Skip to content | Skip to document navigation

Research Guides


Safe Haven: Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia


Refugees and the Evian Conference

In 1930, with the Great Depression severely affecting Australia's workforce, the Scullin Government tightened up entry requirements for 'aliens', demanding that only those immigrants who had £500 landing money, or who were dependent relatives of aliens already living in Australia, would be permitted to enter the country.

Following the election of Adolf Hitler in Germany, a group of concerned Jewish spokesmen, led by Rabbis F L Cohen and Israel Brodie, went to Canberra and personally lobbied the Minister for the Interior to admit a limited number of skilled German-Jewish refugees. But it was to no avail. Two years later, and following Hitler's promulgation of the notorious Nuremburg Laws, prominent Sydney leader Sir Samuel Cohen presided over the formation of the German Jewish Relief Fund, which tried to emulate similar initiatives in Britain by raising funds to assist young German Jews to escape to Palestine or other 'safe havens'.

Simultaneously, Cohen, Brodie and Brigadier Harold Cohen (among others) continued to press Government members for an easing of immigration restrictions. The Lyons Government compromised by reducing landing money to £50 for those migrants guaranteed by family or friends. It also encouraged the formation of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society (AJWS) to coordinate migration processes. Australia House in London reportedly received 120 inquiries a day from would-be immigrants in March 1938, while the AJWS received 1200 pleas for assistance in the week following the Austrian Anschluss alone.

The AJWS has been subject to some criticism by historians for its reluctance to allow too large an 'influx' of refugees into the country. Analysis of its correspondence seems to suggest, however, that the AJWS was sensitive to Government and public sentiment and that its actions were determined by the canny presumption that any marked increase in migrant numbers would merely jeopardise existing, and already tenuous, concessions.

The AJWS was responsible for obtaining permits, organising transport and administering the technicalities of the voyage out, sponsoring individuals and families lucky enough to be chosen, caring for and accommodating them on arrival, assisting them to find work and generally ensuring as steady an integration process as possible. It faced an enormous and often heart-breaking task. Peter Medding argues that the AJWS was forced to sift through more than 70 000 applications in all, but it was able to accept only a fraction of them.25 Viewed with the benefit of hindsight, the AJWS's correspondence files contain some of the most touching and distressing documents in the National Archives holdings.

In July 1938, Australia followed Britain's lead by agreeing to send representatives to Evian, France where a world summit was to seek solutions to the refugee problem. Dubbed officially the 'Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees', the conference – originally the initiative of US President Franklin D Roosevelt – brought together delegates from 32 nations. Although disappointing, the conference outcomes were hardly surprising. It was clear from the outset that none of the participating countries was willing to modify its existing migration restrictions.

Australia was perhaps more honest than other participants in this regard. Lieut Col T W White, Federal Minister for Trade and Customs and head of the Australian delegation, bluntly informed the conference that his country was committed to its policy of British migration. Pointing out that Australia's current intake rate was (pro rata to its population) comparable to that of any other nation, White emphasised his Government's reluctance to unleash a potential racial problem through the large-scale importation of 'foreigners'.26

White was voicing what seems to have been a widespread national sentiment. According to a public survey conducted at this time, only 17 per cent of the Australian population was in favour of large-scale immigration of Jews. Correspondence in files reveals intense disquiet (at least in some quarters) about the reluctance of Jews to integrate or the possibility that refugees would 'swamp' some professions or take away jobs from 'Australians'. For example, rigid quotas were imposed on the number of refugee practitioners able to enter the medical profession in Australia.

Paul Bartrop maintains that the Evian Conference 'clearly demonstrated that the nations of the world – and particularly Australia – did not yet fully understand the implications of what was happening in Germany in any terms other than their own'.27 Kristallnacht in November 1938 forcefully underlined the dire predicament facing German Jews. In response to increasingly urgent calls to increase its refugee intake, the Australian Government announced that it would accept 15 000 refugees (12,000 of them Jews) over the subsequent three years.

