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Elisabeth Holdsworth

The bar is set high

It was a great pleasure to read this year’s Calibre winning and commended essays in ABR. The essays written by Jane Goodall, Kevin Brophy and Rosa-leen Love continue the impressive tradition inaugurated by Elisabeth Holdsworth with her memorable work that won the first Calibre Prize. The bar is set high.

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Dear Editor,

I welcomed Barry Jones’s feisty response (February 2007) to my review of his autobiography, A Thinking Reed (December 2006–January 2007). Such autobiographies, the reviews and the commentaries on them are the first drafts of history, and such debates will be valuable to later and more dispassionate historians. Apart from some sardonic barbs, which I may well deserve, he seems to have only one substantive quarrel with the review and that is with my critical assessment of his performance as science minister in the Hawke government.

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Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma & Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

April 2007, no. 290

Theo van Gogh, born into a celebrated family, made himself famous, and infamous, in the Netherlands for his outrageous opinions, such as accusing the Jewish lord mayor of Amsterdam, the son of Holocaust survivors, of being a Nazi sympathiser. According to Ian Buruma, the author of Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance (2004), when van Gogh made the controversial film Submission with the Muslim activist turned politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Buruma thought that this would be seen as another of his national ‘village idiot’ gestures. There was no intention to draw more than imaginary blood. Van Gogh had lived his whole life secure in the knowledge that in the Netherlands he was onze Theo (our Theo), and that what he was free to deride because of Article 23 also protected him. But to Muslim fundamentalists, freedom of speech is anathema. God, and his representatives, decide what is and can be said. In this mindscape, this very freedom of speech, as espoused in the Netherlands, proves that the country is an infidel state.

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In today’s episode, ABR looks back at the winner of the inaugural Calibre Essay Prize in 2007: ‘An Die Nachgeborenen: For Those Who Come After’ by Elisabeth Holdsworth. Holdsworth was born in the Netherlands in the years following World War II. Zeeland, where she grew up, was heavily bombed during the war and later flooded. Her poignant essay is a dialogue with the past, detailing her recent return to the Netherlands, her family’s vicissitudes and suffering during the war, and an unforgettable portrait of her conflicted mother.

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Professors Ruth Balint and Julie Kalman are descended from Jews impacted by the Holocaust. No surprise then that in the introductory sentences of this work they remind us that the first people smuggler was probably Moses. Throughout the Jewish year, we study this colossus, who may or may not have existed, as he leads the Hebrews out of Pharaoh’s bondage into the desert toward a promised land. For much of the past two thousand years, Jews have relied on people smugglers as they were shunted from country to country. In Smuggled: An illegal history of journeys to Australia, Balint and Kalman detach the people smuggler from the politicised, malign tropes surrounding this activity and present firsthand accounts from some of those who were smuggled and from the smugglers themselves.

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Westerbork is the name of a transit camp located in the Netherlands. You transitioned from Westerbork to your final destination by means of the Nationale Spoorwegen (the national railways). Eddy de Wind, a Dutch Jewish psychiatrist, met his future wife, Friedel, in Westerbork. Both were sent to Auschwitz in 1943. Eddy was sent to Block 9 as part of the medical staff, Friedel to Block 10 to work as a Pfleger (nurse). Block 10 was administered by the Lagerartz (senior camp doctor), Josef Mengele.

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For most of my life I have thought of myself as a secular Jew; fascinated by the turbulent history of the Jews, not part of synagogue life. All that changed in 2012. We were living in Goulburn, New South Wales, at the time. My husband was on the point of retirement and we were about to move back to Victoria. During winter ...

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Towards the end of this handsome work, Mark Dapin makes the following observation: ‘There are many more holocaust memoirs written by Jews who emigrated from Europe to Australia than there are personal histories of Australian-born or raised Jewish soldiers. Everywhere in the world the Jewish story is focussed on persecution – the plight of refugees; the unspeakab ...

Fellowships galore

Elisabeth Holdsworth photograph by Antonio Mendes Macmillan 250

Valerie Murray, born Valika Morelli in Hungary during World War II and, for the past half century, wife of poet Les Murray, has written an enchanting memoir of her early life in Europe and Australia. The description ‘enchanting’ is used deliberately. The brothers Grimm and their terrifying tales are deployed throughout the work. The metaphor extends to the writi ...

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