Righting a past wrong
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Righting a past wrong

IT was a historic day for descendants of William Cooper (pictured), Holocaust survivors and members of the Jewish and indigenous communities last Thursday when they descended on Melbourne’s CBD to complete a humanitarian mission that the Aboriginal activist had embarked on 74 years earlier.

IT was a historic day for descendants of William Cooper (pictured), Holocaust survivors and members of the Jewish and indigenous communities last Thursday when they descended on Melbourne’s CBD  to complete a humanitarian mission that the Aboriginal activist had embarked on 74 years earlier.

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Just weeks after the horrors of Kristallnacht became known, Cooper – then secretary of the Australian Aborigines League – penned a petition protesting the “cruel persecution” of Jews in Germany, collecting nearly 2000 signatures.

On December 6, 1938, the 77-year-old led a three-hour protest march from Footscray to the German Consulate where consul-general D W Dreschler refused to accept the ­petition.

Last Thursday, Jewish, indigenous and other Australians walked in Cooper’s footsteps – from Footscray to the city – with Cooper’s 84-year-old grandson Uncle Boydie Turner joining the crowd to deliver a replica of his grandfather’s petition to Germany’s honorary consul-general, Michael Pearce.

An estimated 30 people began the walk at Footscray, with another 180 joining en route as they marched on the former address of the German embassy at Collins Street.

Cooper’s great-great-grandson, Kevin Russell, was at the front of the pack waving a trio of flags –  Aboriginal, Australian and Israeli – which were bunched at the top, where a Magen David was attached.

Some protesters carried a placard protesting Nazism.

At the completion of the walk, the crowd streamed onto the steps of the former German embassy (which now houses a restaurant and law offices).

Cameras took aim and all fell silent as an emotional Turner, donning a royal blue Jewish National Fund peak hat, read the petition aloud: “We protest wholeheartedly the cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government in Germany.”

Accepting the petition, Pearce disparaged the former German consul-general. “I am pleased to right the wrong committed by the German consul on this spot exactly 74 years ago when he refused to accept the original from Turner’s grandfather, William Cooper,” he said.

Pearce is awaiting a formal response to the petition from the German Foreign Office.

Holocaust survivor Willie Lermer was at the scene and told The AJN important life lessons are to be found in William Cooper’s story.

“From William, we can learn tolerance, to fight against hatred, and to appreciate every human being.”

Later that night, a new book was launched entitled William Cooper: Gentle Warrior, authored by psychologist Barbara Miller, at the Jewish Holocaust Centre.

The book, which traces Cooper’s humanitarian and political endeavours, including his support for persecuted Jews during WWII, was also launched at an Aboriginal Cooperative in Shepparton on December 4, and at the Sydney Jewish Museum, with Turner and other descendants and family members present, last Sunday.

TIMNA JACKS

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