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Research Guides

Good British Stock: Child and Youth Migration to Australia

Jewish child migration

The Australian Jewish Welfare Society was born of an initial ad hoc response to the persecution of Jews in Germany under the Nuremburg laws in 1935. Mr S S Cohen and other New South Wales Jewish community leaders met on 18 March 1936 to plan an association to assist Jewish refugees, families and single adults, to emigrate to Australia.

Over the months, December 1938 to September 1939, nearly 7 500 Jewish German and Austrian children were moved to Britain. Meanwhile, the AJWS established a children's home, 'Larino' in an old mansion in Maleela Avenue, Balwyn, Victoria. The place could accommodate 40 children and it was planned they would stay only three months before being fostered. In fact, only 17 children reached Melbourne before the war commenced. These arrived on the Orama on 24 July 1939.

In regard to Jewish refugee children, the AJWS applied in 1939 for permission to introduce 750 orphaned children from central Europe. The Society would be responsible for the transport, reception and after-care of the children, many of whom it was considered would be fostered by Australian families. Approval was given to introduce 250 orphaned German children. However, the AJWS experienced difficulty in obtaining orphaned children and only 19 were selected; most children were able to proceed to the United States with fewer problems. As a result of further representations to the Australian Government, approval was given in December 1939 for the introduction of 50 refugee children – not necessarily orphans, and in May 1940 for the introduction of 100 Dutch or Belgian Jewish children between 7 and 14 years of age. However, there was no transport available to bring the children; submarines made the passage unsafe.

In fact, it was not until 1947, in the context of a general resumption of child migration that small numbers of Jewish children arrived in Australia. Meanwhile, another Jewish organisation, the Jewish Welfare Guardian Society, had commenced in 1938 to sponsor youth migration for rural work. John Wars was the principal organiser, and he modelled his scheme on the Big Brother Movement. Wars met Sir Richard Linton to discuss his plan in December 1938. In that year the Guardian Society brought 20 young men from Germany to Australia via the Kitchener camp in England. All were placed in Dookie or Longerenong agricultural training colleges in Victoria, but war intervened and 17 of the 20 served with the AIF.

After the war, the Guardian Society continued its youth migration work and had 67 boys under its care by December 1949. In 1954, the two Jewish societies involved with child and youth migration merged. Although individual children had arrived earlier, the first group of 26 orphan survivors sponsored by the AJWS arrived in Melbourne on the Radnikon 1 February 1948. They were placed at 'Larino', soon to be renamed 'Frances Barkman House'. During the 1950s, some young men continued to arrive – survivors of the Belsen and Buchenwald concentration camps. They were older teenagers and more youth than child migrants. In fact, Jewish child migration to Australia was small-scale; most young survivors of Nazi persecution went to the United States.

The substantial body of archival records is out of proportion to the small number of Jewish child and youth migrants who arrived in Australia. The records cover the issues in detail, and there is material that will be of some interest to family historians.

Series: A1
Quantity: 337.14 metres
Recorded by: 1932–38: Department of the Interior [I] (CA 27)
Australian Jewish Welfare Society. Proposal regarding Control of Jewish Migration, 1938–39 [45 pages]

Sir Samuel Cohen, President, AJWS, wrote to the Secretary, Department of the Interior, 6 September 1938:

It is suggested that all applications from Jewish persons overseas for permits to reside in Australia be submitted (first) to the AJWS.

The department did not acquiesce fully in this. While this provides background, including the tone of anti-Semitism in the Department of Interior, the file does not concern child or youth migration directly.

A1, 1938/23138
Series: A433
Quantity: 12.6 metres
Recorded by: 1939–45: Department of the Interior II (CA 31)
Polish refugee children in Iran – Question of admission to Australia, 1944–45

In the wake of the New Zealand Government's taking some 750 Polish children, accompanied by around 140 adults in 1944, the Polish Government-in-exile applied to Australia to take a similar group of refugees from camps in Iran, which the British Government wanted closed. In 'Notes of Interview between the Acting Prime Minister and the Consul-General for Poland, Mr L De Noskowski, 30 November 1944' the latter said:

The British Government has notified the Polish Government that all refugees who have been in Iran for the last two years must be evacuated as soon as possible.

