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Safe Haven: Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia


Australian responses to the Holocaust

Image 5: A protest about Jewish migration.

Image 5: A protest about Jewish migration.
NAA: A445, 235/5/6
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No sooner had the first reports reached Australia of the Third Reich's discriminatory measures against German Jews, than vocal sections of Australian Jewry and sympathisers within the wider community responded by mounting public protest meetings. At one point Rabbi D I Freedman and Mayer Breckler, President of the Perth Synagogue, personally telegraphed Chancellor Adolf Hitler, begging him to take into account the fact that 12 000 German Jews had died for the fatherland in World War I. Protests were frequent enough for the German Consul to complain to Canberra about an 'anti-German campaign'. Prime Minister Lyons demanded that no Federal or State minister support any such protest and it appears that few, if any, formal petitions were ever forwarded on by the Government.79

As we have seen, Australia did make some humanitarian concessions to its immigration policy in the late 1930s, but the view that direct criticism of Germany would serve 'no good purpose' appears to have persisted, even after Kristallnacht. Paul Bartrop cites National Archives records and contemporary press reports as proof of his contention that the Australian Government was kept informed of the situation in Europe as the Holocaust was in progress, yet the knowledge failed to impact significantly on refugee policy (which he maintains was predicated on motifs of 'indifference' and 'inconvenience'). In this regard, as with refugee immigration in general, Dr Bartrop maintains that Australia's record leaves much to be desired – 'not for what the Australians failed to do, but what they said they were doing and how that did not correspond with their actual behaviour'.80

In 1942 a formal declaration was issued simultaneously by London, Washington and Moscow, condemning the 'bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination' being practised by the Nazis. The Australian Government (largely through the influence of its philosemitic External Affairs minister H V Evatt) 'wholeheartedly associated itself' with the declaration. Michael Blakeney notes, however, that the news that two million Jews had already been killed met with a 'muted' response from the press and greater Australian public. During the same period Prime Minister Curtin rejected from the annual ALP Conference agenda a call by Victorian delegates for Britain to 'open up' Palestine to immigration. Similar calls for increased 'rescue' attempts from the United Emergency Committee for European Jewry met with the reply that the British and allied struggle to rid Europe of the Nazis was the most appropriate means of rendering service to the Jews. In 1944, with news filtering through of the mass murder of Hungarian Jewry, the Australian Government declared it could do no more to assist. As Dr Bartrop has observed:

while there were many who felt that the Nazi persecution of the Jews was abhorrent and evil, an oft-repeated opinion was that it should be the responsibility of the Great Powers to find a solution; it was, in the words of one commentator, 'not a problem for Australia'.81

Revelation and confirmation of the Holocaust in the aftermath of allied victory undoubtedly brought home to the wider public the full enormity of what had occurred in Europe and (in Paul Bartrop's words) 'sensitised Australians to the needs of Jews still alive in Europe to find a place of refuge...'.82

Sympathy did not extend to large-scale immigration into Australia (see Chapter 2), but it ensured widespread Australian public support (even Government support) for a Jewish state in Palestine, once the 'thorny' problem of the British administration was no longer at issue.

A survey of National Archives records has located relevant items regarding the plight of Jews in Europe prior to, during, and immediately after World War II, in the following series:

