Sunday, November 14, 2010

Frank Lowy: Arab Fighter

The saga of Frank Lowy, Australia's richest man, is coming to your TV screen tomorrow night - Family Confidential, ABC1 - and both the Murdoch and Fairfax presses are trumpeting the fact.

Judging by The Australian's coverage, this is what you'll get:

"The story Lowy had kept to himself for so long was the horrifying daily drama of his life as a 13-year-old Jewish boy learning to fight for survival in Hungary after the Nazi invasion. The family scattered, the yellow star, the ghetto, the bodies, the shootings, the narrow escapes, the misery, the humiliation, the scrounging, the desperate desire to live." (Holocaust truth set Lowy free, Jennifer Hewett, The Australian, 13/11/10)

"'People ought to know', Lowy shrugs. Just as he now knows that [his father] Hugo Lowy was beaten to death just after he got off the train at Auschwitz in April 1944... His father was killed immediately because he insisted on going back to pick up the bag containing his prayer shawl after guards took it away from him." (ibid)

Ditto for the Sydney Morning Herald:

"When Frank Lowy was 13 in wartime Hungary, his father left the family home one day and never came back... It would take 50 years... before he finally learnt what happened that day in March 1944, just after Nazi Germany invaded Hungary. All Lowy knew was his father had gone to buy train tickets to try to get his family to a safer place. Everything after that was blank: a mystery that had hung over him all his life. The stranger who Peter Lowy met in Los Angeles in 1991 knew the answer to the question his father had never asked aloud. Having been seized at the station and put on a train to Auschwitz, Lowy's father, Hugo Lowy, had refused an order from Nazi soldiers to surrender his prayer shawl and prayer books... so they could be burned. The soldiers beat him and left him to die by the side of the train wagon in Auschwitz. He never made it inside the camp. For most of his life Lowy could not talk about his childhood ordeal in Hungary, not even to family and friends. It took until this year... for Lowy to finally find some peace and hold a memorial service for him." (Sad secret of a famous son, Adele Ferguson, 13/11/10)

But there's another chapter of the Lowy story which the media show very little interest in - the period from 1946 to 1952 when he lived in Palestine/Israel. What exactly did he get up to then? I tried to shed some light on this in my 19/7/10 post Refugees, but let's see what Murdoch and Fairfax have to say this time around.

The Australian says only this:

"The Lowy association with Israel predates Australia. After the war, Lowy lefy Hungary for Palestine... He had been arrested by British soldiers on an old tub outside the port of Haifa, then part of British Palestine, and taken to a refugee camp in Cyprus for 6 months. After he arrived in Palestine as part of a quota, he fought for the underground and, after the establishment of Israel in 1948, for the Israeli army. 'The 6 years I spent there really freed me from the encumbrances of the Eastern European persecution', he says. 'You know - I was a free man, free-thinking, could do what I wanted, go where I wanted. It was a very productive time personally, particularly looking back... so by the time I got here, I was not a victim anymore'." (Hewett)

And this:

"A Holocaust survivor, he left Eastern Europe in 1946 to fight in the Jewish underground in what was then Palestine. Fighting Arabs during the day, he studied accounting at night." (Hearth & soul, Graeme Blundell, Weekend Australian Review, 13/11/10)

Fighting Arabs during the day, he studied accounting at night? Hm, as you would...

The Sydney Morning Herald says even less:

"Migrating to Australia from Palestine in 1952..."

From Palestine? Frank and friends are going to love that one.

We'll probably never hear the full story of Lowy's Arab-fighting days, although the memory retrievalists of that remarkable Israeli organisation Zochrot* recently managed to pull off a bit of a coup when they managed to coax Amnon Neumann, another old Arab fighter of the time, to talk about his memories of the very dirty war of 1948. Stay tuned for my next post.

[*"Zochrot 'Remembering' is a group of Israeli citizens working to raise awareness of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948."]

1 comment:

Syd Walker said...

"Fighting Arabs during the day, he studied accounting at night."

Frank Lowy sounds like the Batman of Palestine (er... Israel). Amazing this hasn't yet become a Hollywood blockbuster. :-)