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Safe Haven: Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia


Post-1945 immigration policy

World War II dramatically underlined the vulnerability of an underpopulated Australia, and acting Prime Minister Frank Forde put forward the need for a scientific migration policy – speculating on a postwar goal of 70 000 a year – in August 1945. In response to a request from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) in that same month, Minister for Immigration Arthur Calwell announced that 2000 close relatives of Jews already resident in Australia would be granted entry 'on humanitarian grounds'. Permits were conditional on the applicants being Holocaust survivors.

The scheme was subsequently extended to include Jewish refugees currently stranded by the war in safe havens such as Shanghai, Manila and elsewhere in the Far East. Over 18 000 Jews had fled Europe to places as far away as Shanghai by the outbreak of war, and a further 1000 Polish refugees were sent there by Japan in 1940. As it had before the war, the Australian Jewish Welfare Society took on responsibility for processing applications and supporting the migration process.

In the light of public opinion at the time, Medding has termed the Government's decision 'particularly courageous'. Unsurprisingly, Calwell and his policy were subjected to a virulent campaign by the Returned Services League, sections of the press, a number of federal and state politicians including former Premier Lang of NSW and the outspoken Liberal MP Henry Gullett, and a vocal section of the public. Fifty-eight per cent of those surveyed in a 1947 opinion poll were against Australia being a sanctuary for dispossessed Jews.41

Revitalised pre-war accusations of special treatment surfaced as claims that refugees were taking priority on ships over Australian servicemen, or that Australia was to become a dumping ground 'for people whom Europe had not been able to absorb for 2000 years'. As Suzanne Rutland has written: 'the fears and prejudices which had frustrated a humanitarian approach to Jewish migration in the free world before World War II reappeared'.42

No doubt resentment against Jewish newcomers was reinforced by the turbulent final years of the British mandate in Palestine, including the bombing of the King David Hotel and other anti-British demonstrations by Jewish nationalists. As a result, and probably in a bid to safeguard his somewhat insecure position, in 1947 Calwell placed limits on the number of Jews entering Australia – a quota of no more than 25 per cent of Jews on any ship coming to Australia. In that same year, he ended the program of migration on humanitarian grounds.

Calwell's policies were continued under Harold Holt, the Liberal Minister for Immigration. In 1952 an embargo was placed on migration of residents and former nationals of, or persons born in, Iron Curtain countries, and on migrants from Israel because of its open-door policy. Medding notes, however, that departmental policy after that time was 'not steady' – regulations were flexible enough to enable many thousands to enter Australia, sponsored by friends, relatives or the AJWS.43 Several thousand Sephardi Jews, most of them Egyptians expelled in the aftermath of the Arab–Israeli conflict, managed to migrate to Australia in the 1950s. Most of them settled in Adelaide. An estimated 3000 Jews from the Soviet Union arrived here from the early 1970s.

Government policy towards refugee immigration into Australia in the 1930s and 1940s has been the subject of substantial debate among historians of the Australian Jewish experience. As noted above, Paul Bartrop has argued that the so-called 'liberalisation' of immigration policy after November 1938 was, in reality, a smokescreen for a slightly decreased intake of Jews. Rutland suggests that there was a 'significant dichotomy' between official and unofficial attitudes towards the refugees, and that investigation of the implementation of immigration policy in the late 1940s reveals 'a picture of departmental subterfuge' worthy of an episode of the TV classic Yes Minister.

Rutland has located in National Archives records evidence of active discrimination against would-be migrants. For instance, she notes that only 500 of the 190 000 displaced persons brought to Australia under the IRO work scheme were Jews; that the embargo on Iron Curtain migrants was aimed chiefly at Jews; that Sephardi Jews were subject to particularly rigorous restriction; and that would-be immigrants stranded in Shanghai by the war were classified as 'thoroughly undesirable' by the immigration officer responsible. As a result, no more than 1500 Shanghai Jews managed to enter Australia. She also cites as discriminatory the 25 per cent limit on Jews.

W D Rubinstein, on the other hand, argues that the vast majority of Jewish displaced persons were either completely out of the reach of western relief agencies or had no desire to migrate to Australia. For them, a Jewish homeland in Palestine was the only viable option. He stresses that, despite all claims of overt and covert discrimination, at least 17 600 Jewish survivors reached Australia between 1945 and 1954 – the largest single increase in Australian Jewish numbers in the country's history. 'Indeed,' he argues, 'Melbourne's well-known post-war reputation as containing, proportionately, more Holocaust survivors than any Jewish community in the Diaspora plainly sits uneasily with a claim that severe restrictions on their migration did exist'.44

While conceding that Arthur Calwell bowed to public pressure over the question of Jewish migration, Richard Broome notes that the former Minister for Immigration ensured that Australia took in proportionally more displaced persons than any other nation in the 1940s.45

