Acclaimed Australian author Morris Gleitzman – writer of the Holocaust-themed series of novels Once, Then, Now, Soon and After – will be the keynote speaker at Sydney’s community major Yom HaShoah events.
Organised by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the commemorations will see Gleitzman in conversation with University of Sydney Holocaust Studies academic Dr Avril Alba. The theme for this year’s events is “Children and the Holocaust”.
There are five books in Gleitzman’s Once series, which have sold over 230,000 copies across Australia. His novels explore the power of friendship through two characters – a 10-year-old Jewish boy named Felix and a six-year-old Polish girl named Zelda.
When writing Once, Gleitzman knew that reading Felix’s story would be a journey of discovery for most young readers and so he decided that the story should be a journey of discovery for Felix too, as told in his own words. That way, readers would experience the Holocaust as experienced through Felix’s eyes and feelings, and connected to the hope of his friendship with Zelda. Gleitzman intended that this would make it a story about the worst of which mankind is capable, alongside the best. He hoped that this would remind readers that history is not in a distant place and would point young readers towards the real voices of the Holocaust.
Gleitzman has explained that researching and writing Once became a personal journey as it took him to Poland for the first time, to the streets of Kazimierz, the ancient Jewish area of Krakow, and to the Jewish cemetery where he found a memorial with his family name on it. His grandfather was a Jew from Krakow who left Poland as young man, decades before the Holocaust. He believes his extended family in Poland all perished in the Holocaust.
The commemoration will also feature a musical performance by celebrated Israeli-Australian singer-songwriter Lior Attar. Better known simply as Lior, he was born in Israel and grew up in Sydney but has lived in Melbourne for nearly a decade.
In 2005 he self-released and produced his debut album Autumn Flow, certified gold by ARIA. Autumn Flow also garnered three ARIA Award nominations in the 2005 ARIA Music Awards: Best Breakthrough Artist, Best Male Artist and Best Independent Release. It has gone on to become one of the most successful independent debut releases in Australian music history. Lior was close to his grandfather, who fled Poland and enlisted as a sniper in the Russian Army to avoid concentration camps and died in 1999. Lior felt a strong connection with his grandfather, knowing he was the last generation to have a direct relationship with a Holocaust survivor, and so he wrote the biographical and haunting My Grandfather for his fourth album, Scattered Reflections, in 2014. Lior recently made his musical theatre debut, playing the role of Motel, an impoverished young tailor in Fiddler on the Roof.
The Yom HaShoah ceremony includes a children’s choir and a Righteous Among the Nations segment to honour those who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Judy Kaye will relate her family’s heroic actions in this regard.
There will be two major evening ceremonies: Sunday 23 April at the Clancy
Auditorium, University of NSW, at 7.30pm; and Monday 24 April at Masada College, St Ives, at 7.30pm. Inquiries: 9360 1600.