Straws in the Windby Max TeichmannNews Weekly
, January 27, 2001
The skeleton at the feast
Some of you would have picked up on an item in the Sunday Age (December 10, 2000) page two of the News section, headlined, "Labor stalwart confesses to killing". The piece was written by Matthew Benns. I haven't seen this article reproduced anywhere else, nor rebutted or criticised in any way; or in any place. And that includes the electronic media. And yet, the contents of this article were so disturbing, and dramatic, and the implications so malign, that continuing silence could only be explained by a policy of general censorship.
It is an account of a Labor Party dinner in honour of Tourism NSW chairman Sam Fiszman, a prominent Labor Party fund-raiser and leading Jewish businessman - a dinner attended by Kim Beazley and Bob Hawke. Premier Bob Carr sent a video-taped address for the dinner, held recently at the Sydney Convention centre. Mr Fiszman, in response to the videotaped address, let it be known that he had killed another passenger, whom he described as anti-Semitic, during the course of his voyage to Australia in 1948. The ship - the SS Derna.
That passenger was an Estonian, as was another passenger, a friend of the first, who went overboard at the same time. Tellingly, both men's belongings remained unclaimed at the end of the voyage. "I hope that I got rid of them because I have never seen them again," said Mr Fiszman.
When the ship docked at Fremantle a week later - the story continues - Mr Fiszman was told by Immigration that he could not land. There were reports that a man had gone overboard, and there was a petition signed by other passengers that Mr Fiszman had spread communist propaganda.
However, "he was saved by NSW Labor politician Syd Einfeld, who was alerted to Mr Fiszman's plight and pulled strings to get him and his family released". His family being his wife. Mr Fiszman was then 21.
This rescue began Mr Fiszman's life-long passion for the Labor Party, and his career in fund-raising. Mr Hawke said that, "More than anybody else I know, Sam embodies the great Australian tradition of mateship. If we in the Australian Labor Party had a hundred Sams we would never be out of office." Embellishments?
Before we go any further, a caution. I have known, and doubtless readers have known, many people who embroider their experiences, and sometimes invent them. Deeds of bravery or resistance that didn't happen; medals awarded but alas stolen, along with all the relevant records. So maybe this is/was an elaborate joke, played on the Labor Party for all these years.
But it was Bob Carr's video address that "led to Mr Fiszman's startling confession".
"Bob Carr used to ask me: 'Did you really knock that fellow off?' And I always used to say, 'the statute of limitations has not expired ...'. There is no statute of limitations for murder, but when Bob sent a video to the dinner I joked, 'What a shame Bob is not here because I would tell him I really did knock that bloke off'."
What is one to make of this story by Fiszman?
Presumably, the Federal Department of Immigration has records of this ship and its passengers; of the loss of one or two Estonian passengers; of the petition of the other passengers; and of the successful intervention of Mr Einfeld. Especially as there is no statute of limitations for prosecution for murder, as Mr Fiszman attests. Or have these records been destroyed? This was during the Chifley Labor Government, of course. And, presumably, these Estonians had family. Were they told? Do they know, to this day, what happened to their relations? I am surprised no investigative journalist hasn't taken this up; but our Government is obliged to do so - even if it is only to find that it was just a tall story.
The ALP comes out very badly in all this. Mr Fiszman's story had been going the rounds for some time, e.g., Mr Carr knew it. The insouciance with which they treated the story, and the confession itself, are indications of continuing moral shortfalls, including indifference to human rights, with accompanying callousness; racial prejudice, e.g. "Balts" are fair game; and ingrained political prejudice, e.g. right-wingers or anti-Semites don't deserve the rights of others.
This may help to explain Gough Whitlam's decision to recognise the Soviet's annexations of the Baltic States, and the lack of opposition to that decision within the ALP. Little wonder that migrants from the Captive Nations, many of them anti-Nazi and anti-communist, should have turned to our conservatives for protection.
And the double standard running right through: imagine if at an Estonian gathering honouring Sir Arvi Parbo, or a Liberal Party dinner for Sir Arvi, one of the Estonian guests had risen to say how he had killed a Jew on his migrant ship 50 years ago, for calling him a Nazi. What would the media be saying now? And what kind of contumely would the Liberals be suffering? And how many Human Rights people here, and overseas would not be demanding a full investigation?
Obviously, people like this - the double standards, nudge, wink and snigger brigade - should not take any part in discussions, for example, of the proposed Bracks Racial Vilification legislation, when terms like Human Rights, the rule of law or impartiality are bound to come up.
There appears to have been a very rich menu at that dinner: hypocrisy, racism, bogus mateship and Left recidivism. Nasty stuff.