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Safe Haven: Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia


The Dunera affair

By far the best known (and most notorious) instance of wartime internment in Australia was the Dunera affair. Following the fall of France and the evacuation of Dunkirk, the British Government responded to public panic over the 'enemy within' and temporarily interned thousands of foreign nationals. Canada and Australia agreed to assist the 'mother country' with the process and, accordingly, in July 1940, HMT Dunera set sail from Liverpool to Sydney, carrying 2 542 male 'enemy aliens.' Although the group included some 250 German Nazis and 200 Italian Fascists, the vast majority of the deportees were strongly anti-Fascist and two-thirds of them were Jews.

The harrowing circumstances of the Dunera's voyage out to Australia have been documented by Bartrop, Pearl and Patkin, among others. The maltreatment of prisoners by sections of the British escort troops earned the Dunera the label 'hellship.'50 On arrival in Melbourne in September 1940, 500 deportees were disembarked and transferred to the Tatura internment camp while the remaining men and youths went on to Sydney and were transferred to the Hay camps and, subsequently, to Tatura.

Intense criticism of the deportation and incarceration of unfortunate persons, most of them totally opposed to the Nazi regime, was voiced both in Britain and Australia, and resulted in the British Government expressing regret for the incident as early as October 1940. Major Julian Layton of the Home Office was sent to Australia to assist with the repatriation process. Charges were laid against a number of the Dunera guards, and compensation payments were allocated to the deportees. Bureaucratic delays and inefficiency notwithstanding, the internees were all released in due course. Some 900 elected to remain in Australia, and a substantial number of them served with Australia's defence forces, notably in the 8th Employment Company.

A large number of pertinent records can be located on the National Archives database, using keyword access (eg 'Dunera', 'Tatura', 'Enemy Aliens', 'Internees'). Some additional records can be gleaned from hard-copy series listings. Paul Bartrop and Gabrielle Eisen have provided researchers with an invaluable sampling (and overview) of both official (government) and unofficial records of the 'Dunera affair' in their comprehensive selection of documents under that title.51 Records of the voyage of the Dunera, the experiences at the Hay, Tatura and Loveday camps of the Dunera boys and other Jewish refugees who had escaped Europe via Malaya, etc, and the participation of many former internees in the 8th Employment Company, can be found in the following series:

