Skip to content | Skip to document navigation

Research Guides

Safe Haven: Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia

Jews and Australian communism

Claims of sinister conspiracies by Jews to achieve world domination by manipulating foreign capital or overthrowing the established order, have been manufactured and propagated by antisemites since the late 19th century. In particular, the belief that Eastern European Jews dominated the Bolshevik movement, and that they had actively colluded with German Jews to bring down Czar Nicholas, was widespread among sectors of the population in Britain (and the Empire), and was reinforced by perpetuation of the myth in popular fiction during the inter-war years. Although vastly exaggerated, this Jew-communist linkage was not without some basis in fact. A small number of Jews had been part of Lenin's first government. Lev Davidovich Trotsky, People's Commissar for Foreign and Military Affairs under Lenin, and the two best-known women revolutionaries, Rosa Luxemburg and Emma Goldman, were Jews. Russian-born Jews were active (and visible) in running the Communist Party in Britain. David Rechter has written:

In the period following the Russian Revolution, communists and the Soviet Union were seen by many Jews as their staunchest defenders and most reliable allies in the fight against fascism. This period saw a marked coincidence of interests between Jews and the communist Left, with anti-fascism providing a framework within which Jews could be both communist and Jewish.62

It is not surprising, therefore, that public concern at the so-called 'red menace' focused, not infrequently, on Jews.

Although W D Rubinstein has argued that the organised Jewish 'Left' in this country has always been discernibly weaker than in many other Diaspora communities and that the majority of Eastern European Jewish migrants were Zionists, Bundists, religiously Orthodox, and otherwise fundamentally opposed to communism. But he acknowledges that there can be no doubt that a sizeable number of Jews has been active in left-wing politics in Australia (including the running of various socialist and communist groups) from pre-1917 to the present.63 As a local variant on a worldwide phenomenon, a small Jewish communist movement emerged and evolved in Australia from the 1920s to the 1950s. Immigrant-based, its centre was in Melbourne.

The Gezerd, for instance, a fearlessly Stalinist 'satellite' group which endorsed Jewish agricultural settlement in the USSR, dominated leftist politics in the 1930s. Newman Rosenthal, conservative editor of the Australian Jewish Herald and spokesman for the Anglo-Jewish establishment, bluntly dubbed Gezerd members an 'undesirable foreign element'.64 Founded by Polish Jews, the group boasted several hundred members by the mid-1930s. It opened 'Culture House' in Carlton in 1938, established a sub-branch in Sydney, and joined forces briefly with the staunchly anti-communist workers party, the Bund, in the common fight against European Fascism. The alliance broke down following the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939. The Gezerd's membership declined rapidly during the war, the group folding in 1944.

The Jewish Left in Melbourne continued its wartime engagement in anti-Fascist activity through the Jewish War Effort Circle, the Jewish committee of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society and, most importantly, the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism (JCCFAS), the last founded in 1942. The JCCFAS rapidly became a major player in communal politics in Melbourne. However, claims that it was increasingly dominated by communists and fellow-travellers by the late 1940s, ultimately led to it being expelled from the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies in 1952. That expulsion, at the height of the Cold War, has been judged 'one of the fundamental turning points in our recent history, marking the end of an effective or organised [Jewish] left' in Australia.

During the same period, with the Communist Party Dissolution Bill being debated by Federal parliament, attention focused also on the Kadimah Youth Organisation (group members were interviewed by the police) and other youth groups such as the Habonim Zionist Club. W D Rubinstein notes that the youth organisations were effectively 'purged' of communist influences.65

Meanwhile, individual Jewish activists such as Alick Mushin, Norman Rothfield, Isaac Gust, Amirah Inglis and Judah Waten, were subject to systematic surveillance and police harassment. In most cases, the commitment of Australian Jews to communism did not survive revelations of Stalinist atrocities. As David Rechter has written:

Developments in the post-war period – the impact of the Holocaust, the creation of Israel, Soviet antisemitism and the cold war – undermined Jewish communism, and helped bring about new expressions of Jewish political and cultural identity. By the mid to late 1950s, the Jewish political environment (international and Australian) was transformed, and an active Jewish communist had become almost an anachronism.66

The National Archives holds numerous records dealing with Jewish involvement in communism and other radical political activity, most of them records of investigations (by ASIO and its forerunners) into groups or individuals. Implicit in many of the records is the assumption that Jews – as recently arrived 'foreigners' – may have dual loyalties and may be working against the national good. Major sources for records of investigation into suspect organisations or individuals include:

