Tribute to Sabina Van Der Linden-Wolanski


I rise to pay tribute to Sabina Van Der Linden-Wolanski, who passed away on 23 June, aged 84.

Earlier this year I addressed the Jewish Board of Deputies luncheon club.

A woman approached me and introduced herself.

We chatted, and she promised to send me her memoirs.

They arrived a few days later, along with a lovely note.

Sabina Van Der Linden-Wolanski's autobiography, Destined to Live: One Woman's War, Life, Loves Remembered, is an unforgettable story of suffering, survival and the human spirit.

Sabina was born to Jewish parents in 1927 in Boryslaw, in that part of Poland that today forms part of Ukraine.

It was her fate, as an adolescent girl, to confront the worst manifestation of evil in human history.

In August 1942 Sabina held her mother's hand until the Nazis separated them.

Her mother was sent to the Belzec death factory, where she and five thousand other Jews from the same transport were gassed to death.

Sabina's book led me to the selection of stories, journalism and essays by the great Ukrainian writer Vasily Grossman - the Tolstoy of the Soviet era - published last year.

Grossman's mother too was murdered by the Nazis.

Grossman's The Hell of Treblinka, written in September 1944, was probably the first detailed account of the systematic mass murder of Jews published in any language.

Grossman stared into the abyss, and documented the structure and functioning of the Treblinka death camp based on the reports of a handful of survivors.

Grossman walked all over the camp, just thirteen months after the last transport of prisoners to the "conveyor-belt executioner block".

The soil under Grossman's feet seemed to tremble.

He then saw a mass of human hair on the ground.

Grossman wrote,

"And it feels as if your heart must come to a stop now, gripped by more sorrow, more grief, more anguish than any human being can endure...".

While still a teenage girl, Sabina Van Der Linden-Wolanski's heart was gripped by more sorrow, more grief, more anguish than any human being should ever endure.

Her father and brother built a bunker in the forest to hide her.

Whilst Sabina hid there, her father and brother were murdered by the Nazis, seventeen days before the Red Army liberated Boryslaw.

Boryslaw's pre war Jewish population was 15 000.

At the end of the war only a few hundred had survived.

Sabina was one of them.

She was 17 years old and totally alone.

In 1950, she and her then husband came to Bondi, Australia as assisted migrants.

In 1967 she gave evidence in Germany at the trial of the former SS officer who had ordered the killing of her father and brother.

Sabina came face to face with the man's daughter.

They talked, and then corresponded for four decades.

Sabina maintained that the children of killers are not killers.

Sabina lived here for 61 years.

She was a mother and grandmother, a successful businesswoman and philanthropist.

In May 2005 Sabina Van Der Linden-Wolanski was invited to speak on behalf of the six million victims of the Holocaust, and all Holocaust survivors, at the opening of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin.

She said,

"I am the only one of my family who survived.

I am a witness to unbearable crimes against humanity.

What have I learned from my bitter experience.

I have learned that hatred begets hatred.

I have learned that we must not remain silent and that each of us as an individual must fight the evil of racism, discrimination, prejudice, inhumanity...

It has been the lot of our people to confront the worst manifestation of evil in human history, and yet our oppressors have perished and we have survived.

And from this perspective we face our future, confident in the ultimate triumph of the human spirit over brute force."

Vasily Grossman wrote,

"The power of life, the power of what is human in man, is very great, and even the mightiest and most perfect violence cannot enslave this power; it can only kill it.

Life's destruction, even in our iron age, is not its defeat.

We will say, 'There has been no time crueller than ours, yet we did not allow what is human in man to perish'....

We preserve our faith that life and freedom are one, that there is nothing higher than what is human in man.

This will live forever and triumph."

Sabina's life story is remarkable.

Each one of the approximately 15 000 Holocaust survivors who came to Australia has a remarkable story to tell of survival and renewal.

I extend my condolences to Sabina Van Der Linden-Wolanski's husband, children and grandchildren.

May you find comfort among the mourners of Zion.

May she rest in peace.