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)
Max COHEN [internee, 'Dunera'], 1941–42 A367, C81860
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, CLASS 2 (RESTRICTED IMMIGRATION), 1939–50
Canberra
Series: A433
Quantity: 8 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1945: Department of the Interior (II) (CA 31)
War Cabinet Minute, Canberra, on transfer of Internees to new location, 1940 A433, 1945/2/6093
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); 1945–1950: Department of Immigration, Central Office (CA 51)
Enemy alien internees from UK – Transfer to Australia – Part 2, 1941–47 A659, 1946/1/980
CORRESPONDENCE SERIES, MULTI–NUMBER SERIES (CLASSIFIED 301),1935–58
Canberra
This series holds records of classified matters, including information gathering, policy matters and technical information.
Series: A816
Quantity: 86.21 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1942: Department of Defence Co–ordination, Central Office (CA 37); 1942–1958: Department of Information (III), Central Office (CA 46)
Enemy Aliens sent to Australia for Internment, 1940–42 A816, 1/301/66
War Cabinet Agendum – Accommodation of Overseas Internees, 1940-42 A816, 54/301/229
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTI–NUMBER SERIES, PRIMARY NUMBERS 702–720, 1943–63
Canberra
Series: A1308
Quantity: 29.70 metres
Recorded by: 1941–1962: Defence Division, Department of the Treasury (I) (CA 68)
War Cabinet Agendum – Release of Overseas Internees, 1944 A1308, 712/1/20
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTI–NUMBER SERIES WITH VARIABLE ALPHABETICAL PREFIX and GENERAL PREFIX 'SC' (FOURTH SYSTEM), 1939–47
Canberra
Series: A1608
Quantity: 21.97 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1945: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Internees Shipped to Australia from the UK, 1940-42 A1608, A20/1/3 part 1
Internees from the United Kingdom – Question of allowing some to remain in Australia, 1942-44 A1608, A20/1/3 part 2
Major J D Layton to Home Office, London [re Internees' claims for losses of personal effects on 'Dunera'], 1940-42 A1608, B20/1/3
Transfers of Internees from Britain, 1940-41 A1608, F20/1/3
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, CLASSIFIED SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH ALPHABETICAL PREFIX, 1930–52
Canberra
The subject matter of these classified files is (probably) defence administration during and after World War II.
Series: A2908
Quantity: 20.98 metres
Recorded by: 1930–1952: Australian High Commissioner, UK (London) (CA 241)
Complete Nominal Roll of Internees ex-'Dunera', 1941 A2908, P22
Internees from UK to Australia ['Dunera'], Part 4, 1940–41 A2908, P22 part 4
Internees in Australia 'Dunera', 1941 A2908, P22 part 5
Internees ex-'Dunera', 1942 A2908, P22 part 8
Internees ex-'Dunera', 1942–48 A2908, P22 Part 12B
SECOND AIF AND CMF, UNIT WAR DIARIES 1939–45 WAR, 1939–58
Australian War Memorial (AWM)
The series consists of unit war diaries.
Series: AWM52
Quantity: 454 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1958: Department of the Army, Central Office (CA 36)
War Diary, 8th Employment Company – Formation and Personnel, 1942-46 AWM52, 22/1/17
WRITTEN RECORDS 1939–45 WAR, 1951–93
Australian War Memorial (AWM)
This series contains a wide range of operational material and reports, including messages, minutes, memoranda, circulars, intelligence summaries and unit histories.
Series: AWM54
Quantity: 213.5 metres
Recorded by: 1951–1993: Australian War Memorial (CA 616)
Department of the Army: Inventory of Accommodation requirements for Internees, 1940-41 AWM54, 780/5/1
[Transport – Sea (Allied) – Reports on Voyage, 1940] Voyage report HMT 'Dunera' (Y5) from Melbourne, Australia to overseas base (Egypt), 1940 AWM54, 963/13/12
RECORDS OF MILITARY HISTORY SECTION (ARMY), 1940–61
Australian War Memorial (AWM)
The series consists of miscellaneous historical materials and administrative records, including research into the Army and AMF.
Series: AWM113
Quantity: 17.6 metres
Recorded by: 1940–1961: Department of the Army, Central Office (CA 36)
'Dunera' [ship used to transport internees from Britain to Australia in 1940] [Press Clippings], 1940 AWM113, 26/1/5
INVESTIGATION CASE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH 'SS' PREFIX, 1942–46
Adelaide
Series: D1919
Quantity: 2 metres
Recorded by: 1942–1946: Investigation Branch, South Australia (CA 905); 1946–1946: Commonwealth Investigation Service, South Australia (CA 914)
Espionage [German Intelligence Service methods, German Jews as spies, Loveday internment camp], 1942–46 D1919, SS1031
GENERAL AND CLASSIFIED CORRESPONDENCE, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1902–
Melbourne
Series: B13
Quantity: 54.9 metres
Recorded by: 1902–1985: Collector of Customs, Melbourne (CA 789)
Arrival of enemy internees, Melb per 'Dunera', 1940 B13, 1940/51461
FILE OF MATERIAL RELATING TO HMT DUNERA, 1940–72
Melbourne
This series consists of a single file on the voyage of the Dunera to Australia in 1940. Contents include copies of the nominal rolls of German internees for Sydney, newspaper cuttings, a photograph of the ship, memoranda and correspondence. The material appears to have been acquired from several sources and used for reference inquiries by Central Army Records Office.
