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One Week, Two Incidents and No Suspects

Australian Jewish News

Sydney, Australia — In just one week, Sydney Jews have had to face the brutal reality of a grisly murder and an alleged assault – with both victims in the heart of the bagel belt. Although there is no proof yet that either was racially motivated, Jewish officials are nonetheless concerned.

Wednesday afternoon, December 27, 2006: An elderly lady feels unwell, calls her doctor at around 3.30pm, and returns to bed.

That evening, at around 7.15pm, Katherine Schweitzer, an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor, is found dead, murdered, strangled to death.

Her body is dumped in a wheelie bin and left on the fifth floor of her Bellevue Hill apartment block.

Fast forward seven days, to Wednesday, January 3, 2007. Nitzan Zerach is closing up the Chabad house for Israelis in Hall Street, Bondi Beach, just a kilometre or two from Bellevue Hill, at about 11.30pm.

He is invited to a farbrengen, a traditional Lubavitch l’chaim, but declines and decides to head back to his dormitory in the Yeshiva Centre’s Flood Street headquarters, about a 20-minute walk away.

But the 21-year-old, Israeli-born student does not make it, and is instead found unconscious, face down, just metres away from the Yeshiva Centre with serious wounds to his head.

A female passerby who spots him at around 1.30am calls 000. An ambulance arrives shortly thereafter and escorts him to the centre, but does not alert anyone.

Zerach stumbles into the centre, vomits and hobbles downstairs to his room, before passing out. By the following afternoon, he is in an intensive care unit at St Vincent’s Hospital with a severe brain hemorrhage and facial wounds.

The police investigation is still underway, and detectives are unable to say with certainty that he was assaulted.

Welcome to 2007. Police have not suggested any link between the two incidents, but Jewish officials, among others, are appalled by the severity of the incidents – both perpetrated on Jews, both within close proximity of each other, and both, at this stage at least, without any suspects.

Some of those shaking their heads in disbelief quietly acknowledge that they do not expect any suspects to be found, let alone charged or even convicted.

After all, senior Jewish officials cannot recall the last person charged for an attack on a Jewish person or Jewish property, including the recent attacks on Parramatta Synagogue, Coogee Synagogue and Newcastle Hebrew Congregation, as well as countless assaults on Orthodox Jews and, of course, the fire-bombings on numerous synagogues in NSW and the ACT during the second intifada and the first Gulf War in 1991, when six shuls were firebombed in Sydney alone.

But those who rush to the defence of the police remind Jews that convictions require suspects, suspects require evidence, and evidence is not always easily to secure.

In the attack on Coogee last June, for example, police apparently had DNA from blood that was left at the scene of the crime, but have been unable to find a match from suspects they have on file.

The case remains open, but the chances of a charge being laid, let alone a conviction, appear slim.


The tree-lined streets of Bellevue Hill are among the most exclusive in the eastern suburbs. Multi-million-dollar properties, including that of the Packer clan, boast glorious harbour views.

Jews too have flocked to this neighbourhood, which is serviced by several synagogues and other Jewish community institutions.

On Bellevue Road on Monday, locals remained stunned and baffled by the brutal murder of Mrs Schweitzer.

The local florist, Maria Marando, spoke highly of the Holocaust survivor. “It blows us away. She was such a lovely lady, very placid.”

She said Mrs Schweitzer would come into her shop on her own every Friday to buy Singapore orchids.

“We took some [orchids] down [to the scene of the crime] on the day we heard about it.

“At first she was very withheld, but slowly, slowly, over the last five years she opened up.

“She was never with anyone, never in a hurry, never flustered.”

Marando, like many other locals canvassed by the AJN, said the case “has got everyone stumped”.

“Everyone’s worried. Everyone is stumped by it all.”

The newsagent across the street from Mrs Schweitzer’s unit said she had the Sydney Morning Herald delivered daily, but he saw little of her.

Her neighbours in the Tiffany block were reluctant to speak to the AJN this week, with some of them still shell shocked by the grisly manner in which her body was dumped in a garbage bin.

Strike Force Miriam, which was established to investigate the mystery murder, appears to be stumped for a motive.

Detective Inspector Russell Oxford, who leads the investigation, told the AJN this week he suspected the murderer was someone Mrs Schweitzer knew.

He said it could have been a revenge crime by someone whom she upset.

“Someone’s disgruntled and has gone to this length [to kill her],” he said.

He said detectives were still talking to carers who may have keys to the building and were checking Mrs Schweitzer’s financial records.

Appealing to the Jewish community to help detectives piece together the crime, Detective Inspector Oxford said: “We would like to speak to anyone who can shed light on her background.”


THE Yeshiva Centre in Flood Street is the home of Chabad of Sydney, the headquarters of Rabbi Pinchus Feldman and his family, most of whom work with him in the various Chabad houses around the Harbour City.

