The Leftist Myth of William Cooper

The son of a white father and Yorta Yorta mother, William Cooper (c.1860–1941) was a retired shearer and labourer who became secretary of the Australian Aborigines’ League (AAL), founded in 1933. An articulate and energetic campaigner for Aboriginal rights, and the subject of a recent biography by Monash University’s Bain Attwood, [1] Cooper (above) has over the past two decades acquired left-led cult status in a swathe of the Australian Jewish community and beyond owing to the enticing but false narrative that he made the only protest (variants say “private protest”, an unexplained term that presumably means non-governmental) in Australia—some versions claim in the world!—regarding the terrible state-sponsored anti-Semitic violence across the Reich during November 9-10, 1938, that became known as Kristallnacht. This myth has entailed the effective erasure from the historical record and from the Jewish communal consciousness of numerous protests made by Australians of Anglo-Celtic heritage, as well as gentiles in Britain and elsewhere, regarding Kristallnacht and other manifestations of Nazi Jew-hatred. In this suspension of truth, and the promotion of lies that blind, wokeists are complicit, but so, sadly, are museum curators and press columnists who might be expected to know better.

As reported widely in historical sources, but ignored by the myth’s promulgators, from 1933 onwards Nazi Germany’s demonic anti-Semitism was robustly denounced by countless white Australians from various creeds, political viewpoints and walks of life, eminent persons among them. Protest meetings were held, pulpits and press editorials thundered, letters expressing outrage abounded in newspapers, and proposals for refuge and rescue appeared. Quick off the mark following Kristallnacht was Melbourne bookkeeper Amy Todd, a Presbyterian of Northern Irish heritage whose call for a civic protest meeting under lord mayoral auspices with appropriate denunciatory motions for forwarding via the British government appeared in the Age of November 16. One young philo-Semite, Critchley Parker junior, lost his life in dense bushland in Tasmania in 1942 while investigating the feasibility of a Jewish refugee settlement there: Russian-born London-based Dr I.N. Steinberg of the Freeland League for Jewish Colonisation praised him as “a martyr” for desperate Jewry, but, in contrast to Cooper’s, Parker’s name is virtually unsung.[2]

This essay appeared in a recent Quadrant.
Click here to subscribe and avoid our paywall

As a direct result of Kristallnacht, in late November 1938 various well-known Melburnians male and female, clerical and lay, signed a declaration deploring “the inhuman treatment” of Germany’s Jews. “We feel that it is important that among the many voices raised in protest the voice of the Australian people should be heard, and we urge the Federal Government to register a protest as soon as possible.” This was reported in the Sydney Workers’ Weekly of December 2. It seems to have escaped the notice of wokeists that the president of the AAL, Arthur Burdeu, was a signatory; like the other signatories, he was white.

The Cooper cult originated with leftists’ distorted interpretations of two short items in the Melbourne Argus (December 3 and 7, 1938). The first reported that a meeting of the AAL had passed “a strong protest against the cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi Government of Germany and asking that this persecution be brought to an end”, and advised that a “deputation of aborigines who are members of the League will wait on the German Consul [in Melbourne, Dr Walther Drechsler] on Tuesday [December 6] at 11.30 a.m. to present the resolution and ask him to convey it to his Government.” The second reported that the delegation had visited the Consulate but “was refused admittance”, consequently leaving a letter there “requesting Dr Drechsler to forward the resolution to his Government”. That second report, while using between quotation marks the exact phrase used in the first (“a strong protest … and asking that this persecution be brought to an end”) stated confusingly that the resolution condemned the persecution of Jews and Christians (my emphasis) in Germany. We shall never know for certain.

Bringing the Argus items to public notice in 1997, Aboriginal activist Gary Foley wrote: “Thus, the first group in Australia to try and lodge a formal protest with the German government’s representative about the persecution of the German Jewish community, were a group of Koori political activists.” [3] He was mistaken. In March 1933, for instance, the Labor Council of New South Wales passed a resolution protesting against Nazi anti-Semitism, which it forwarded to Germany’s Sydney-based Consul-General in Australia, Dr Rudolf Asmis. That same month, 300 Sydney waterside workers sent Asmis their motion demanding an immediate end to his Nazi countrymen’s “murder and torture” of Jews and other workers. In April 1933 the Melbourne division of the Textile Workers’ Union sent Germany’s representative its denunciation of “the pogroms and mass murders by the Nazis against the German trade unionist workers and Jews”. In May 1933 the Victorian Manufacturing Grocers’ Union voted to send him “a strong protest … against the cruel treatment of the Jewish nation in Germany”; the ensuing letter its secretary sent him was scathing. In June 1933 the South Coast branch of the Blacksmiths’ Society of Australasia sent Asmis “our emphatic protest against the terrorist campaign and the brutal atrocities being carried out by the Hitler government against the working-class Jews and religious bodies in Germany, and in the name of the working class of N.S.W. we demand that this cease immediately”. Asmis was swamped by similar resolutions.[4]