Series: B3844
Quantity: 0.2 metres
Recorded by: 1966–1972: Central Army Records Office (CA 1999)
[Voyage, 1940) HMT 'Dunera' UK to Australia, with POWs and Internees], 1940–72 B3844, whole series
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, 1939–54
Melbourne
The bulk of the extant files in this series deal with Australian prisoners of war and internees or missing personnel.
Series: B3856
Quantity: 12 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1948: 2nd Echelon, Army Headquarters (CA 2002); 1948–1954: Central Army Records Office (CA 1999)
Nominal Rolls of Australians possibly Prisoners of War, or Internees' Rolls, comprised of forms printed in German and English, with a sub-heading 'List of all allied Nationals and all other foreigners, German Jews and stateless, etc, who were temporarily or permanently stationed in the community, but were no longer in residence', 1946–48 B3856, 144/1/401
SECURITY CLASSIFIED GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE 1940–45
Melbourne
This series consists of general correspondence files and includes material to do with local intelligence, security and censorship. Several pertinent records have been identified.
Series: MP70/1
Quantity: 2.26 metres
Recorded by: 1940–1942: Command Headquarters, Southern Command (I), AMF (CA 1843); 1942–1945: Headquarters, Victorian Lines of Communication Area, AMF (CA 1844)
Note of meeting re security at POW and Internee camps, 1942 MP70/1, 14/101/28
Transfer and movement – Internees, 1942 MP70/1, 36/101/12
Jewish Welfare and Claims 'Dunera', 1941 MP70/1, 36/101/27
Internees – disturbances, 1941 MP70/1, 36/101/45
Internees – employment on farms, 1940 MP70/1, 40/182
Security Tatura Internment camp and allegations re personnel, 1940–41 MP70/1, 40/693
ARMY GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE, 1939–42
Melbourne
A substantial number of items have been identified which deal specifically with the experiences of internees, including Dunera boys.
Series: MP508/1
Quantity: 0.72 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1942: Department of the Army, Central Office (CA 36)
Deputation of Reps of the AJWS, 1942 MP508/1, 115/703/596
Prisoners of War sent from UK to Australia [ex–'Dunera'], 1940 MP508/1, 255/702/634
Internees from United Kingdom, Arrangements for review of cases, 1940–41 MP508/1, 255/702/951
German and Austrian internees mostly of the Jewish faith re appointment of tribunal or alternatively to take up position with the Home Office re Rabbi J Danglow, St Kilda Hebrew Congregation, 1941 MP508/1, 255/702/981
Jewish Refugees in British Malaya who have been sent to Australia to be interned, 1940–41 MP508/1, 255/702/1046
Dossiers of Jewish Refugees from Malaya held at Tatura, 1941–42 MP508/1, 255/702/1493
[Kosher meat for Jewish internees], 1941 MP508/1, 255/708/46
[Issue of spectacles. Internees ex–'Dunera'], 1941 MP508/1, 255/708/67
[Orthodox Jews amongst UK internees in Australia], 1942 MP508/1, 255/715/617
[Jewish Refugee Internees], 1940 MP508/1, 255/730/143
UK Internees – Decree depriving Jews of German citizenship, No. 2 Internment Camp, Vic, 1942 MP508/1, 255/744/967
DEFENCE ARMY SERIES (401), 1936–45
Melbourne
A significant group of pertinent records has been located in this series (notably Boxes 136 and 137).
Series: MP729/6
Quantity: 23 metres
Recorded by: 1936–1939: Department of Defence (II), Central Administration (CA 19); 1939–1945: Department of the Army, Central Office (CA 36)
Interned Enemy Subjects and other interned aliens in Australia, 1939–40 MP729/6, 63/401/35
Refugees: Internment, Fifth Columnists, 1940 MP729/6, 29/401/273
Internees from UK on 'Dunera', 1940 MP729/6, 63/401/122
Memo from Sir Herbert Emerson, League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [re Britain deporting internees to Australia], 1940 MP729/6, 63/401/123
Complaints – internees – 'Dunera', 1940-41 MP729/6, 63/401/141
Internees – 'Dunera' Deaths , 1940 MP729/6, 63/401/147
Internees from UK on HMT Transport 'Dunera' [72 pages], 1940 MP729/6, 63/401/157
Treatment of Internees on 'Dunera', 1940 MP729/6, 63/401/206
Lost Baggage – Internees ex-'Dunera', 1940–41 MP729/6, 63/401/223
War Cabinet Agendum – Treatment of Overseas Internees, 1941 MP729/6, 63/401/335
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE, 1943–51
Melbourne
This series contains files concerning the administration of military forces.
Series: MP742/2
Quantity: 163 metres
Recorded by: 1943–1951: Department of the Army, Central Office (CA 36)
F M Forde, Minister for the Army, to Ministers for Defence, Immigration and Labour [re former 'Dunera' internees remaining in Australia], 1945 MP742/1, 255/14/228
Claim for Compensation – ex-UK internees 'Dunera', 1941–50 MP742/1, 255/14/246

Notes

Chapter notes | All notes

50 David Rechter, "Beyond the Pale: Jewish Communism in Melbourne", unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne 1986, p.5.

51 W.D. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia: a Thematic History, Vol 2: From 1945 to the Present, p. 11.


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Chapter 5
Enemy Aliens and Internees