Exile in Australia - Book presentation
Co-hosted by the Australian Embassy and the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism
Dr Renate S. Meissner, Deputy Secretary General and Scientific Head, National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism
2 October 2018
Australian Embassy Vienna
The three-part volume presented here this evening contains the personal recollections of twenty-one of the approximately 2,000 Jews who fled Austria for Australia.
Each sub-volume focuses on a different aspect of exile: "Flight and arrival" in Australia (volume 5/1), "Deportation, internment and life in the camps" (volume 5/2) and "Building a life in Australia" (volume 5/3).
In addition to an introduction, the stories are preceded by an article written by the cultural and social anthropologist Mag. Margit Wolfsberger, who is the longtime President of the Austro-South Pacific Society.
The texts contained in the three volumes span a broad spectrum, from accounts written for the National Fund during the course of the application process, interviews, excerpts from existing publications, letters and unpublished manuscripts, to texts written especially for this book, as in the case of Ernest Weiss and his cousin Ken Weiss, who put their story of persecution and flight to paper for the first time for this publication.
The autobiographical testimonies are published here in the language in which they were authored, either English or German. German translations have been provided for a number of the English stories so that the books can be used across a wider range of subject areas in Austrian schools.
A wealth of additional information is provided in the form of footnotes, a bilingual glossary of terms, and a timeline that traces the significant historical occurrences of the years 1933 to 1945. A graphic depiction of the escape routes taken by the authors or their families has also been included at the beginning of each story.
Not all of the emigrants who have told their stories in these three sub-volumes managed to bring the rest of their families to join them in Australia. Cases where – often elderly – individuals were already in possession of the necessary entry permits but, in their reluctance to leave their homeland put off their departure until their journey was prevented by the outbreak of World War II, are particularly tragic in nature. This is what happened to David Ernst Oppenheim from the Oppenheim-Singer family. In 1942, David and his wife Amalie Oppenheim, one of the first women to graduate from the University of Vienna, were deported to Theresienstadt, where David perished in 1943. Amalie survived the Holocaust and managed to emigrate to Australia after the war to join her daughters.
For the first time in this series, narrative threads belonging to different family members from different generations have come together to create an incredibly multifaceted jigsaw puzzle of family history. The story of the Singer-Oppenheim family, for example, is recounted here from four different perspectives, one of them in the form of a photo album with captions in both German and English.
The multigenerational recollections of the Raubitschek family, which are recounted here from the perspective of three different family members, conclude the first sub-volume. Friederike Raubitschek describes her family's life before the "Anschluss", her thoughts on an early emigration and her initial experiences upon arrival in Australia. Her daughter, Renate Yates, describes life in Australia through the eyes of a child refugee. Renate Yates' father, Ernst Raubitschek, wrote an account of his experiences in Dachau and Buchenwald, which is also included in this volume.
The second sub-volume contains the stories of individuals and families who found themselves deported to Australia as "enemy aliens" where they were placed in various internment camps. Most of them were deported aboard the "Dunera", a military troopship intended to transport 1,600 people that set sale for Australia with over 2,500 on board. Besides the testing climate and the poor sanitary conditions, the mainly Jewish refugees had to contend with extreme hunger. Among them was Heinz Altschul, whose story is presented in the form of a transcribed video interview. Heinz Altschul was politically active at a young age and fled to England in 1939 to escape persecution for being Jewish. There, he was twice interned before being deported to Australia on the "Dunera" in 1940.
Reinhold Eckfeld and Henry Teltscher were also among the so-called "Dunera Boys". Reinhold Eckfeld sadly passed away at the age of 95 during the making of this publication, 14 days after sending a final letter to the National Fund expressing his thanks. His daughter closes her speech commemorating her father with these words: "He embraced Australia as his home as he felt Australia embraced him."
Rather strikingly, with just a few exceptions the Aborigines, Australia's native population, are barely mentioned in the accounts of Australian life, despite the fact that Jewish-Aborigine relations extend right back to the first wave of Jewish immigration from Europe in the mid-19th century. A petition strongly condemning the persecution of the Jews submitted by the Chairman of the Australian Aborigines League to the German Consulate in Melbourne a few weeks after "Reichskristallnacht", the so-called Night of Broken Glass, bears witness to the fact that the Aborigines were well aware that the Jewish population was being brutally forced out of Europe by the Nazi regime.
Volume 5/1 contains a number of contemporary Aboriginal artworks. The artwork of the Jewish sculptor Karl Duldig, who was born under the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, forms a visual counterpoint to the Aboriginal art. Karl Duldig managed to flee with his wife Slawa and daughter Eva, born just one month before the "Anschluss", to Switzerland, their first country of refuge. Following a year in Singapore they were deported from there to Australia.
The book also includes stories of those who made Australia their home in the years after 1945. One of them was Elfriede Kehm, who was persecuted as a Jewish "Mischling" and fled to Yugoslavia, where she married and gave birth to a son. Through her two brothers, who had been deported to Australia aboard the "Dunera" and stated their lives anew there following their release, she was able to immigrate to Australia with her son and her mother, allowing the family to be reunited once more. Her life story is told in pictures using an array of photographs and documents.
The third sub-volume contains a plethora of reports, letters, brief episodes and in-depth accounts that describe what awaited the émigrés in Australia: how they coped with the unfamiliar climate, their new cultural surroundings and how they went about building a new life.
Margit Korn reminds us that the journey back into the past is also a source of anguish. Like Elfriede Kehm, she, too emigrated to Australia after the war, following an unsuccessful attempt to rebuild her life in post-war Austria: "I thought that I had come to terms with the past and was stunned how deep my wounds still were […] but a healing process has started by writing it all down. I feel even if no one reads it now […] it is on record for the future."