A memorandum, Ministry of the Interior, 11 April 1945, is cautious on the proposal which is rather odd in view of the plans being made for massive child migration after the conclusion of hostilities. The memorandum stresses the transport difficulty and the possible costs to Australia if any new Polish Government repudiates an agreement to subsidise the refugees. Moreover, 'new government might strongly object to the party being brought to Australia instead of being rehabilitated to Poland'. However, there were no Jews in the party of 669 children and 450 adults, all were Catholics. On the other hand, the only camp available was at Dubbo (NSW), remote from Sydney and in a place difficult to provide staff. In the end this refugee group did not come to Australia. John Curtin, the Prime Minister, wrote to Archbishop Mannix (Melbourne), 14 April 1945 of the confused situation in Poland and the need to leave the question in abeyance for the moment.

A433, 1944/2/5976
Series: A434
Quantity: 12.45 metres
Recorded by: 1939: Department of the Interior [I] (CA 27); 1939–45: Department of the Interior [II] (CA 31); 1945–50: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Polish Jewish Relief Fund: migration of children, 1937–42 [206 pages]

During 1937, a Melbourne-based Jewish charitable association, the Polish Jewish Relief Fund requested the Australian Government to allow them 'to introduce a number of male Jewish children, preferably orphans, from Poland, lads 14 to 16 years of age, at the rate of some 20 children per annum'. Mr T Paterson, the Minister for the Interior, prepared a memorandum for Cabinet, 1 November 1937 which was very unsympathetic to the proposal:

The Government has never been favourably disposed towards schemes for group migration of aliens… Polish Jews not an attractive proposition… Government should not approve the proposal.

Months passed, and for reasons unclear from the file, the proposal was approved on 7 June 1938 in a letter from J A Carrodus (Ministry of the Interior) to Mr A S Rose, Secretary of the Polish Jewish Relief Fund (PJRF):

The authority is granted on the understanding that, for a period of at least five years after their arrival in Australia, the selected youths will not be allowed to become a charge upon the public.

There is a copy of an undertaking to this effect by the PJRF. There are medical certificates, application forms and photos of the boys proposed for the scheme, some of the documentation being in Polish. The twenty young men arrived in Melbourne on the SS Otranto in the middle of 1939.

A434, 1941/3/1039
Australian Jewish Welfare Society – Form of Guarantee, 1938–39 [13 pages]
This concerns guarantees by the AJWS executives regarding the management of their Jewish co-religionists' immigration to Australia and provides background only to child and youth migration.
A434, 1948/3/14960
Polish Refugee Children – Admission to New Zealand, 1944–47 [27 pages]

The first item is an extract from the Evening Post (Wellington, NZ) which advised that:

The Acting Prime Minister today said that the New Zealand Government had offered to provide hospitality in New Zealand for a number of Polish refugee children… camp in the Pahiatua area.

The Department of External Affairs provided a short 'Details of Passage Arrangement', 16 November 1944, which noted that the children and the adults accompanying them would be transported by the US troopship, General Randall, returning to America via New Zealand. There are outlines of the arrangements to receive the children; their welcome; and their acclimatisation to life in the dominion. On 16 July 1946, the Herald (Melbourne) mentioned that 'it is now probable that they will remain in New Zealand and eventually become Dominion citizens'.

A434, 1947/3/4316
Polish Jewish Relief Fund: migration of children, 1937–42 A434, 1941/3/1039
Australian Jewish Welfare Society. Reports regarding condition of Jewish children in Europe, 1944–45

The correspondence in this thin file concerns a report sent to the Secretary, Department of Immigration by Mr W L Brand, General Secretary of the AJWS, 13 December 1944, in which there is the following:

I trust the following information will be of interest to you in your future planning on child migration… I would point out that the Joint Distribution Committee of the USA have agreed to accept responsibility to the US Government and accept 5 000 Jewish children under the US Government's child migration scheme… the Committee works with UNRRA.