Typical of the debate has been the argument over the significance of the so-called 'Are you Jewish' clause on Immigration Forms 40 and 47. Introduced by the Lyons Government in 1939, ostensibly as a convenient way of allocating the quota of Jewish refugees and also, of course, as a way of keeping control on numbers of refugees, applicants for entry to Australia were asked specifically whether or not they were Jewish. Notwithstanding protests from the Jewish community, the offending question remained on the forms until 1953 when, as Rutland observes, Jewish immigration had ceased to be 'a threat to the Government's immigration policies'. Bartrop labels the use of the wording 'a simple case of bureaucratic racism developed to identify Jews for the purpose of exclusion rather than admission'. Rubinstein argues (in defence of the Government) that the 'Are you Jewish' question actively discriminated in favour of Jews, ensuring that quotas were filled.46

Important files dealing with aspects of Government policy on Jewish migration in the years after 1945 can be located in the following series

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTI-NUMBER SERIES (THIRD SYSTEM), 1933–50
Canberra
Series: A461
Quantity: 143.82 metres
Recorded by: 1934–1950: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Jews, 1946 A461, MA349/3/5 PART 1
Jews, 1946 A461, MA349/3/5 PART 2
Jews, 1946 A461, MA349/3/5 PART 3
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, CLASS 3 (NON-BRITISH EUROPEAN MIGRANTS), 1939–50
Canberra
Series: A434
Quantity: 12.27 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1939: Department of the Interior (I) (CA 27); 1939–1945: Department of the Interior (II) (CA 31); 1945–1950: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Statement of 23/1/47 on arrivals in Australia during 1946, including Jewish, 1947 A434, 1947/3/4805
S.S. 'Continental' – approval given for admission – Excess 25 per cent Jewish limitations, 1949 A434, 1949/3/2511
A. Masel – Report on activities in Shanghai, 1947–49 A434, 1949/3/4673
Jewish Iraqis evacuated from Near East – Permanent admission, 1946 A434, 1949/3/24723
Cabinet Sub-committee on Accommodation for Immigrants Item No 1, 1949 A434, 1949/3/14559
Aliens and British Jews in South Africa – Question of admission, 1950 A434, 1950/3/23526
Dept of Interior – Canberra Employment of Displaced Persons in C'wealth Establishments, 1948–51 A434, 1950/3/23574
Information regarding persons rejected for migration to Australia under International Refugee Organisation Scheme, 1950 A434, 1950/3/24001
Proposals re German migration to Australia, 1951 A434, 1950/3/45637 part 1
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, CLASS 12 (MIGRANTS), 1951–52
Canberra
The series consists of individual case files dealing with passport applications, naturalisation, deportation papers and resettlement.
Series: A440
Quantity: 8.64 metres
Recorded by: 1951–1952: Department of Immigration, Central Office (CA 51)
Executive Council of Australian Jewry – re Jewish immigration, 1945–47 A440, 1951/12/3672
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES (POLICY MATTERS), 1951–55
Canberra
Series: A445
Quantity: 22.50 metres
Recorded by: 1951–1955: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Evacuation of White Russians, Jews and other refugees from Shanghai, Part 2, 1949–50 A445, 235/3/5
Evacuation of White Russians, Jews and other refugees from Shanghai, 1949–54 A445, 235/3/6
Evacuation of White Russians, Jews and other refugees from China, Part 1, 1947–49 A445, 235/3/7
Alleged discrimination against admission of Jews... Question of Jewish or Not on departmental forms, 1939–54 A445, 235/5/9
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER WITH BLOCK ALLOCATIONS, 1953–
Canberra
This series includes immigration case files and confidential case files (containing applications for assisted passage, passports, naturalisation records, deportation records, etc) as well as related policy material.
Series: A446
Quantity: 3346.40 metres
Recorded by: 1953–1974: Department of Immigration, Central Office (CA 51)
Admission of Jews of Middle East origin, 1949–74 A446, 1972/77857
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, CLASS 1 (GENERAL, PASSPORTS), 1939–50
Canberra
Series: A659
Quantity: 101.25 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1945: Department of the Interior (II), Central Office (CA 31)
High Commissioner's Office, London – Granting of visas to Jews en route to Shanghai via Australia – Use of discretion in recommending, 1940 A659, 1940/1/5076
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH 'A' (ADMINISTRATION) PREFIX, 1951–74
Canberra
Files relate to personal benefit cases, pensions, allowances and social security services.
Series: A884
Quantity: 145 metres
Recorded by: 1951–1972: Department of Social Services, Central Office (CA 32); 1972–1974: Department of Social Security, Central Office (CA 1489)
German-Jewish Migrants – Request for Information by Immigration Department, 1940–76 A884, A2066
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES WITH YEAR AND LETTER PREFIXES, 1945
Canberra
The series is the main correspondence file series of the Department in question for the year 1945.
Series: A1066
Quantity: 31.23 metres
Recorded by: 1945–1945: Department of External Affairs (II), Central Office (CA 18)
Palestine – Entry of Jews into Australia, 1945–46 A1066, M45/17/4
Landing permits – Applications for Jewish and Central European refugees from Philippines, 1945 A1066, IC45/3/119
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES WITH YEAR AND LETTER PREFIXES, 1947
Canberra
Series: A1608
Quantity: 21.97 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1945: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Polish Children from Iran, 1944–46 A1608, AU39/1/3
War Records. War Refugees – Policy, 1943–47 A1608, Y19/1/1
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, 1948–89
Canberra
Series: A1838
Quantity: 3224.6 metres
Recorded by: 1948–1989: Department of External Affairs (II) (CA 18)
Immigration – Jewish Migrant Racket in Europe, 1949 A1838, 1531/44
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL ALPHABETICAL SERIES (WASHINGTON), 1939–48
Canberra
The series consists of correspondence files of the Australian embassy in Washington.
Series: A3300
Quantity: 21.89 metres
Recorded by: 1946–1948: Australian Embassy, USA (CA 1817)
[1948 file – White Tab] Civil Aviation: Pan American Airlines – Jewish Passengers, 1948 A3300, 664
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH YEAR SUFFIX, 1945–48
Canberra
The files contain the main correspondence of the China Post (regarding policy, trade and migration) from its inception (1941) until the end of 1948.
Series: A4144
Quantity: 6.84 metres
Recorded by: 1945–1948: Australian Legation, Republic of China (CA 1978)
Jewish community – Shanghai, 1945 A4144, 258/1945
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH 'H' INFIX, 1926–50
Perth
Series: PP6/1
Quantity: 20.16 metres
Recorded by: 1926–1945: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808)
Iraqi Jews – Applications for permanent residence in Australia, 1946 PP6/1, 1946/H/1067
Applications for the admission of Poles resident in Poland – enquiry from Australian Jewish Welfare Society, 1948 PP6/1, 1948/H/665
Jewish Welfare Societies – Accommodation, 1948 PP6/1, 1948/H/3216