Despite the fact that Cooper was mentioned in neither Argus report, Foley named him as the delegation’s leader. Integral to the cult is the story of the elderly Cooper marching at the head of the delegation all the way from his Footscray rental to the German consulate in Collins Street, some ten kilometres in all. Attwood points out (page 242) that “there is no contemporary historical evidence that any such protest march occurred” but adds that “this is one of those occasions [when] the accounts provided by academic history and Yorta Yorta oral tradition diverge”. A key source was the recollection of Cooper’s grandson Alf (“Uncle Boydie”) Turner, who as a ten-year-old in 1938 lived at the Cooper home.

“It is probable that the ironies of the deputation’s visit to the German Consulate were part of the group’s strategy to draw attention to the similarities between what was happening in Germany and how Aborigines were being dealt with in Australia,” Foley observed. “Were there parallels between the murderous Nazi/German campaign against the Jews of Europe and what had happened in the previous hundred and fifty years in Australia (and was still happening in 1938)?” He concluded that there was. Professor Attwood (pages 145–46) declares that the AAL’s protest to Drechsler “was probably devised in large part in order to advance their own people’s cause”, and gives his reasons for stating so. (Some cynics, going further, might suggest that the AAL made its protest precisely because Kristallnacht had kindled so much rage from around the world, in order to draw attention to Aboriginal grievances.) Attwood points out (page 241) that the chief mythologisers of the Cooper protest, “who are Jews, have played fast and loose with historical evidence”; thus a modern rendition, ostensibly with the exact wording of the lost petition to Drechsler but involving “a considerable amount of poetic licence” on its creators’ part “has been displayed in at least one Jewish museum around the world, spoken about on radio programs, quoted in numerous media stories, and even presented [in 2017] to the German parliament”.

In 2018 an article by a Jewish radical claimed: “Today historians agree [sic!] that the Australian Aborigines League’s action was the only private protest worldwide denouncing Kristallnacht and the Nazi Government’s treatment of the Jewish people”. Initially conceding the plausibility of Foley’s suggestion that the protest had a strategically self-serving motive, she concluded:

The Australian Aborigines League’s protest was simultaneously an act of resistance as an expression of empathy and an act of empathy as an expression of resistance. And who else would have had that empathy—who else could have—but a people also marginalised and dispossessed by history? … There was no hidden motive to William Cooper’s protest. It was one of solidarity; it was a radical act of empathy.

The possibility that non-Aboriginal Australians could evince empathy was thus demolished in one fell swoop! (Shame on the Sydney Jewish Museum for replicating that article on its website!) [5]

While, through ignorance and anti-white racism, Australia’s Anglo-Celtic philo-Semites are overlooked, much less idolised, Cooper’s fame spreads far and wide, with accompanying adulation. In 2009, seventy trees were planted in his honour by the Jewish National Fund across two forests in Israel. In 2010, at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem, a memorial to him was unveiled and the William Cooper Chair for the Study of Resistance during the Holocaust endowed. Speakers included Australia’s former Foreign Minister and future Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. On December 6, 2018, the eightieth anniversary of the AAL’s protest, Monash University announced the establishment of the William Cooper Indigenous Scholarship with funds made available by the charitable foundation set up by well-known Jewish philanthropists John and Pauline Gandel. On that day, too, the congregation known as the Melbourne Ark Centre held a Shabbat service honouring Cooper and in Sydney the illustrious Great Synagogue and the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies co-hosted a Shabbat dinner in tribute to him. [6] That same day Rabbi Gersh Lazarow, senior minister of Temple Beth Israel, Melbourne’s largest Progressive synagogue—he is no longer there, following serious allegations of plagiarism in his sermons—led a “Walking Together” march of left-wing activists and their well-meaning associates in commemoration of Cooper’s (supposed) unique act. “Put simply, our national inability to neither adequately recognise nor appropriately reconcile with indigenous Australia is what we Jews describe as an avera—a sin of the highest order,” Lazarow told the crowd: 