A434, 1944/3/1272
Australian Jewish Welfare Society Scheme for Admission of 300 refugee children, Part 1, 1943–46 [c.250 pages]
The first item is a memorandum for Cabinet by Senator J S Collings, Minister for the Interior, 25 February 1943, requesting fresh authority for the AJWS to 'introduce up to 150 Jewish refugee children who had been cared for by the Catholic Church in Vichy France'. The AJWS agreed that the children selected would be suitable 'of good type and satisfactory as regards physical and mental fitness'; and the Society would, of course, be responsible for their reception and after-care. Notionally, the numbers were raised to 300 children in 1944. There is correspondence over the original 1939 request by the Jewish authorities for Australia to take some refugee children who had arrived in Great Britain. The 'tyranny of distance', the danger of travel and the lack of shipping rendered all the plans and correspondence futile until well after the war. There is some material on the Holocaust and advice from London that the AJWS plans were impracticable for the immediate future. Jewish refugee children in Portugal or Switzerland could gain access to the United States. The file has details of the AJWS appeal for funds to support the Jewish children. However, the shipping difficulty remained acute until late 1947.
A434, 1949/3/3
Series: A445
Quantity: 22.5 metres
Recorded by: 1951–55: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Admission of Polish Refugee Children in India to Australia, 1946–49 A445, 255/1/8
Series: A989
Quantity: 30.6 metres
Recorded by: 1943–44: Department of External Affairs (CA 18)
Polish Child Migration to Australia, 1944 [11 pages]

On 1 December 1944, the Polish Government-in-exile requested leave to place 700 Polish refugee children then in Iran in Australia. They were orphans, aged 2 to 16 years of age. The Polish idea was that they would be temporary residents in Australia and this concerned the Ministry of the Interior. An official wrote on the file:

It makes all the difference to Interior's consideration of the request whether the proposal is for temporary asylum or permanent residence. The Poles would be prepared to leave selected children in Australia as permanent residents.

The Interior Department requested details from New Zealand as to how they had handled the refugee Polish children there. There is no decision recorded in this file.

A989, 1944/554/2/5/1
Series: A1608
Quantity: 20.79 metres
Recorded by: 1939–45: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Polish Children from Iran, 1944–46 A1608, AU39/1/3
Series: A439
Quantity: 6.66 metres
Recorded by: 1951–52: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Australian Jewish Welfare Society, 1952–53 A439, 1952/11/7044
Series: A442
Quantity: 8.28 metres
Recorded by: 1951–52: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
AJWS – Scheme for the administration of 300 refugee children, part 2, 1946–52 [200 pages]
The first item concerns correspondence between the President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and Immigration Minister, Arthur Calwell, regarding the introduction of Jewish child migrants from refugee camps in accordance with the Government's permission granted in January 1943, and in fact, in accordance with permission first offered in 1938. This was a classic case in which war, lack of available shipping, and the 'tyranny of distance' had frustrated good intentions. Calwell replied on 29 June 1946, and after outlining negotiations stretching over eight years stressed that with the 'scarcity of shipping' the Government could do nothing at that time. He mentioned that there was a request from the Jewish Welfare Guardian Society of NSW for permission to bring 100 young men 'for agricultural education'. Calwell seems to be hinting that the two Jewish Welfare Societies should coordinate their activities. Meanwhile material suggests that the Jewish community had collected a large sum of money for 'the reception, maintenance and after-care' of the children, if and when they arrived; and was trying to arrange suitable children with colleagues in Switzerland. The young people originally selected for Australia had gone to the United States which was much easier to access. Finally, on 19 February 1948, the Jewish authorities advised Immigration that some children had arrived and were being placed in private homes. Numbers were small. On 24 January 1951, the Secretary, Child Welfare Department, Melbourne advised that he had 19 Jewish minors on the Department's records, and most were 'youth' rather than 'child' migrants.
A442, 1952/14/693
Series: J25
Quantity: 1652.67 metres
Recorded by: 1946–74: Department of Immigration, Qld Branch (CA 958)
Australian Jewish Welfare Society, 1949 J25, 1949/4175


Chapter 3
Guide to the Records