Bartrop argues that this apparent 'liberalisation' of policy was, in fact, nothing of the kind. Citing National Archives sources, which indicate that Australia was effectively already accepting 5100 refugees per annum (prior to December 1938), he notes that the new quota actually reduced the proposed intake.28 Designed to advertise the Government as compassionate, liberal and 'humanitarian', in reality, the new policy 'cynically used the opportunity... to curtail whatever trend there had previously been towards a growth in refugee admissions'.29 As it was, a mere fraction of the first annual quota had reached Australia before World War II broke out. Hilary Rubinstein estimates that, in total, only some 7000 Jews settled in Australia between 1933 and 1939.30

Among those who did manage to reach these shores were small groups of child and adolescent migrants. According to Glen Palmer, who has examined the issue in Reluctant Refuge, approximately 100 Jewish children and adolescents (40 to 50 of them aged under 16) managed to surmount immigration hurdles and find a haven in Australia in the 18 months before war was declared. Included in the number were 20 Jewish boys and youths sponsored by the Welfare Guardian Society, a further 20 (aged 14–16) sponsored by the Polish Jewish Relief Fund, and 17 (aged 7–12) sponsored by the AJWS.31

Noting that the Federal Government facilitated the evacuation and emigration of around 570 British children in 1940, and that organisations involved with British child migration were unable to fill their quotas, Palmer has condemned the uncompromising official response to the plight of the young Jewish refugees.32 Konrad Kwiet notes that the AJWS successfully negotiated with the Federal Government for permits to enable a further 450 Jewish children (some of them stranded in France) to enter Australia during the war. As it turned out, none of them arrived at that time, due to the difficulties of getting out of Europe, the limited transportation available, and 'the decision of Australia to follow the example of the allies and afford the rescue of the Jews only a marginal significance'.33 Although greater numbers of unaccompanied child survivors were permitted to enter Australia after 1945, these children also found themselves subject to considerable restriction.

Once war had been declared against Germany by Britain and its allies in September 1939, immigration effectively ceased, although it should be noted that small numbers of refugees did manage to come to Australia via the Orient in the early years of conflict. As former citizens of enemy states, quite a number of them were promptly (albeit temporarily) interned as 'enemy aliens' alongside a group of German and Italian refugees (many of them Jews) who were deported to Australia from Britain on the Dunera in 1940. Many of the Dunera boys, and other Jewish internees who stayed in Australia, contributed to the allied war effort by joining the Eighth Employment Company following their release. For more details about 'enemy aliens' and the Dunera affair, see Chapter 1.

Important files documenting Government policy on Jewish and other 'alien' migration in the 1930s, and continuing into the World War II period, include:

