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Echoes of a darker time

Michael Gawenda
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Echoes of a darker time

Published: 17 October 2023

Last updated: 19 March 2024

The snuff videos posted by Hamas of the murders of Jews have terrible echoes of the Holocaust films made by Nazis, writes MICHAEL GAWENDA.

It is a blissful day in Melbourne. I am once again, as I was so often in the past, when I was a journalist reporting the world as best I could, struck by the simultaneous gorgeousness of today — the bay green water and the sunshine and the blue, blue sky and my fellow travellers along the boardwalk in shorts and t-shirts and sleeping babies in prams pushed along, I notice, by grandmothers and even grandfathers like me — and the black darkness of the other place where today I both live and don’t live.

I have avoided watching or being exposed to the snuff videos posted on social media by the Hamas murderers of Jews for the purpose of …well really, I don’t know the purpose. References to the Holocaust are mostly at best ignorant, but the filming of rapes and executions, the murder of babies some of them beheaded, while their mothers watch on before they too are murdered, all this filming and posting and celebrating the murder of a 1000 Jews and counting has echoes. Terrible echoes.

Those black and white photos of naked Jewish women clutching naked babies standing on the edge of a mass grave with men armed with pistols lined up behind them in some forest in Ukraine or Belarus or Lithuania, photos of old men and women naked and about to be shot, those photos — and some black and white films —were taken by Nazi photographers and their local helpers.

The plan was for these photos and films, had the Nazis won the war, to mount them as an exhibition somewhere — a museum of the annihilation of the Jews perhaps? — once the war was won and the Jews had been murdered. It was their job, heaven help us.

There are echoes.

Here in my place, my Australia, there have been echoes of that darker time my family, mother and father and sisters, lived through, fleeting but somehow searing.

Every night, members of my family in Israel talk about these echoes, describe how fearful they are and disoriented and in shock and how they have watched the snuff videos, perhaps many of them and how things will never be the same again and how for the first time since  their grandparents and their parents, Holocaust survivors, arrived in Israel in 1947 from a displaced persons camp in Austria, they feel unsafe, frightened, helpless.

I can’t help thinking, as I walk this morning in the warm sunshine, about luck and fate and sliding doors and God and whether He has agency in this world. I am thinking, about how our families, our parents and grandparents, when we were together in that Austrian DP camp, made those decisions — some voluntary, some forced, that gave me this home by the beach and the bay and everything that today is beautiful before my eyes and gave them, those smuggled into Palestine in 1947 because they had nowhere else that would take them, today and yesterday and the day before that, videos and photographs and sirens and gunfire and echoes of a darkness they had somehow managed to survive.

I am not saying that my family was given a better deal by God or by fate or by some cosmic raffle than my family in Israel, even if I am grateful that I live here, that I am Australian and that my children are not being called up by the IDF and that gangs of killers roaming my streets killing Jews is a fantasy of the neo Nazis among us. They are living in fear and with grief, my Israeli family, but Israel is their home and their fate because they love the place and have no other home and know of no other possible fate.

Here in my place, my Australia, there have been echoes of that darker time my family, mother and father and sisters, lived through, fleeting but somehow searing. When some people at the pro-Palestine and anti-Zionist rallies chanted death to the Jewsdeath to the Zionist pigs and Jews should be gassed, I did wonder how it was possible for Jews to be at these rallies, to speak at these rallies when fellow Jews, 1000 of them, had been murdered and there were Jews still hidden away and full of fear as Hamas murderers continued their "holy" work in those southern Israeli towns and villages.

I could not look at these rallies without wondering how many of them had felt anything like horror and pity for the slaughtered Jews

I cannot think of anything to say about the root causes of the Hamas slaughter of Jews. I am rendered speechless by this question. And every attempt I have read to answer it has struck me as obscene because the question, at this time, when the dead are not yet buried and scores of women and children are being held hostage in Gaza, many of them beaten and bloodied, is utterly obscene.

Really, the pro-Palestinian marchers and flare lighters and chanters, especially the Jews among them, can’t see the obscenity of the question about root causes, the question they ask when they can’t bring themselves to mourn in silence preferably, for an hour or two, maybe a day even, what the Hamas murderers have perpetrated?

People are dying in Gaza, men and women and children and it is right for Penny Wong now to call on Israel to do everything it can to protect civilians in Gaza and it is right to work for a corridor for humanitarian aid and for escape routes for Gazans — possibly through the border controlled by Egypt. Only the morally corrupted, would remain untouched by the plight of the people of Gaza.

But in truth, I have lived these days in Melbourne and in Israel and I do not pretend, not now and not yet, to feel the sort of pain and fear for the people of Gaza that I feel for those slaughtered Jews and their families and the hostages and their families and my family living with those echoes of what might seem like a distant past but which for them, sometimes, feels like it was just yesterday.

Days have passed. The blue skies have turned dark grey this morning. It’s raining. The news cycle is relentless in its ferociousness. It is in perpetual motion. The past, even the past of a week ago, a day ago, an hour ago is vanished. I understand this. I have lived with it all my working life. We journalists move on and leave the wrecked lives behind. There are new wrecked lives, new horrors. In the new media time, the news cycle isn’t even a cycle. It’s a great beast that has to be fed every minute, every second. It serves up a fragmented shattered world.

I speak with my family in Israel, and they are living outside the news cycle. Their world does not change with every new social media wild and unhinged post, with every hourly update on the news feeds of the mainstream media. They are trapped in grief and fear. People they knew were murdered by the Hamas killers. Two young people at the rave who were school friends of one of their teenage daughters. They lived just up the road from my family. They do not want to hear me say that what is happening now in Gaza is a humanitarian disaster. That the innocents are dying, women and children.  Be with us, my family demand! Feel our pain! Do not abandon us!

There were pro-Palestinian protests in Melbourne and Sydney over the weekend and in cities around the world. They were apparently "peaceful", but peace is not what they were protesting for. Chants of "from the river to the sea" are not chants for peace. I could not look at these rallies without wondering how many of them had felt anything like horror and pity for the slaughtered Jews, murdered by the Hamas killers and torturers.

How many had been reduced to silence, the silence of grieving when they first read and heard about what had been done. Not many, I fear. Try as I might, I cannot understand this. I cannot bear it.

Michael Gawenda's book My Life as A Jew is published by Scribe and available here. A podcast interview with Julie Szego is available at this link.


The Hamas attack wasn’t the Holocaust. But it must be understood in terms of Jewish trauma (JTA)
Historical analogies carry risks, but ignoring history denies Jews their humanity, writes the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute.

Photo: Background, mass shooting at Babi Yar, photographed by Nazi perpetrators, front image, an elderly Holocaust survivor forced to pose by Hamas terrorist before being kidnapped on October 7.

About the author

Michael Gawenda

Michael Gawenda is one of Australia’s best-known journalists and authors. In a career spanning more than four decades, Michael has been a political reporter, foreign correspondent in London and Washington, and was editor and editor in chief of The Age from 1997 to 2004. He has won numerous journalism awards including three Walkley awards.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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