs to be done. I hope that this evening will be a beginning and not an end, so that there is regular, widespread and appropriate commemoration, that we continue to tackle intolerance and prejudice in the present just as much as we deplore it in the past, and that the Jewish and LGBTIQ communities will embrace each other as bearers of past tragedy, who are working to eradicate the evils through which they have suffered.

I hope that in all we do, we will follow Gevurah, authentic justice, and always be informed by Hod, proper humility, and that together we will build societies in which every one of us is truly valued.  




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