Two-and-a-half years after Tasmania announced $2 million Australian (then about $1.5 million) in funding for its first Holocaust museum, the Australian state stated that the funding has been allocated to create the Holocaust Education and Interpretation Centre.
The center will be part of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, according to an Aug. 17 press release from Elise Archer, Tasmania’s attorney general and justice minister, as well as minister for the arts, minister for corrections and rehabilitation, and minister for workplace safety and consumer affairs.
The monies, which are part of the Commonwealth Community Development Grants Program, are “a commitment made by the former Federal Liberal Government, and honored by the now Federal Labor Government,” per the release.
“The center will educate the public, particularly school students living in Tasmania, about the atrocities associated with the Holocaust,” Archer stated. “It will also honor the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims murdered, and pay tribute to the legacy of survivors.” The minister added that the center will universalize the genocide of Jews by demonstrating “the importance of tolerance by raising awareness of the lessons learned from the Holocaust and other genocides.”
“A Holocaust education facility will help the Tasmanian community, including students and young people, to understand the roots of discrimination and prejudice, and the need for empathy, understanding and respect for all,” stated Jeff Schneider, president of the Hobart Hebrew Congregation, in the release.
But the Tasmanian Devil is in the details of the forthcoming facility.
Situated in a state art museum
The announced center will be part of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, a “statutory authority which is an instrumentality of the crown” that receives funding from the Tasmanian government, per the museum website. The museum is not Jewish, nor is it run by the Jewish community.
“The space will be transformed into an immersive audio-visual experience complemented by personal items from the local Jewish community,” Archer stated, with parts to be woven throughout the museum’s other galleries, “with the core theme of the Holocaust expanded to include underlying issues such as resilience, tolerance and intergenerational impact.”
That the Holocaust center would be part of a state museum, rather than one run by the Jewish community, was not clear on March 2, 2021, when Josh Frydenberg, then Australia’s treasurer, stood on the bima at Hobart synagogue—Australia’s oldest Jewish house of worship—and announced the $2 million (AUS) federal allocation.
“We must never forget the tragedy of the Holocaust,” Alan Tudge, then federal minister for education and youth, said at the time. “Our government has committed funding, in partnership with respective state governments for the construction of similar centers in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia, and recently, in the Australian Capital Territory.”
The nearly 40-year-old Melbourne Holocaust Museum, located in Elsternwick, was formed by Holocaust survivors. Australia’s largest Holocaust education institution, the museum is being renovated. Beyond support from the community, it receives state and federal funding, per its website. The Adelaide Holocaust Museum and Andrew Steiner Education Centre, which opened in November 2020, is in a building owned by the Catholic archdiocese. It too receives government funding.
‘Deep concern’ in the Jewish community
The announcement of the funding for the center comes against a broader backdrop, which has been a mixed bag for Australian and Tasmanian Jews.
In late June, Tasmania became Australia’s first state to ban Nazi salutes and symbols, with offenders reportedly facing three months in jail or $2,500 fines. “This sends a very clear message that Nazi symbols and salutes are not welcome in Tasmania,” Archer stated at the time.
In 2019, Australia joined the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and on Oct. 13, 2021, Australia adopted its working definition of antisemitism on a national level.
But other federal decisions have troubled Australian Jews, according to Suzanne Rutland, an Australian Jewish historian and professor emerita in the Hebrew, biblical and Jewish studies department at the University of Sydney.
“Plenty of ink has been spent on the issue of the changes in the federal government’s policies towards Israel, with comments by the various Jewish communal bodies as well as in the general media,’ Rutland told JNS.
While Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong, the foreign minister, support a two-state solution and “try to keep to a middle ground, they are being pushed by the left-wing of the party, to which the prime minister is affiliated,” Rutland told JNS. The party’s left-wing “is trying to insist that the government officially recognize Palestine as a state within a specific timeframe.”
Wong announced a new policy reinstating the term “occupied Palestinian territories” to strengthen objections to “illegal” Israeli settlements just before the Labor Party conference to prevent the passage of such a resolution, according to Rutland.
“This announcement again caused deep concern with the Jewish community leaders with the peak lay and Zionist bodies issuing a combined statement stressing that ‘The change in language is inaccurate, ahistorical and counterproductive,’” Rutland said.
‘The rise of Nazism’
“The Jewish community in Tasmania, after steadily declining for some years, is currently growing as young families, attracted by the laid back lifestyle, relatively affordable housing and relative lack of crowds and traffic problems,” David Clark, vice president of the Hobart Hebrew Congregation, told JNS.
Jews are coming to Tasmania largely from Australian capital cities, but also the country more broadly and from overseas, according to Clark.
JNS asked if it was safe to be a conspicuous Jew in Tasmania. “Speaking as one of probably fewer than 10 Jewish males in the state who wear a yarmulke openly on all occasions, I can say that in my regular Shabbat walks through the center of Hobart to shul, I have heard more positive than negative comments,” he said.
“The few negative ones are usually shouted from a passing car, so I am quite at ease living an openly Jewish life here,” he said. “With the rise of Nazism, though, I am more careful about walking through dark alleys than previously.”
Clark told JNS that the state’s recent ban on Nazi salutes is “a disturbing indicator of the extent of the rise of Nazism.”
“It is unfortunate that we had to go to such lengths, but I accept and welcome it,” he said. “Perhaps a positive outcome is that it will put a damper on public displays, and so reduce the violence they encourage.”