April 2015

The Nation Reviewed

For the children

By Jaye Kranz
For the children
Child survivors of the Holocaust meet in Melbourne

In September 2013, a tri-colour ad in the Australian Jewish News asked in bold all-caps: “Are you or is a member of your family a child survivor of the Holocaust?” It continued, “Urgently seeking the number of child survivors … as part of negotiations with the German Government for restitution.” At the bottom of the ad was a yellow rose with a stem of twisted barbed wire, the emblem of the Melbourne chapter of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust.

Phone calls and emails flooded in. Germany had been paying Holocaust reparations since 1953, but child survivors were yet to be recognised as a group. Last September, following sustained advocacy, and with survivor numbers dwindling, the German government agreed to establish a US$250 million worldwide fund for child survivors. When it came into operation earlier this year, Viv Parry, chairperson of the federation’s Melbourne chapter, called a meeting.

On a warm Sunday afternoon in February, potential recipients converge on Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick. After passing the eternal flame of remembrance, they buzz themselves in and take a left at security. Arrivals are greeted at the auditorium door with an info pack and invited to take their seats in tightly arranged rows of brown vinyl chairs. It’s slow going. The “children” shuffle past knees to empty seats, the less agile asking entire rows to move along. There’s a flurry of papers as people investigate their packs, each of which contains a 13-page application form, flyers about support services and a Jewish Care pen. Jewish Care is the local aged-care and welfare service that helps survivors with the claims process. They run out of packs early. Jewish Care’s bespectacled and suited chief operating officer apologises over the PA system. “We thought there might be 150 people interested.” There are more than 300 in the room.

Ludwig, 76, has come solo. He’s in a checked shirt and jeans and sports a large plaster on his left cheek. “My jaw sits on a chin rest a lot. I play violin. Sometimes it gets infected …” He’s been invited here, but he’s vague on the fund: “I have no idea about the money. I’m curious about the money.” He adds, unprompted, “If I can get the money, I’ll give it to charity.”

Ludwig spent most of the war years in Warsaw. “From the age of zero to six, I didn’t have a childhood. As a Jew, passing [myself] off as a Christian under German occupation, I had to be invisible. Every stranger was a potential deadly enemy. It wasn’t ideal.” Much later, in the 1970s, when he saw his son playing in the family’s sleepy Brighton cul-de-sac – “people liked him, they gave him apples” – he realised what he’d missed.

Parry, a woman in her 60s who is the daughter of a child survivor, takes to the podium. “Over 12 months ago, I was told that the World Federation was working on a submission to the German government to recognise the loss of childhood, loss of education, and ongoing trauma of child survivors of the Holocaust.” She holds an application form in the air. “Well, here we are! I know that no amount of compensation can stop the memories which cloud each of you day and night. But this validates, finally, after 70-plus years, your suffering and the trauma you personally went through.”

At the words “70-plus years”, Ludwig chuckles. “What I find peculiar,” he says, “is that the money becomes available when half of the child survivors are dead.” He gestures with his palm, presenting the ageing demographic in the room as evidence. A recent report calculated that in Israel alone a Holocaust survivor dies about every 45 minutes. The average age of those remaining is 85.

Next up, Maria, a young Jewish Care rep with a thick Russian accent, launches straight into the eligibility criteria: “This fund is open to Jewish Nazi victims born Jan 1st, 1928 or later and who suffered one of the following types of persecution.” She lists the accepted types: time spent in concentration camps or ghettos, living “in hiding or living under false identity for at least six months in Nazi-occupied or Axis countries …”

Page seven of the form leaves room for survivors to detail their specific childhood histories: surviving on acorns in the forest alone; living for years in a small underground dugout; hiding in a hole under a stove, in sewers, in a cupboard behind false walls; becoming separated from parents as babies; witnessing parents being killed or brutalised; being subjected to “medical experiments” in Auschwitz.

Maria continues, troubleshooting potential sticking points.

“Any name you’ve ever used, put them in,” she says. “All variations.” Ludwig is a case in point. When he was given false papers to cross from the Warsaw Ghetto to the “Aryan side”, he was also given a false name.

“Some deliberately changed their birth date to escape labour camps, so put in any other dates stated in any of your papers.”

Maria understands it might be hard for some to recall details. “Just put in what you remember.”

Henry, a Frenchman in a fire-red flat cap and a polo shirt, isn’t sure he qualifies for the payment. “France wasn’t Germany. But I remember my father being taken away to a concentration camp.” His father never returned.

Ludwig seems genuinely surprised when he finds out how much the fund actually pays out. Eligible survivors will receive a flat €2500. “That’s derisory! For robbing me of six years of my infancy, I’ll get two and a half thousand euros?”

In a lull between questions, Henry taps Ludwig on the shoulder. “Sorry to interrupt, but I have some sad news.”

It’s about their mutual friend Sylvia. “I got a phone call last night. She’s had a massive stroke and isn’t expected to live the day.”

Ludwig absorbs the news. “Oh, what a dreadful thing.”

There’s a note of urgency in the room, and more questions than Maria can field in the allotted time. Some are trying to fill out their applications before the meeting is over. What they write on these forms might well be the last official documentation of their experiences.

Ludwig leaves early. He’s off to learn Dvořák’s Sonatina in G major for violin and piano. “It’s an interesting piece,” he murmurs. “Dvořák wrote it for his children.”

Jaye Kranz

Jaye Kranz is a Melbourne-based writer, documentary radio producer and musician. 

From the front page

Image of US President Joe Biden meeting virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, November 15, 2021. Image © Susan Walsh / AP Photo

The avoidable war

Kevin Rudd on China, the US and the forces of history

cartoon:In light of recent events

In light of recent events

Who’s preferencing whom?

Detail of cover of Simon Tedeschi’s ‘Fugitive’

Ghost notes: Simon Tedeschi’s ‘Fugitive’

A virtuoso memoir of music and trauma, and his experiences as a child prodigy, from the acclaimed Australian pianist

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese speaking during the first leaders’ debate on April 20, 2022. Image © Jason Edwards / AAP Images

Election special: Who should you vote for?

Undecided about who to vote for in the upcoming federal election? Take our quiz to find out your least-worst option!

In This Issue

The case for compromise

What modern politicians could learn from Alfred Deakin

Minus the trimmings

Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Carrie & Lowell’

David & Goliath

Rugby star David Pocock says sport and politics are always mixed

The blazing heart

Xavier Dolan’s ‘Mommy’


More in The Nation Reviewed

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Where did all the bogongs go?

The drastic decline of the bogong moth could have disastrous ecological consequences

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

OnlyFans and the adults in the room

The emerging OnlyFans community offering training and support to adult-content creators

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

ANAM Set and music in lockdown

The project that commissioned 67 Australian composers to write for each of Australian National Academy of Music’s musicians in lockdown

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Flooding back

Watching the Brisbane River swell, once more, to a destructive force


Online exclusives

Image of US President Joe Biden meeting virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, November 15, 2021. Image © Susan Walsh / AP Photo

The avoidable war

Kevin Rudd on China, the US and the forces of history

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese speaking during the first leaders’ debate on April 20, 2022. Image © Jason Edwards / AAP Images

Election special: Who should you vote for?

Undecided about who to vote for in the upcoming federal election? Take our quiz to find out your least-worst option!

Image of the Stone of Remembrance at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Remembrance or forgetting?

The Australian War Memorial and the Great Australian Silence

Image of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, Labor MP Emma McBride and shadow housing minister Jason Clare after meeting with young renter Lydia Pulley during a visit to her home in Gosford on May 3, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Property damage

What will it take for Australia to fix the affordable housing crisis?