[Reconciliation] needs to begin with a recognition that by the time most of our ancestors arrived in this country, Aboriginal Australians had already suffered 150 years of persecution that bordered on genocide … While world leadership watched in silent disbelief, William Cooper [delivered] the only known private protest anywhere in the world against the Nazi regime, an extraordinary, brave and noble gesture, and one that I don’t believe we have adequately reciprocated … By walking together today we resolve not only to acknowledge the painful mistakes of the past, but also to finally commit to doing everything within our ability to restore our First Peoples to their rightful place, not just as part of this multicultural nation, but as the cultural and spiritual bedrock on which it sits. This is what true recognition—true reconciliation—must look like! The reality, however, is that no such change will come to this country or its First People until communities like ours engage, inspire and activate enough of our fellow Australians to care as much about the future of our indigenous brothers and sisters as William Cooper chose to care about our parents and grandparents in 1938.[7]

In his subsequent annual report, which contained the foolish spelling error “Krystalnacht”, the Union for Progressive Judaism’s president noted that 600 people had marched and that “our petition to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart now bore 13,000 signatures”. [8] On December 8, 2018, at Temple Beth Israel the world premiere of a specially composed orchestral and choral tribute to Cooper— Kristallnacht Cantata: A Voice of Courage, since performed in Europe and America—took place, Cooper being described during an elaborate series of tributes beforehand as “the only man in the world to lead a protest”. The misconception that the AAL’s delegation was snubbed by the German consulate on grounds of race (to be clear, my research shows that snubbing white protest delegations had been par for the course at Australia’s German consulates from 1933 onwards) led to Germany’s Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Antisemitism, Dr Felix Klein, on behalf of the Merkel regime, officially apologising in 2020 for the German consul’s refusal to accept the AAL’s letter in 1938.[9]

Australian Jewry’s major communal newspaper, the Australian Jewish News (AJN), published in both Melbourne and Sydney, has played an ever-increasing role in the dissemination of the myth. Shortly after the unveiling in 2002 of a plaque at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne that “honours the Aboriginal people for their actions protesting against the persecution of Jews by the Nazi government in 1938”, an AJN editorial (December 27, 2002) headed “Jews, Aborigines and bridge-building” vented angrily at “the great Australian silence” regarding the country’s colonial past, before observing:

It is this importance of remembering, the culture of ‘lest we forget’, that was the most significant factor in last week’s moving ceremony [at the Holocaust Centre] which honoured the courageous stance taken by the Australian Aborigines’ League … (and acknowledged that the museum stands on land belonging to the Kulin nation). That act of courage, undertaken by William Cooper and the AAL, was in defiance of not just the official position of the Australian Government, but of the entire Western world.

The editorial was presumably written by Dan Goldberg, a leftist who edited the paper from 2002 to 2007 and has since reported on the topic for the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz. [10]

There have been many hyperbolic and misleading references in the AJN to Cooper’s supposedly “unique” protest. An article by a staff journalist on November 7, 2008, implied that the AAL advocated increased refugee Jewish immigration to Australia. But the AAL’s protest said nothing, pro or con, about bringing Jewish refugees to Australia. (Nor, in contradiction of a prominent Melbourne rabbi/educator’s claim that Cooper was “one of the few people in the world” to appreciate “at that early stage” what Kristallnacht portended [11], does there seem to exist any evidence that Cooper predicted that mass extermination of European Jewry would ensue.)

Supported by the AJN, organised Australian Jewry’s elected leadership has recently promoted support for the Uluru Statement and the indigenous Voice to Parliament as the Jewish community’s default position, with dissenters marginalised, effectively silenced. With attempts by historians such as myself to demonstrate the misconceptions underpinning the Cooper myth disregarded, the myth is being wielded as a weapon of mass indoctrination for the “Yes” campaign. Marking Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) last year, the AJN reported (May 6, 2022):

two ancient cultures came together in Moorabbin to launch Workplace Access and Safety’s new building. Rabbi Menachem Wolf conducted a mezuzah installation ceremony while … a Bunurong Elder led a smoking and welcome-to-country ceremony. Owner Carl Sachs said the ceremonies were a significant acknowledgment not only to [sic] his culture, but also to [sic] the indigenous community who led the only recorded anti-Nazi protest in 1938.