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)
Hungary – Anti-Jewish legislation and policy towards Jewish community, 1942–44 A433, 1944/2/144
Declaration on German treatment of Jews, 1942 A433, 1945/2/6325
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)
Treatment of Jewish Displaced Persons in the British Zone, Germany, 1946 A434, 1946/3/511
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)
Treatment of Jews in Germany, 1938–39
The file includes letters from CPA, trades unions, ALP, International Peace Campaign, etc, condemning Nazi persecution of Jews.
A461, R420/1
Jews – general, 1938–46
The file includes reports of the extermination of Hungarian and Czech Jewry; correspondence about the admission of displaced persons into Australia; calls for child migration; notification that ECAJ is the federal roof-body of the Jewish community; Letter about influxes of Jews.
A461, MA349/3/5 part 2
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH OCCASIONAL 'G' (GENERAL REPRESENTATIONS) INFIX, 1956–
Canberra
Series: A463
Quantity: 701.38 metres
Recorded by: 1956–1971: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Compensation of Jewish Victims persecuted in European countries, 1954–56 A463, 1956/1271
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ALPHABETICAL SERIES, 1927–42
Canberra
Series: A981
Quantity: 163.27 metres
Recorded by: 1927–1942: Department of External Affairs (II) (CA 18)
Defence – stranded non–British subjects – re parcels to Jews in Occupied countries, 1942 A981, DEF 373
External Affairs Department. France. Jews. I, 1942 A981, FRA 38
Germany – Jews Part 1, 1939–41 A981, GER37 part 1
Poland – Internal Jews, 1939 A981, POLA 24
Soviet Union. Russia. General. Jews, 1942 A981, SOV 4 part 1
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES WITH YEAR PREFIX, 1942–45
Canberra
This series relates to both the administrative and gathering functions of the Department. Generally, the series is concerned with Australia's relations with other countries, specifically in the context of World War II. Subjects of files include aliens, deportations, nationality and naturalisation, passports and landing permits, plight of refugees.
Series: A989
Quantity: 30.42 metres
Recorded by: 1943–1944: Department of External Affairs (II), Central Office (CA 18)
Misc. Reps. Jewish Advisory Board, 1943
The file contains Victorian JAB papers about Nazi atrocities.
A989, 1943/561/40
Misc. Reps. World Jewish Congress – re Bermuda Conference, 1943 A989, 1943/561/13
Misc. Reps. Koornung School, Warrandyte, Vic – re plight of Jewish people in Europe, 1943 A989, 1943/561/20
Misc. Reps. The National Council of Jewish Women of Australia – re plight of Jews in Europe, 1943–44 A989, 1943/561/25
Germany – Treatment of Jews, 1942–44 A989, 1943/360/4/2
Nationality, etc. Denationalising of Jews – Enquiry regarding, 1943 A989, 1943/580/1/7
Norway. Treatment of Jews, 1942 A989, 1943/645/1/2
Refugees. Evacuation of Jewish Refugees from Vichy France, 1943 A989, 1943/755/6
Refugees. Deportation of Bulgarian Jews, 1943–44 A989, 1943/755/7
Post-war Reconstruction. Atrocities, Special United Nations Commission for Poland. American Jewish Committee Proposal, 1944 A989, 1944/735/586
PWR [Post-war Reconstruction] – General section – World Jewish Congress, 1944 A989, 1944/735/717
France French North Africa – Treatment of Jews, 1943 A989, 1943/350/7/1/2
Germany – Treatment of Jews, 1942–44 A989, 1944/360/4/2
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES WITH YEAR AND LETTER PREFIXES, 1945
Canberra
Series: A1066
Quantity: 31.23 metres
Recorded by: 1945–1945: Department of External Affairs (II), Central Office (CA 18)
Relief – Australian Council for UNRRA. Relief teams from United Jewish Overseas Relief Fund, 1945–46 A1066, ER45/6/8/7/3
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES WITH YEAR AND LETTER PREFIX, 1945–46
Canberra
Series: A1067
Quantity: 31 metres
Recorded by: 1946–1946: Department of External Affairs (II), Central Office (CA 18)
General. Jewish Displaced Persons in Europe, 1945–46 A1067, E46/38/1
Australian Council for UNRRA – Relief teams from United Jewish Overseas Relief Fund, 1946 A1067, R46/7/6
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE 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)
War Section. Enemy atrocities 1. Joint declaration by allied countries 2. Treatment of the Jews in Europe 3. Shackling of prisoners of war Part 1, 1941–44 A1608, K41/1/1
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)
War Graves – Proposed War Memorial for Jewish Martyrs, 1965 A1838, 1510/3/75
War Graves – China – Jewish Cemeteries in China, 1967 A1838, 1510/3/81/1
Property and Compensation Claims. Germany – Jewish Claims, 1950–60 A1838, 1533/5/1T
THE SHEDDEN COLLECTION [RECORDS COLLECTED BY SIR FREDERICK SHEDDEN DURING HIS CAREER WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE AND IN RESEARCHING THE HISTORY OF AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE POLICY], TWO NUMBER SERIES 1901–71
Canberra
The series consists of files of papers accumulated by Shedden, Secretary of Department of Defence Co-ordination and Secretary to the War Cabinet.
Series: A5954
Quantity: 193 metres
Recorded by: 1937–1939: Department of Defence (II) (Central Administration) (CA 19); 1939–1942: Department of Defence Co–ordination, Central Office (CA 37); 1942–1971: Department of Defence (III), Central Office (CA 46)
Conditions in Occupied territories, 1942
This item is a 20-page booklet, no. 6 in a series of reports issued by Inter–allied Information Committee, London, titled 'Persecution of the Jews.'
A5954, 1979/105
DOSSIERS ON JEWS RESIDENT IN AUSTRALIA COMPILED BY THE GERMAN CONSULATE, 1943–57
Sydney
Series: C422
Quantity: 0.36 metres
Recorded by: 1943–1945: Security Service, NSW (CA 946)
[Guitermann and King Ltd. Letters – rejected stories of ill-treatment of Jews in Germany], 1933 C422, 88
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE FILES 1939–46
Canberra
This series, transferred from NSW in 1975, is mainly correspondence between the Department and various newspapers and authorities.
Series: SP112/1
Quantity: 13.68 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1946: Department of Information, Central Office – Press Division (CA 34)
Jews and the War. Inquiry, Vic Branch, 1939 SP112/1, 265/1/12
VANCE PALMER COLLECTION – SCRIPTS OF TALKS PRESENTED DURING HIS REGULAR ABC RADIO PROGRAMMES, 1941–59
Sydney
Series: SP300/7
Quantity: 0.9 metres
Recorded by: 1940–1959: Australian Broadcasting Commission, Head Office (CA 251)
Vance Palmer ABC talk scripts – Current books worth reading – 8 Dec 1943 [Appeasement's Child – Thomas J Hamilton; Aims for Oblivion – Dr Angus; The Persecution of Jews in Occupied Territories] [Box 1], 1943 SP300/7, 85
SCRIPTS – RADIO FEATURES, 1936–74
Sydney
The series consists of typewritten scripts of features broadcast over the ABC network.
Series: SP1297/2
Quantity: 10 metres
Recorded by: 1936–1974: Australian Broadcasting Commission, Head Office (CA 251)
Out of the Ashes, a story of Jewish poets who wrote and died in the Warsaw ghetto, written by Hyam Brezniak [ABC Radio Features Script] [30 pages; box 12], 1936–66 SP1297/2, NN

Notes

Chapter notes | All notes

79 Kwiet, pp. 202–4.

80 Kwiet, pp. 202–4; Paul Bartrop, Australia and the Holocaust 1933–45, Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 1994, p.xii–x111, xv.

81 Bartrop, Australia and the Holocaust, p. xii, pp. 246–8; Blakeney, pp. .281–2, 287–8.

82 Bartrop, Australia and the Holocaust, p. 246.


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Chapter 8
The Zionist Ideal in Australia