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1903–38
Canberra
Series: A1
Quantity: 337.14 metres
Recorded by: 1932–1938: Department of the Interior (I) (CA 27)
German Emergency Fellowship Committee. Admittance of non-Aryan Christians of Jewish extraction, 1938–39 A1, 1938/11509
Jewish Professors and Scientists – question of opportunities for employment in universities, etc, in Australia, 1938 A1, 1938/16040
Jews (British subjects) Resident in UK. Assisted passages for, 1938 A1, 1938/30786
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH YEAR PREFIX, 1916–27, AND 'C' PREFIX, 1927–53
Canberra
Series: A367
Quantity: 64.08 metres
Recorded by: 1919–1946: Investigation Branch, Central Office (CA 747); 1946–1953: Commonwealth Investigation Service (CA 650)
Alien migration. Jews from Central Europe. Central European migrants (stateless German refugee Jews), 1933–46 A367, C3075I
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1929–
Canberra
This series includes material on a wide range of subjects, and covers dealings between the Attorney-General's Department and other Government departments and instrumentalities, such as the Australian Federal Police, Corporate Affairs, the Parole Board, Trade Practices and the Security Division.
Series: A432
Quantity: 1957.68 metres
Recorded by: 1929–: Attorney-General's Department (CA 5)
Employment of Jewish immigrants, 1939 A432, 1938/1425
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, CLASS 2 (RESTRICTED IMMIGRATION), 1939–50
Canberra
These files relate to restricted immigration to Australia, and may contain reports, correspondence, articles, cables, newscuttings, passports, departmental despatches, proposed amendments to the Immigration Act, authorities for admission under exemption (Form 32) and deportation orders (Form 43B).
Series: A433
Quantity: 8 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1939: Department of the Interior (I) (CA 27); 1939–1945: Department of the Interior (II) (CA 31)
Refugees 'G' – Acceptance of landing permits, held by German Jewish refugees, by shipping companies, 1939–40 A433, 1939/2/2102
Migrants Consultative Committee re Jewish refugees, 1940–41 A433, 1940/2/3030
Evacuees (British Subjects) from Baltic States – Jewish group, 1941–42 A433, 1941/2/2330
Report on Jewish organisations engaged in Jewish refugee migration, 1943 A433, 1943/2/1109
National Council of Jewish Women of Australia – Information re Jewish immigration, etc, 1936–43 A433, 1943/2/3378
Jews/refugees congregating in districts, 1939–41 A433, 1939/2/742
Refugees (Jewish and Others) – General Policy file, 1938–44 A433, 1943/2/46
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)
Admission of German Jews – Cabinet decision re: Part 1, 1933–36 A434, 1949/3/7034
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES (POLICY MATTERS), 1951–55
Canberra
This series consists of immigration policy files, dealing in particular with the assimilation, welfare and education of migrants. File subjects include migrant organisations, sponsorship schemes, housing and accommodation, refugees, child migration, restricted immigration policy.
Series: A445
Quantity: 22.50 metres
Recorded by: 1951–1955: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Admission of Jews. Policy. Part 2, 1936–38 A445, 235/5/2
Admission of Jews. Policy. Part 3, 1938–52 A445, 235/5/4
Protests re Jewish immigration, 1938–46 A445, 235/5/6
Jewish Tourists seeking permanent admission, 1938–47 A445, 235/5/5
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTI-NUMBER SERIES (THIRD SYSTEM), 1934–50
Canberra
This very large series consists of general correspondence files covering a wide range of subjects that had come to the attention of the Prime Minister. Several files have been identified which deal specifically with Jewish immigration.
Series: A461
Quantity: 143.82 metres
Recorded by: 1934–1950: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Immigration – Policy, 1938–44 A461, A349/1/2 part 4
Jews – General, 1938–46 A461, MA349/3/5 part 2
Foreign migration – settlement of Jews, 1936–46 A461, U349/3/5
Refugees – Representations by Sir Frank Clarke, 1939 A461, AA349/3/5
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, CLASS 1 (GENERAL, PASSPORTS), 1939–50
Canberra
This wide-ranging series includes a large number of naturalisation files for the period 1939–1943. From 1946, the series relates exclusively to immigration matters.
Series: A659