The AJN’s editorial of June 3, 2022, concluded:

Eighty-four years after Indigenous leader William Cooper marched to the German consulate in Melbourne to protest Kristallnacht and the treatment of the Jews in Europe, it is time for our community to support his people. Because we cannot defend the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in our homeland without supporting the right of Indigenous Australians to a voice in theirs.

The same issue of the paper contained a long propagandistic piece by a Jewish intern at Macquarie University’s pro-Voice Radical Centre Reform Lab. With audacious ignorance she described Cooper as “the first person in Australia to publicly stand up for the Jewish people in the years leading up to the Holocaust”. And in a front-page report in that very issue by the paper’s present editor headed “Time to be Heard”, the chair of the John Curtin Research Centre think-tank, the son of Holocaust survivors and “a foundation donor” to the Reform Lab, was quoted as using the intern’s exact same phrase. Disturbingly, although letters attempting to set the paper’s readers straight regarding the fallacy of the Cooper myth have occasionally appeared in its correspondence columns, the powers that be at the paper appear to be in denial.[12]

Dr Hilary L. Rubinstein has published widely on Australian Jewish history and on philo-Semitism in the English-speaking world.

[1] Bain Attwood, William Cooper: An Aboriginal Life Story, The Miegunyah Press, Carlton, Vic., 2021.

[2] See, for instance, Hilary L. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia: A Thematic History. Vol.1: 1788-1945, Port Melbourne, William Heinemann, 1990; “The Three State Manifestos in Support of the Kimberley Scheme, 1939-40: Texts and Signatories”, Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal (hereinafter AJHSJ), vol.15, part 1, 1999, pp.35-58; “Critchley Parker (1911-42): Australian Martyr for Jewish Refugees”, AJHSJ, vol.11, part 1,1990, pp.56-68. These articles are now online at https://www.ajhs.com.au/journal/

[3] Gary Foley, ‘Australia and the Holocaust: A Koori Perspective’ (1997), now online at australia and the holocaust.pdf (kooriweb.org)

[4] Workers’ Weekly, 24 March, 21 June 1933; Burnie Advocate, 17 April 1933; The Age, 22 April 1933; Queensland Daily Standard, 3 June 1933.

[5] https://meanjin.com.au/blog/william-cooper-kristallnacht-and-a-radical-act-of-empathy/ and https://whatson.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/events/william-cooper-kristallnacht-and-a-radical-act-of-empathy

[6] See too Nomi Kaltmann, ‘The Courage of William Cooper’ (2021), online at The Aboriginal Australian Man Who Stood Up for German Jews After Kristallnacht – Tablet Magazine.pdf The author, sister of the Ark Centre’s rabbi, is a left-leaning activist.

[7] See https://www.facebook.com/Plus61J/posts/rabbi-gersh-lazarow-calls-our-national-inability-to-recognise-and-reconcile-with/1066239566881101/

[8] Union for Progressive Judaism Annual Report 2018-2019 ann-rep19pdfpage 57

[9] https://williamcooperslegacy.yolasite.com; https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-10/william-coopers-protest-against-kristallnacht-nazi-violence/10481936; https://www.smh.com.au/national/germany-sorry-for-snubbing-aboriginal-protest-at-persecution-of-jews-20201204-p56kov.html

 [10] See also Goldberg’s “An Aboriginal Protest Against the Nazis, Finally Delivered – Jewish World – Haaretz.com“ [https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/2012-12-10/] The following article by an aboriginal author mistakenly described the morning trek to the consulate as occurring at night: https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/william-cooper-a-koories-protest-against-the-nazis/6imrknr02

[11] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYn9HVd4Iyk&feature=youtu.be

[12] Maya Buhrich, ‘Why Jews have a duty to support a First Nations Voice’, Australian Jewish News, 3 June 2022, p.22. For the Radical Centre Reform Lab see https://www.mq.edu.au/research/research-centres-groups-and-facilities/groups/radical-centre-reform-lab

10 thoughts on “The Leftist Myth of William Cooper

  • NarelleG says:

    What an awesome forensic research project you have undertaken.

    Thank you so much for exposing this lie that has continued down the centuries and fraudulently used as recently as 2022!!!

