Aboriginal Australians tell of parallels with Jewish history
As part of Two Men and a Truck’s sponsorship of the Anne Frank Exhibition in Australia, we have produced some documentary style videos about the history of Anne Frank and World War II.
However, Australia has also endured tragedy and oppression in recent history, so we have taken this opportunity to reflect on the plight of some Australians, like Rita Wenberg and Valerie Linow (nee Wenberg).
We went to meet “Aunty Rita” from Albury and “Aunty Val” from Sydney, in Valerie’s Sydney home to hear their stories. They told of heartache, neglect, rape and abuse – experiences that painted a picture of strength and survival.
They were children of the stolen generation – young Aboriginals who were forcefully taken away from their families between the 1890s and 1970s, and placed into government care.
Valerie and Rita were placed into Cootamundra Girls Home in central NSW, and, later, Parramatta Girls Home with many other “stolen children”.
Their pasts have many parallels with Jews in recent history. Coincidentally, their father was a Swedish Jew. But it was their Aboriginal heritage which bestowed upon them an upbringing they describe as cruel, traumatic, and sadly, widespread among the stolen generation.
“The policy was to wipe out the Aboriginal people,” Rita said.
“They took the children so young and trained them as white [children] to wipe the Aboriginal race out.”
“All Aboriginal identity was wiped off. Being young and brainwashed thinking you’re white when you’re black, it’s a very hard thing to face. It’s very hard at our age now to associate with our own people,” she said.
Both women experienced difficulties adapting to life outside the institutions and claim the “white policy” affected their ability to raise their own families.
Unfortunately I just couldn’t cope with the outside world,” Valerie said, who shows visible scars on her wrists. “I used to blame myself for what happened. I realised later on that it wasn’t me – it wasn’t my fault.”
Rita is an artist and has transferred some of her memories onto canvas.
Many of her paintings tell stories of sadness and isolation, but she uses bright colours to illustrate hope and friendships.
“The brighter the colour is the better you feel,” she says.
Aunty Rita and Aunty Valerie both feel a connection with the Jewish people.
“Because they were just plain Jewish people,” Aunty Val said. “And of course we were just plain Aboriginal blacks,”
“Anne Frank was a very brave woman. I went through hell but what she’s gone through, it’s different to me. That was very sad.”
Watch Aunty Rita and Aunty Val tell their powerful stories in the video above.
The Anne Frank Exhibition in Australia launches on February 4 in Melbourne and will travel to rural areas of Australia before opening in Sydney in March 2014. For more information visit www.annefrank.org.au