Quantity: 101.25 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1939: Department of the Interior (I), Central Administration (CA 27); 1939–1945: Department of the Interior (II), Central Office (CA 31)
Report and Proposals by T H Garrett. Refugees from Europe – selection of, etc, 1939 A659, 1947/1/2109
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES WITH VARIABLE ALPHABETICAL PREFIX AND GENERAL PREFIX 'SC' (FOURTH SYSTEM), 1939–47
Canberra
Files in this series relate to World War II and include information on a wide range of topics, reflecting the way war impinged on all aspects of public life, national security, Government administration and policy making.
Series: A1608
Quantity: 21.97 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1945: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
War – 1939. Assistance to Poland – migration of refugees, 1940–41 A1608, F19/1/1
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ALPHABETICAL SERIES, 1924–45
Canberra
Most of the correspondence in this series consists of communications between the External Affairs Office, Department of External Affairs, Foreign and Dominions Office, and the High Commissioner's Office (London).
Series: A2937
Quantity: 7.92 metres
Recorded by: 1924–1945: Department of External Affairs, London (CA 1759)
Poland – Jewish refugees in Japan, 1941 A2937, 207
FOLDERS OF COPIES OF CABINET PAPERS, 1901–
Canberra
Series: A6006
Quantity: 18.76 metres
Recorded by: 1976–1981: Australian Archives, Central Office (CA 1720)
A statement of the position relating to the registration of medical men of Jewish nationality in Australia, 1937 A6006, 1937/12/31
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1943–50
Canberra
Subject areas of this series include transport, housing, and rehabilitation of service personnel.
Series: A9816
Quantity: 1.44 metres
Recorded by: 1943–1950: Department of Post-war Reconstruction, Central Office (CA 49)
Migration Jewish Societies – Representations, 1941–46 A9816, 1943/1471
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH 'H' INFIX, 1926–50
Perth
The series consists of general records concerning migration, including files on persons coming under notice (through provisions of the Immigration Act), applications for naturalisation, and applications for admission into Australia.
Series: PP6/1
Quantity: 20.16 metres
Recorded by: 1926–1945: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808)
Admission of Jewish aliens to Australia, 1938 PP6/1, 1938/H/902
ARMY GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE, 1939–42
Melbourne
Series: MP508/1
Quantity: 0.72 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1939: Army Headquarters, Department of Defence (II) (CA2671); 1939–1942: Department of the Army, Central Office (CA 36)
Reports from Jewish migrants, 1940–41 MP508/1, 115/703/363
German Jewish refugees enlistment in the Armed Forces, 1938–40 MP508/1, 115/702/20
DEFENCE ARMY SERIES (401), 1936–45
Melbourne
Series: MP729/6
Quantity: 26 metres
Recorded by: 1936–1939: Department of Defence (II), Central Administration (CA 19); 1939–1945: Department of the Army, Central Office (CA 36)
Landing in Australia of German Jewish Refugees, 1939 MP729/6, 65/401/21
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1871–1962
Adelaide
Records in this series deal with policy and operational matters, bond store matters, and aspects of shipping.
Series: D596
Quantity: 65.34 metres
Recorded by: 1871–1962: Australian Customs Service, State Administration, SA (CA 802)
Jewish Visitors without permits, 1938 D596, 1938/5934
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)
Refugees from Austria: Special Committee proposed by USA, Evian, 1938 A434, 1950/3/41837
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTI-NUMBER SERIES (THIRD SYSTEM), 1934–50
Canberra
Series: A461
Quantity: 143.82 metres
Recorded by: 1934–1950: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Jews – Policy, 1933–38 A461, M349/3/5 part 1
Jews – Policy, 1933–46 A461, M349/3/5 part 2
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ALPHABETICAL SERIES, 1927–42
Canberra
The main correspondence file series of the department for the years cited, although contents actually date back as far as 1901. The series covers subject areas (arranged alphabetically) such as refugees, migrants and Zionism.
Series: A981
Quantity: 163.27 metres
Recorded by: 1927–1942: Department of External Affairs (II) (CA 18)
Inter-Government committee (including Evian Conference), 1938–40 A981, REF 4