    This is incredible –
    ‘my research shows that snubbing white protest delegations had been par for the course at Australia’s German consulates from 1933 onwards.’

  • rosross says:

    Never let facts get in the way of propaganda is the modus operandi. If you want a hero with aboriginal ancestry and cannot find the facts then make them up.

    In a world where family stories are accorded credibility as some sort of oral tradition, there is little hope of rigorous fact-gathering. I am somewhat bemused how, family stories in those families with some aboriginal ancestry, often a trivial amount, have magically been handed down word for word across as much as ten generations in ways we would not believe in any other family group.

    Anyone who does family ancestry is quickly made aware of how unreliable family stories are. Often the facts are facts but attributed to the wrong individual at the wrong time, in the wrong place and just quite simply are wrong fullstop.

    And while no-one disputes many European Jews suffered during the Second World war, along with tens of millions of others who followed different religions, there is no doubt that there is a powerful impetus to link Judaic suffering with others who are deemed to be victims, i.e. aborigines. Such links carry double the power of victimhood. It also supports the Zionist efforts to separate being Jewish from the religion of Judaism in joining in unity with aboriginal peoples who do not represent a religion as Jews do.

    At the end of the day, yet more excellent and valuable work from Dr Rubinstein and a reminder of what a travesty modern academia has become in terms of being a source of historical rigour.

    • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

      Yairs rosros, an elderly cousin, we are in our eighties, and I have differing views of family recollections and yet both sides of our families came here to the Darling Downs from Europe and Ireland in the 1860’s, both sides were well educated and of course literate so my cousin has resorted to using one of the family tree research organisations to sort it out. Just how a bunch of people supposedly from the beginnings of time, a bunch of people who never mastered reading and writing among a great deal of many other things, could remember their history so vividly and in great detail amazes me. Actually it doesn’t amaze me at all but what does amaze me is that a great many of the aboriginal people, both full blooded, part blooded, and pretend blooded, plus many of the general population of our country, believe the myths and make believe. We are the one country and the colour of our skin doesn’t matter, it’s what is underneath our skin that matters. To misquote Xavier Herbert who admired anything Aboriginal and wrote –poor fellow my country– for it is us and our country who will suffer if the Albenese ideal succeeds.

      • rosross says:

        I can only agree. On the plus side, the debate is bringing truths to the fore and it was good to see Geoffrey Blainey articulating some in The Australian. We need to put to rest the lies of the 67 Referendum for one thing because too many, including those who should know better, now hold to them as truths. Lies which masquerade as truths are even more powerful I have found.

  • sabena says:

    Presumably then,there was a strong protest from Cooper when the Nazi Soviet Pact was signed.

  • Katzenjammer says:

    Five years ago, Rubinstein’s expanded 34 page article about this mythical history appeared in the Journal of the Australian Jewish Historical Society, and last year her review of Atwood’s book. The future is built upon mythical histories. No-one really wants their sentiments demolished by “truth telling”.

    • rosross says:

      I have found that humans have a greater problem letting go of their dreams (fantasies, lies, myths) than they do letting go of reality. That applies whether the dreams are cultural, social, religious, ethnic or whatever. Fracture someone’s reality and they will adapt; fracture someone’s dream and they will fight to the death, yours and theirs, to hold onto it.

  • colin_jory says:

    To add further evidence to Hilary Rubenstein’s profusion of evidence. Brenda Niall, in her landmark biography of Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne, tells that immediately after Hitler assumed power in 1933 the Archbishop “sent a message of sympathy and support to the Australian Jewish community”, and was subsequently a strong supporter of the admission of Jewish refugees into Australia. (Niall also tells how iin 1938, when social justice for Australian aborigines was not a fashionable cause, Dr Mannix called for reparation for the wrongs done to them.)

  • rosross says:

    I have also read that the Zionists were so busy working with the Nazis to further their plan to colonise Palestine that they actively impeded efforts to get Jews out of Germany to safety. The dream and the cause won the day even though the Nazis, not surprisingly, were more than happy to help in any Jewish resettlement. But it is a huge topic, mired in controversy and submerged in opinions, as indeed we see with the aboriginal issue, which limits exploration. This is unfortunate for it allows fabrications and fantasies to take root when active, open and free debate and dissent is not allowed. Everyone loses when history is not solidly grounded in facts, but instead, floats on a sea of opinion.

Leave a Reply