September 21, 2018
Explore the history of the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick
Between Hitler’s accession to Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and his suicide in 1945, it is estimated about six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
Almost 40 years after the end of World War II, the Jewish community in Melbourne took their first steps to ensuring we never forget about the horrors of the Nazi genocide.
They created the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick – a lasting and moving memorial to those murdered Jews – which has become a local symbol of history and culture.
In 1984 the Jewish Holocaust Centre opened in Elsternwick and began the long journey towards what is now an active educational facility combating bigotry and racism, and promoting tolerance.
It was established with the generosity of Holocaust survivors, their families and supporters who donated money, time and materials to the project.
Born in Poland, Mina Waks married Leo Fink in 1932. The couple migrated to Melbourne and, having escaped the Holocaust, Mina and Leo dedicated themselves to helping many Holocaust survivors who came to Australia to rebuild their lives.
Mina was a member of the founding organising committee of the Jewish Holocaust Centre, and she was keen to create an educational space that would keep the Holocaust memory alive.
With her husband, she set up the Leo and Mina Fink Fund that helped buy the building for the centre in Selwyn St, Elsternwick.
It was an old dance school but was renovated to house exhibitions and a library.
The early days
In 1990 the museum was remodelled and doubled in size.
The Smorgon Family Auditorium was built upstairs, creating a larger space for hosting educational programs and seminars.
Importantly, in 1997, a support group – Friends of the Holocaust Centre Inc – was established to fundraise for and promote the centre.
That work, and the support of the community, meant that by 1999 the building could be again extended and the Hadassa and Szymon Rosenbaum Research Centre was opened by the Governor-General of Australia, Sir William Deane.
In November 2000, with a new board of management, representing five community groups, The Jewish Holocaust Centre became a formal company.
Voices of history
The museum’s 18 sections are a detailed, often brutal examination of a dark period in history – from pre-war Europe, through the rise of Nazism, the horrors of the death camps and finally to “To Life, to life, I’chaim”, which looks at the survivors of the Holocaust who made Australia home.
The permanent museum features traditional displays of photographs, documents and art alongside modern technology.
A large model of Treblinka, made by Chaim Sztajer, one of the few Jewish survivors of the camp, is one of the powerful works on display.
At the other end of the spectrum, StoryPods are interactive displays designed to keep the survivors’ voices alive.
The centre says it is a way of presenting traditional storytelling to the iPod generation. The user navigates the documents and testimonies in a kiosk, making the experience a personal one.
The Jewish Holocaust Centre has more than 1300 video testimonies and more than 200 audio testimonies in its collection.
Recognition and looking to the future
The Jewish Holocaust Centre in Elsternwick is an award-winning organisation and the achievements of museum individuals have also been honoured.
In 2001, it achieved accreditation by Museums Australia.
In 2003, The Jewish Holocaust Foundation was established which will ensure a strong future.
Recently, the museum extended its facilities and was able to stage temporary exhibitions with local, state and federal grants and help from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany Inc.
With a solid history under its belt, The Jewish Holocaust Centre is now looking to a future where it can continue to be part of the fabric of the local community while playing a crucial role in sharing some of history’s most important stories.