Israel honour Aborigine Nazi fighter

By Dan Goldberg, August 5, 2010

Yad Vashem will for the first time honour an indigenous Australian, who protested against the "cruel persecution" of the Jews by the Nazis.

Researchers at Israel's national Holocaust memorial have spent much of the last year verifying accounts of the protest led by the late William Cooper, the then 77-year-old head of the Australian Aborigines League, who delivered a petition to the German consulate in Melbourne on December 6, 1938 - just weeks after the Kristallnacht pogrom.

News of a memorial and garden planned for the entrance to Yad Vashem was released late last week by Albert Dadon, the chair of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange, who was inspired to ensure that Mr Cooper's "brave act" will be forever remembered after he visited the museum last year with Aboriginal activist Warren Mundine and Julia Gillard, now Australia's first female Prime Minister.

"Both Warren and I were following our allocated guide when we heard him say, 'You Australians should know that your country held the only private protest against the Germans following Kristallnacht'," Mr Dadon said.

"Warren and I became quite emotional. I am not sure who suggested that Yad Vashem should house a memorial to William Cooper for his brave act. But I do remember saying that AICE would take up the challenge."

The memorial will be unveiled at a ceremony on December 15.

"I believe a garden in the memory of William Cooper at Yad Vashem is a just recognition of his courage, and will be there to remind people that individuals and minorities can and must speak out when the rest of the world stays silent," Mr Dadon said.,

Last year trees in Mr Cooper's honour were planted by the Jewish National Fund in the Martyrs' Forest outside Jerusalem.

Mr Cooper's remarkable protest in 1938 came at the same time he was protesting against injustices to Aboriginal Australians.

"He would have experienced ... a similar genocide right here in Australia, so he had a very firm empathy with the Jewish people," Mr Cooper's grandson, Kevin Russell, was quoted as saying this week by Australian Associated Press. "He was a visionary, and indigenous Australia is crying out for his story to be told."

Last updated: 4:05pm, October 5 2010