Among its myriad programs, it brings students from around the world to study here and volunteer in various activities.
Nitzan Zerach was one of them. He arrived from Israel a couple of months ago, and was expected to stay here for the best part of the year.

What happened to him between locking up the Chabad house in Bondi Beach at round 11.30pm last Wednesday night and his return to Chabad HQ in Bondi Junction remains a mystery to police.

At first they believed his serious head injuries were a result of a “drunken accident” now they are unsure of exactly what happened.

But Zerach’s family and his colleagues at the Yeshiva insist he was assaulted.

Mendy Litzman, of Hatzolah, attended the Yeshiva on Thursday lunchtime.

“The first thing that entered our mind was an assault. He had a black eye and blood on his nose.”

He said the paramedics gave Zerach oxygen and immobilised his head with a neck collar.

Blood tests taken at hospital did not show any alcohol in his system, fuelling Zerach’s family and friends’ ire at police for initially suspecting him of alcoholism.

But NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff was more cautious: “The issue is still unresolved. The police are conducting a thorough investigation and they have not ruled out any possibility as to what may have occurred.

“It is therefore premature to speculate as to the circumstances which led to this unfortunate incident.”

Whatever the truth about the incident, he is lucky to be alive. Had he not stumbled out of bed and been found by a colleague, his brain hemorrhage could have been fatal.

As the AJN went to press this week, police working on the two mystery cases had at least two things in common: neither sets of detectives could confirm a definitive account of what actually happened, and neither had a suspect.


  • 1. BS wrote:

    I come from the Sydney Jewish community. I like the way the article here was written, but I don’t know how the corrollation of two recent stories add up to say that the NSW Police are doing nothing to help the Jewish victims.

    You see, we live in a generation of TV shows such as Law & Order, SVU, Sopranos, etc… etc.. And portrayed in these TV shows, we think that the Cops can solve a murder or theft or some other crime within a half an hour so the TV show can have the full story and great ending!! Give it a little more time!!

    There is also a generalisation in all Jewish communities around the globe that because the Police have’nt closed in on a suspect, therefor thet’re ani-Semitic, don’t care, hate us, don’t want to know us etc… etc… It’s just nonsense!! I don’t remember a time here in Sydney where the Police were called to an incident and responded in an anti-Semitic way. It just does’nt happen here, but it does happen in Melbourne. Australians in general are not anti-Semitic on the large scale. The anti-Semitic problems we get in Sydney are normally from the Lebanese-Austalian community.

    I hope the Police catch these suspects soon. But it’s not right and it’s a chilull Hashem to blame the Police just because theres no suspect yet..

    Come on someone, critisize me. Bring it on!!

  • 2. Milhouse wrote:

    Sydney police are not antisemitic, but they are afraid of the Lebanese Moslems. If they suspect that these crimes were committed by Lebs, they will try their best to obfuscate and not do anything about it, rather than make arrests.

    Let’s be precise, the problem is not Lebs, it’s Arab Moslems; Leb Xians have been living in Oz for over 100 years, and have never been a problem. Steven Bracks is Lebanese Christian.

  • 3. wake up time wrote:

    attention BS: your initials actually answer your own comment. I too lived in Australia and can tell you that Jews are in reality disliked by the non Jewish population there just like anywhere else in the world. Australians like to think they are in a safe haven and the police are fair and just etc. but that is living in fools paradise. the fact of the matter is THEY DON’T GIVE TWO HOOTS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE RICH DAMN JEWS! It is an Australian desease to always paint rosy pictures rather than admit there is a problem. As a matter of fact I have relatives who live right in the area where the woman was murdered (also holocaust survivors), ask them if they think the police are treating this with any sense of urgency….

  • 4. BS to WAKE UP TIME, Milhouse wrote:

    WAKE UP TIME; How often does a granny get murdered here in Australia, and a Jewish Granny??

    What would make you think that the Cops are’nt doing anything about it!? There is a task force named Task Force Miriam consisting of 20 full time officers trying all avenues to apprehend this murderer!!

    You see you are actually the racist that stereotypes the Goyim as being racist. Read the lines that you wrote in capital letters “THEY DON”T GIVE TWO HOOTS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE RICH DAMN JEWS”, now who’s the racist. Let me tell you, I work with Goyim and they are more sypathetic to me about shabboss & Yom Tov than previous Jewish and frum people I’ve worked for. (Letting me go home early etc.. etc..)!!

    Anyway, if people really feel let down by the Coppers, perhaps a Jewish Police Chaplain needs to liase with the Police. Whinging and complaining won’t get us anywhere. And Australia is a paradise with barely any issues.

    MILHOUSE; I totally agree with you. I was refering to Muslim Lebos. Christian Lebs are fine.

    On that note, Shiek Al Hilaly quoted to Egyptian TV that the Muslims did’nt come to Australia as Convicts. He’s right, They came as Terrorists!!!!!!!!

    Zay Gezunt!!!


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