SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — An Aboriginal elder who protested the “cruel persecution” of the Jews by the Nazis will become the first indigenous Australian to be honored by Yad Vashem.
A memorial garden in honor of William Cooper of the Yorta Yorta tribe will be unveiled at the national Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Dec. 15, it was announced last Friday in a statement issued by Albert Dadon, the founder of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange.
Cooper was 77 years old when he led a small march to deliver a petition to the German consul general in Melbourne just weeks after Kristallnacht. Although Cooper and his Australian Aborigines League were denied entry to the consulate on Dec. 6, 1938, their protest did not go unnoticed, even though they were half a world away from Europe.
He died in 1941 at the age of 80.
Researchers at Yad Vashem have spent the past year verifying the details of Cooper’s protest after Dadon was inspired to leave a lasting legacy following a recent visit to Israel with an Aboriginal activist.
Dadon and Warren Mundine, head of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, were on a tour of Yad Vashem when a guide told them of Cooper’s protest.
“Warren and I became quite emotional,” Dadon recalled. “I believe a garden in the memory of William Cooper at Yad Vashem is a just recognition of his courage and will be there to remind people that individuals and minorities can and must speak out when the rest of the world stays silent.”
Trees were planted last year in the Martyrs’ Forest near Jerusalem in recognition of Cooper’s protest.