Thursday, 17 July 2014
Kent, Mr Lewis and Mrs Vera
I rise today to honour the lives of Lewis and Vera Kent. Lewis Kent was a member of this place as member for Hotham between 1980 and 1990. Although that in itself is a significant achievement for a man of humble beginnings, it is only a very small part of what Lewis did. With Lewis there was always Vera. They were a team; they were a team together for some 64 years. They were, I am very proud to say, friends of mine and people who had a considerable influence over my political career and life.
Lewis and Vera are very much a migrant success story, a migrant success story which relates to the ravages of World War II. There were those who were displaced and faced much horror and then resettled their family in another place—and in this case two places—a situation where, in Lewis's case, you learnt in those early times the nature of suffering. He also learnt the reasons to fight for what you believe in and to stand up when you think something is wrong.
I want to read briefly from the eulogy at his recent funeral, which talked a bit about World War II:
On one occasion as the bombs were falling Lewis and brother hid under the stairs of an apartment block. After the bombing ceased they emerged to find only the stairs remaining. Another time Lewis was residing at his cousins house when the Nazi SS came looking for him. He pretended to be his cousin and told them that Lewis had just left and had gone in one direction and when they left Lewis hastily headed in the other. During the war food was scarce and an elderly relative who was household bound depended on him to find and bring her food. Due to curfews and continual bombing he was unable to reach her for several days and by the time he got there she had already starved to death. There were many such traumatic instances.
… Towards the end of the war Lewis and his cousin escaped to Hungary. When the Russians came to liberate the country they were both arrested with their false documents which made them appear to be Hungarian nationals. They were promptly marched along with thousands of other people considered by the Russians to be the enemy for 11 days without food or water in mid winter. Many thousands perished but he and his cousin survived. They were interred in a Russian prison camp and barely fed. And during this his cousin contracted typhoid and passed away as did many others. He survived and after a few months managed to escape and returned to Belgrade.
From there, under the Communist regime in Yugoslavia, again it became a situation of needing to get out, which they did. Being Jewish, the best chance they had was to go to Israel, which they did. In Israel, though—I make this point because of the comments I made around the question of the Communist regime—Lewis was in fact very unhappy in terms of what he saw as the oppression of the Palestinian people. As a result of that he joined the Communist Party and stood for election. I am pleased to say he was not successful because it meant that subsequently the family moved to Australia. Again, as migrants in those circumstances, they worked hard, sometimes with several jobs.
Lewis worked for some 26 years in the railways before he was elected to federal parliament in 1980. As a local member, Lewis always stood up for what he believed in, sometimes in a situation where he copped considerable criticism. There were death threats. I worked for Lewis for a period of time. He often stood up against oppression, particularly in relation to fascist movements which had come from that part of Europe and whose activities he knew of during World War II. He was always committed to them being taken to task for their crimes.
He suffered as a result of that, but he was a man who had beliefs and he stuck to them. He was someone who worked very hard for the Labor Party in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. He was one of the first to be successful at a federal level with pretty much an unbroken record of success over the last 30-plus years. He was a man of good humour. He was a man who believed in things and stuck to those beliefs. He will be a great loss to the local community.
Vera, of course, passed away a couple of years ago. My condolences go to his children, Alex and Elizabeth, and the many grandchildren—and I think now great-grandchildren. They can rest assured that the lives of both Lewis and Vera were lives well lived. They were lives that inspired others and they were lives that they can all be very proud of.
I did not see as much as I would have liked of Lewis and Vera over the last few years, but he was a great source of inspiration to me and a great source of support in my early years in politics. He has gone now but I will never forget him. He and Vera were people I am proud to call friends and comrades who did a great job for the community that they were part of.