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Liberation of Auschwitz

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (15:52): I rise today to acknowledge the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. On 27 January this year, 200 Auschwitz camp survivors attended a ceremony to share their stories, pay their respects to loved ones and warn of rising hatred and antisemitism in the world. Survivors returned to the very place their loved ones perished and where they witnessed unthinkable evils. Revisiting the death camp would have been a very traumatic experience for those survivors, but they did so to remind people of the horrors of the past to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated in the future.

Seventy-five years on, Auschwitz remains a symbol of terror and cruelty. Within the space of 4½ years, 1.1 million women, men and children were systematically murdered, one million of these being Jewish people. It is difficult to imagine how such horrors can be forgotten, but at the ceremony last Monday, leaders raised concerns that they have witnessed 'open and brazen spread of anti-Jewish hatred' and other hate crimes in the world again.

Many survivors, now in their 90s, fear that history will be forgotten and that individuals will make the mistake of indifference. During the ceremony, Mr Marian Turski, a 93-year-old Polish Jewish survivor, said he wanted to pass on an important message to his daughter, his grandchildren and to their peers: to not be indifferent when a minority is being discriminated against.

Mr Turski explained that the destruction of Jewish people began in small, incremental steps: first by banning Jewish people from sitting on certain benches, then from entering certain swimming pools and from joining German singing associations. Unfortunately, these discriminatory acts were observed with indifference because of their seemingly inconsequential and minor nature. Jewish people were stigmatised and alienated, and this behaviour soon became normalised to the victims, their perpetrators and bystanders. Before they knew it, Jewish people were being deported to Auschwitz and other concentration and extermination camps.

Mr Turski quoted Austrian president Alexander van der Bellen with his profound statement that 'Auschwitz did not descend from the sky', warning people to not be indifferent to behaviour that discriminates minorities, as the horrors of Auschwitz can happen anywhere in the world. Hearing firsthand from survivors like Mr Turski is invaluable. Their messages are powerful and moving, reminding us that as individuals we are all responsible for ensuring that history does not repeat itself and that we simply cannot be complacent when we witness injustices.

As many survivors are now in their 90s, they have acknowledged that it is likely they will not be around for the next commemoration, so it is crucial that as individuals we uphold and pass on their important messages for our present generation and future generations to come.