antisemitism,  History

Honoring William Cooper

During his recent speech to the Zionist Federation of Australia conference in Melbourne, Australian Workers Union president Paul Howes mentioned someone I had never heard of, but who deserves to be more widely known.

His name was William Cooper. He lived from 1861 to 1941. He was a member of the AWU, an aborigine and a leader in the fight for aboriginal rights.

And in 1938 he led a protest in Melbourne over Kristallnacht, the early Nazi pogrom against Germany’s Jews.

On November 9, 1938, in a state-sponsored reign of terror which came to be known as Kristallnacht — the night of broken glass — Jews in Germany were targeted for killings or bashings, and Jewish businesses and homes were smashed.

Cooper, from Footscray in Melbourne’s western suburbs, was secretary of the Australian Aborigines League and it appears he had seen reports in Melbourne’s papers about Kristallnacht and gathered as many people as he could for a protest.

On December 6, 1938, they walked down Collins Street to the German consulate where they attempted to present a petition to the German consul-general, D.W. Dreschler. Dreschler would not take the petition but the protest caused a stir. The petition protested the “cruel persecution” of Jews in Germany.

It was the only private protest against Kristallnacht.

Cooper will be honored later this year with a memorial and garden at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.