Holocaust survivor and founder of the Moving Forward Together Association (MFTA), Ernie Friedlander, received the tremendous honour on November 9 of being nominated by the Australia Day Council for 2024 NSW Senior Australian of the Year.
Friedlander was one of just three people nominated for that award category, alongside Mid North Coast Refugee Support Group founder Tin Hta Nu, and Hunter Ageing Alliance co-founder Dr John Ward.
Friedlander has dedicated his life to spreading peace and harmony in society, particularly through his leadership role for MFTA – a not-for-profit organisation, under B’nai B’rith NSW’s wing, that he founded in 2005.
When creating MFTA, Friedlander sought to use his own extraordinary story of survival during the Holocaust – including a crucial individual decision by a German soldier to defy orders and spare his life – to inspire change in attitudes towards racism and prejudice, by fostering understanding, tolerance and respect through education and community projects, and school-based programs. After a 60 per cent spike in racist incidents early in the pandemic, the NSW Governor launched the Stop Racism Now campaign in 2021, teaching individuals how to combat racism.
With its track record in designing effective programs aimed at fostering communal harmony, MFTA created the 2023 Stop Racism Now social media outreach campaign, which won the NSW Premier’s Multicultural Award for Community Campaign of the Year in August 2023.
With more than 40,000 students actively engaged in that campaign, it helped to encourage a shift of mindset from people being bystanders to upstanders, when coming across prejudice, racism and intolerance.
NSW Premier Chris Minns commented at that time, “Stop Racism Now shows us that powerful programs – when well thought out and executed in a manner that gets action – will work.”
Friedlander received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2007 for his services in combatting prejudice, and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 from the Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors.
National Australia Day Council CEO Mark Fraser congratulated the NSW nominees, describing all of them as “ordinary people doing the most extraordinary things”.
“They demonstrate selfless giving, commitment to excellence, passion for community, and leadership.”
The NSW winners for all Australian of the Year categories were announced at a ceremony on November 13, including Dr Ward in the senior category.
The national award winners will be revealed on January 25 in Canberra.