A substantial number of files have been located which deal with the situation of Jews in the Soviet Union, and which form the backdrop to the immigration of Soviet Jews to Australia over the past generation. For instance:

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES (CLASSIFIED), 1957–
Canberra
The subject matter of these files encompasses departmental and domestic matters, foreign affairs, etc.
Series: A1209
Quantity: 1131.68 metres
Recorded by: 1957–1971: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Persecution of Jews in Russia [0.5cm], 1962–64 A1209, 1962/963
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, 1948–89
Canberra
Series: A1838
Quantity: 3224.6 metres
Recorded by: 1948–1989: Department of External Affairs (II) (CA 18)
USSR – Jews, 1952–62 A1838, 69/2/5/7 part 1
USSR – Jews, 1962–64 A1838, 69/2/5/7 part 2
USSR – Political Nationalities – Jews, 1964–68 A1838, 69/2/5/7 part 3
United Nations Human Rights – Treatment of Jews in Soviet Union [2.5cm], 1964–65 A1838, 929/5/2/1 part 3
United Nations Human Rights – Treatment of Jews in Soviet Union [1.5cm], 1965–68 A1838, 929/5/2/1 part 4
United Nations Human Rights – Treatment of Jews in USSR, 1953 A1838, 929/5/2/1 part 1

Notes

Chapter notes | All notes

40 Medding, p.157.

42 Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora, p.234-56; Bartrop, p.76; Suzanne D. Rutland, "'Are you Jewish?: Post-war Jewish Immigration to Australia 1945-1954", Australian Journal of Jewish Studies 5(2), 1991, p.35-58; W.D. Rubinstein, "Australia and the Refugee Jews of Europe, 1933-1954: a Dissenting View", AJHSJ 106), 1989, p.500-23; Richard Broome, "The Case of Arthur Calwell and the Displaced Persons", in The Australian Jewish Experience, Melb 1998, p.19-22.

43 Converted to A6006, 51/12/31

44 W.D. Rubinstein, The Jews of Australia: an Introduction, p.4.

45 Hilary L. & W.D. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia: a Thematic History from 1788 to the Present, 2 vols, Melb 1991, Vol 1, p.471-528; Vol 2, p.379-500

46 Finding Families: The Guide to the National Archives of Australia for Genealogists, comp. Margaret Chambers, Canberrra 1998, p.126.


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Chapter 2
Immigration and Settlement – Government Policy