Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku says he is the “happiest and luckiest of men”.
He spent the Second World War zigzagging Europe, going from the worst of concentration camps to the most horrific. He was deported to Buchenwald in November 1938 and jailed in camps in Belgium and France between 1939 and 1941, before being deported to Auschwitz in 1942.
Mr Jaku escaped several times, once hiding in an attic for nearly a year, much like Anne Frank, and eking out the last few months of the war eating slugs and snails while he hid in a cave.
So what would the 94-year-old survivor say to those like Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben, who has backed the federal Attorney-General’s plan to change the government’s race hate laws?
“People who say the Holocaust never existed, they’re mad,” he said after guiding a group of visitors through the Sydney Jewish Museum’s Anne Frank exhibition. “I would tell them they are murderers if you support the idea that the Holocaust didn’t exist.”
The Jewish community claims the changes proposed by Senator George Brandis would open the door to vilification on a massive scale.
Vic Alhadeff, who is chair of NSW Community Relations Commission, said it would send “a dangerous signal that hate speech is sanctioned as freedom of speech and that bigotry has a place in our society”.
It would reassure those who harbour bigoted views that they could bring those views into the public domain, he said.
“The practical effect would be that far fewer cases of racist behaviour would be deemed unlawful, and many would even be celebrated as a demonstration of freedom of speech.
“The question for all of us is whether this is the kind of society we want Australia to be,” he said.
Mr Alhadeff’s grandparents were killed at Auschwitz, along with 151 other Alhadeffs, who were originally from the Greek island of Rhodes.
But surprisingly Mr Jaku, whose son Michael is head of the Jewish Board of Deputies Holocaust Remembrance Committee, said he would prefer his enemies to be open with him in conversation, so he could respond.
“I prefer always to know who is against me than not to know,” he said, adding that he wasn’t a politician or lawyer, who understood the minutae of the debate.
“But I believe that our association, the Holocaust association, could do much more if people come out and tell us what they think.”
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