The files in this series deal with policy and cases arising from special legislation enacted during World War I. Significant numbers of files deal with the administration of property of German nationals living in Australia and New Guinea.
Series: A456
Quantity: 8.28 metres
Recorded by: 1914–1927: Attorney-General's Department, Central Office (CA 5)
Nathan Schwartz, alleged Bolshevist, 1921 A456, W26/241/104
Series: MP367/1
Quantity: 40.14 metres
Recorded by: 1917–1921: Department of Defence (I) (CA 6)
Investigation into activities of the Jewish National Fund, 1918 MP367/1, 552/8/343
This series contains many individual case files. All records are retained by ASIO, transferable on request to the National Archives.
Series: A6119
Quantity: 37.08 metres
Recorded by: 1949–: Australian Security Intelligence Organization (CA 1297)
MUSHIN, Aaron, 1936–53 A6119, 102/REFERENCE COPY
ZUSMAN, Nathan, 1948–59 A6119, 370
WATEN, Judah, volume 6, 1962 A6119, 817
This series consists of files (or 'volumes') covering administrative matters, operational matters and specific topics. Some material dates back to 1915. All records are retained by ASIO, transferred to the National Archives on request.
Series: A6122
Quantity: 34.74 metres
Recorded by: 1949–: Australian Security Intelligence Organization (CA 1297)
Kadimah Youth Organisation
The file contains press reports of secret police harassment of Jewish youth-group leaders, and a censored Special Branch report on the KYO.
A6122, 153
Jewish Unity Association, 1948–51 A6122, 155
Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism, 1943–55 A6122, 169
Communist Party of Australia – Jewish faction, 1949–56 A6122, 915
Communist Party interests in Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism, Vol. 2, 1955–60 A6122, 1247
Communist Party interests in Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism, Vol. 3, 1960–61 A6122, 1248
Communist Party of Australia – Interest and Activities in Jewish Community, 1943–54 A6122, 444
Associations Individual – Jewish Progressive Centre, 1952–62 A6122, 1435
Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism – ASIO File – Vol. 3 [23 pages], 1962 A6122, 1879
Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism – ASIO File – Vol. 7, 1942–51 A6122, 1883
This series consists of copies of inactive files, formerly part of A6119 and A6122. The material is retained by ASIO and transferred to the National Archives on request.
Series: A6126
Quantity: 17 metres
Recorded by: 1960–: Australian Security Intelligence Organization, Central Office (CA 1297)
Habonim – Alleged Jewish activities at Warrandyte, 1943–50 A6126, 13
Jewish Community Activities, 1942–46
This file consists of old – barely legible – photocopies (mainly from the Jewish press) on a variety of topics, including Jewish participation in the Zionist movement, Jews at protest meetings, the association of Jewish refugees. The underlying theme would seem to be concern at possible subversive political activity amongst Jewish youth.
A6126, 35
MUSHIN, Calman Alik, 1937–53 A6126, 43
MARKS, Morris David, 1942–55 A6126, 90
The series contains secret individual case files as well as policy files regarding assisted passages, passports, applications for naturalisation, and deportation orders. Some material dates back to 1932.
Series: A6980
Quantity: 79.61 metres
Recorded by: 1972–1974: Department of Immigration, Central Office (CA 51)
Jewish Council to Combat Fascism [2cm], 1946–67 A6980, S250256
Series: A9108
Quantity: 11.88 metres
Recorded by: 1968–1968: Australian Security Intelligence Organization (CA 1297)
Australian Council for Jewish Rights [15 pages], 1944–46 A9108, ROLL 4/10
Jewish Youth Activities in Victoria [52 pages], 1949–51 A9108, ROLL 5/15
Australian Jewish Citizens Association [0.5cm], 1949 A9108, ROLL 13/14
Gezerd [0.5cm], 1931–43 A9108, ROLL 4/2


Chapter notes | All notes

62 Apple, "The Jewish Military Chaplaincy", p.239-243.

63 W.D. Rubinstein, "Jewish Contribution to Australian Elites", p.646-7.

64 Hilary & W.D. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia: a Thematic History, Vol 1: p. 359-570, Vol 2: p.295-378. I note here that work is currently progressing on a comprehensive biographical dictionary of prominent Australian Jews. Originally an initiative of Deakin University, the project is being completed by the A.J.H.S. Victoria for the centenary of Federation.

65 Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora, p.86-9.

66 Hilary L. Rubinstein, Chosen, p.201-4; Kwiet, p.207.


Chapter 6
Aspects of Jewish Life in Australia