Legacy of Aboriginal-Australian who marched against Nazis grows in Israel
The little-known legacy of William Cooper -- an Aboriginal-Australian activist who marched in opposition to the Nazis in Melbourne during Hitler's rise to power -- is being kept alive today by his grandson Alfred Turner (known as “Uncle Boydie”) who is visiting Israel this week to honor the memory of the unlikely defender of the Jewish people.
“Uncle Boydie”, who will pay tribute to indigenous soldiers during the 100th anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) capture of Be’er Sheva during World War I later this week, on Friday visited a memorial honoring his grandfather’s bold stand against the Nazis at the Jewish National Fund (JNF) ‘Forest of the Martyrs’ outside Jerusalem.
“[Cooper] grew up in a time when there was a lot of racism…people were dying,” he told i24NEWS, adding that his grandfather’s personal experience of persecution as an Aboriginal-Australian led him to sympathize with the plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
Born in Australia’s Yorta Yorta territory in 1860, Cooper was a prominent indigenous rights activist who served as secretary of the Aboriginal Advancement League (AAL).
On December 6, 1938, weeks after the Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) pogrom of Jews in Nazi Germany, Cooper led the AAL in a march on the German consulate in Melbourne with the intention of delivering a letter of protest against the persecution of Jews in Germany and Austria.
While Cooper and the AAL were denied a meeting at the consulate and locked out of the building, the march has been recognized for its significance as the only private protest in any country against atrocities committed against Jews during Kristallnacht.
“Uncle Boydie” and his grandson Lance together splash water on the roots of one of the some 70 trees planted in 2009 in the ‘Forest of the Martyrs’ and in the Yatir Forest in the Negev, a gesture symbolizing the growth of ties between Aboriginal Australians and the Jewish people.
“To make that appointment, to march on the consulate. Wow. Overwhelming,” says Lance, who is visiting the memorial to his great-grandfather for the first time.
“It means a lot to be here with dad and everyone that's come here, especially to see William Cooper's name on the wall. I've heard so much about it over the years I just haven’t had a chance to get here – but finally to come into Israel – wow," he says.
"The very fact that there was a man at the age of 77 who didn't enjoy rights in his own country, that heard about what was happening to the Jews, that he walked 12 kilometers from his home to the German consulate in Melbourne, I mean that takes a special person and I think it's absolutely remarkable and it’s a memory that we salute," said Rob Schneider, the former CEO of JNF Australia.
But the Turner family’s journey does not end in Israel.
“Uncle Boydie”, who in 2010 participated in a re-creation of the AAL march during which the German consulate in Melbourne agreed to receive Cooper’s petition, will next travel to Berlin where he hopes his grandfather’s actions will be recognized by today’s government.
"After all this time, I don't think the German people know what he did and we want to go and talk to them and perhaps get a letter of thankfulness," Alfred Turner told i24NEWS.
Cooper’s legacy, while perhaps not well-known around the world, continues to grow through generations in Israel. Cooper was also the first Aboriginal Australian to be honored with a memorial garden at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum in 2010.
The Kristallnacht pogrom occurred on November 9-10 in 1938 when Nazis plundered Jewish businesses throughout Germany, torched synagogues, and rounded up some 30,000 Jewish men for deportation to concentration camps. At least 90 Jews were killed in the violence, which historians say ushered in the start of the Nazis' drive to wipe out European Jewry.
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