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Yad Vashem pays tribute to Aboriginal activist William Cooper

JTA

December 13, 2010 | 2:12 pm

Yad Vashem honored the “extraordinary act” of Aboriginal activist William Cooper, who led a rare individual protest against the Nazis in Australia.

At a ceremony Sunday night in Jerusalem, a chair for the study of resistance, endowed by the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange, was established in tribute to Cooper, who died in 1941 at the age of 81. It marked the first time that Israel’s national memorial to the Holocaust honored an indigenous Australian.

Cooper, the head of the Australian Aborigines League and an elder of the Yorta Yorta tribe, himself had no rights in his homeland in December 1938 when he marched to the German Consulate to deliver a petition protesting the “cruel persecution” of the Jews.

Although he was denied entry to the consulate, his march is believed to be the only private protest against the Kristallnacht pogroms.

Israeli Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar at Sunday’s ceremony said Cooper’s “extraordinary act ... reminds us that human compassion can transcend borders, oceans and cultures.”

Unveiling the plaque in honor of Cooper, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd lamented Australia’s inaction at the Evian Conference on Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution.

“Australia, like so many countries, closed our hearts,” he said. “What we did then as a nation was wrong, just plain wrong.”

Fifteen members of Cooper’s family traveled to Jerusalem for the ceremony.

Cooper’s grandson, Alfred Turner, said that “We’ve always known about his story [and] we’ve always wanted other people to know about it.”

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