Records which contain material regarding the workings of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society, and its efforts on behalf of Jewish immigrants before and after World War II, include:

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1903–38
Canberra
Series: A1
Quantity: 337.14 metres
Recorded by: 1932–1938: Department of the Interior (I), Central Administration (CA 27) (CA 27)
Australian Jewish Welfare Society. Proposal re Control of Jewish migration, 1938–39 A1, 1938/23138
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1929–
Canberra
Series: A432
Quantity: 1957.68 metres
Recorded by: 1929–: Attorney-General's Department (CA 5)
Australian Jewish Welfare Society – application for registration without the word 'Ltd', 1935–44 A432, 1937/1036
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)
Australian Jewish Welfare Society – Form of Guarantee, 1938–39 A434, 1948/3/14960
Australian Jewish Welfare Society – Request for recognition as approved society, 1949 A434, 1949/3/22573
Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society. Repatriation of Agents, 1949 A434, 1949/3/22581
Australian Federation of Jewish Welfare Societies, 1947–48 A434, 1950/3/8948
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, CLASS 11 (MIGRANTS A–C), 1951–2
Canberra
The series includes naturalisation files as well as files about deportation or resettlement, and applications for passports. Naturalisation files usually include application, statutory declaration and renunciation of former allegiance. Some files also contain newspaper clippings (declaring the applicant's intention to seek naturalisation), original passport and reports on applicant.
Series: A439
Quantity: 6.66 metres
Recorded by: 1951–1952: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Australian Jewish Welfare Society, 1952–53 A439, 1952/11/7044
ARMY GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE, 1939–42
Melbourne
Series: MP508/1
Quantity: 0.72 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1942: Department of the Army, Central Office (CA 36)
Australian Jewish Welfare Society, 1942 MP508/1, 4/703/1126
Australian Jewish Welfare Society – [Assistance to Military Districts], 1940 MP508/1, 82/712/120
Deputation of Reps of the Aust. Jewish Welfare Society, 1942 MP508/1, 115/703/596
Australian Jewish Welfare Society, 1940 MP508/1, 255/702/549
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH 'SB' (SHIPPING BRANCH) PREFIX, 1939–51
Adelaide
Series: D1976
Quantity: 16.5 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1951: Australian Customs Service, SA (CA 802)
Landing permits – Families temporarily separated – Australian Jewish Welfare Society, 1939 D1976, SB1940/196

Records dealing with Jewish child (and youth) migration before and after World War II can be located in the following series:

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, CLASS 2 (RESTRICTED IMMIGRATION), 1939–50
Canberra
Series: A433
Quantity: 8 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1939: Department of the Interior (I) (CA 27); 1939–1945: Department of the Interior (II) (CA 31)
Australian Jewish Welfare Society – Question of using separate landing permits for (a) husband and (b) wife and children, 1939 A433, 1939/2/807
Polish refugee children in Iran – Question of admission to Australia, 1944–45 A433, 1944/2/5976
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)
Australian Jewish Welfare Society Scheme for Admission of 300 Refugee Children Part 1, 1939–46 A434, 1949/3/3
Polish Jewish Relief Fund: migration of children, 1937–42 A434, 1941/3/1039
Australian Jewish Welfare Society. Reports re condition of Jewish children in Europe, 1944–45 A434, 1944/3/1272
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES (MIGRANTS L–N), 1951–52
Canberra
The series consists of naturalisation files, passport applications, policy papers and resettlement and deportation recommendations.
Series: A442
Quantity: 8.28 metres
Recorded by: 1952–1953: Department of Immigration, Central Office (CA 51)
AJWS (Australian Jewish Welfare Societies) – Scheme for administration of 300 refugee children – Part 2, 1946–52? A442, 1952/14/693
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES (POLICY MATTERS), 1951–55
Canberra
Series: A445
Quantity: 22.50 metres
Recorded by: 1951–1955: Department of Immigration, Central Office (CA 51)
Admission of Polish refugee children in India to Australia, 1946–49 A445, 255/1/8
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)
Child Migration – General, 1937–44 A461, A349/1/7 part 1

Notes

Chapter notes | All notes

25 National Archives of Australia (ACT): A434, 50/3/41382.

26 Paul R. Bartrop, "The Australian Government's 'Liberalisation' of Refugee Immigration Policy in 1938: Fact or Myth?", Menorah 2(1), 1988, p.p.70.

27 National Archives of Australia (ACT): A433, 43/2/46; A461, M349/3/5 Part 2.

28 Bartrop, p.76.

29 Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora, p.174-183; Hilary L. Rubinstein, Chosen, p.171.

30 Glen Palmer, Reluctant Refuge, Sydney 1997, p.199.

31 ibid., p.28-40.

32 Konrad Kwiet, "Responses of Australian Jewry's leadership to the Holocaust", in Jews in the Sixth Continent, p.213.

33 National Archives of Australia (VIC): B741/3, V/4901 [Press-cutting re proposed Jewish settlement].


TOP OF PAGE

Chapter 2
Immigration and Settlement – Government Policy