Jewish Ozzies' Inter.Net
The electronic voice of the Australian Jewish Community

Letters from Jewish Australia - No.39


By Geraldine Jones

6th September, 1996

A member of my extended "meshpochah" (family), Henry Lippmann, who was "adopted" by my husband's late uncle, John Lewinnek, came to Australia aboard the HMT (Hired Military Transport) DUNERA which left Liverpool, England on the 10th July, 1940, and arrived at Darling Harbour, Sydney, on the 6th September, 1940.

He was one of 2,542 men aged between 18 and 45 from Germany and Austria, who had been loaded onto a ship with a maximum capacity of 1600 including crew, who were destined for internment here. Ironically 80% of these men were Jewish, not "enemy" aliens but mainly refugees from Nazi Germany.

The story of the injustice of this transportation and the collusion between the British and Australian Governments in keeping the error a secret is documented and books, as well as a TV mini series, have been written on the subject. Dunera memorabilia is held at the Australian Jewish Museum, Melbourne, the NSW State Library, the University of NSW, and in the Achives of Australian Judaica at Sydney University. Dunera men also feature in the NAJEX (National Association of Australian Jewish Ex-Servicemen) memorabilia at The Sydney Jewish Museum's Jewish and in their book: The Australian Jewry's Book of Honour.

A couple of years ago a plaque depicting the Dunera was placed on a wall of the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour, Sydney. This is an acknowledgement of the contribution which the Dunera fellows have made to the multicultural fabric of Australian society. The Ben Lexcen Walk has thus become the annual meeting place of those who wish to commemorate how this event shaped their lives.

In organising the 56th anniversary reunion, which was attended by representatives of many organisations including the Dept. of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the NSW Association of Jewish Ex-service Men and Women, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and W.A.A.F., and hosted by Mr Max Dingle, A/g Director of the Maritime Museum, Henry is still searching for missing brothers and is keeping their memory alive.

Looking back on this unique band of refugees, historian Professor Konrad Kwiet said that it was fortunate for those on the Dunera who escaped the Holocaust to find themselves in a democratic society. "It is also Australia's good fortune to have gained some wonderful citizens who speak out on behalf of refugees and injustice." Ms Margaret Piper, Executive Director of the Refugee Council of Australia, stressed that the continued turmoil and intolerance worldwide is reason to ensure that Australia will continue to be generous to those who are yet to come. Professor Peter Herbst, speaking from first-hand experience of what the Dunera people meant to each other, emphasized the positive aspects of forming their own camp government and his broadened cultural experience. Son of a Dunera fellow, Professor Stephen Castles who directs the Centre for Multicultural Studies at the University of Wollongong, said how his father had taught him that Australia should be open to refugees and learn from the Dunera experience. He urged us to be on our guard against those who decry immigration. Rabbi Cohen of The Sydney Jewish Museum added that we need to combat intolerance, a major source of tragedy.

Many of these victims of intolerance who travelled with Henry on the Dunera are now dead, but others may yet be found. On the ship, in the camps and in the army, they were part of a fellowship which helped to alleviate the separation from family and physical hardships.

As a young, healthy man Henry coped well with the rigours of his journey from Germany and a year's internment in Hay (NSW) where they were divided into two separate camps each housing 1000 men. The camps were run democratically and administration was handled by the internees themselves, even to the extent of providing kosher facilities to the orthodox.

Henry and his fellow internees were then moved to Tatura, Victoria, where life was much the same except that it was not so intolerably hot. Six months later the politicians had worked out that these able-bodied men could be more useful to the war effort as soldiers than as prisoners, and they were invited to join the British army.

Henry waited his turn but since this neccessitated returning to England and there was a shortage of shipping they could only go in groups of around 30. One such group, on their way to join the British Pioneer Corps, was torpedoed and they were killed. So, in view of the shortage of shipping and the obvious danger, a special Australian army unit was formed to absorb the Dunera men plus a small group of German refugees who had been deported to Australia from Singapore aboard the Queen Mary. Thus Henry joined the 8th Australian Employment Company which, with roughly 500 refugee soldiers (80% of whom were Jewish), probably had the largest number of Jews in any single army unit in the world. Henry began to feel accepted as an Australian.

Henry and his young friends enjoyed their comparative freedom. They were proud to be seen in Australian army gear and were filled with a spirit of adventure as they took their leave from the barracks in Albury to visit Sydney's famous Kings Cross. It was here that Henry and his friend noticed a couple who looked like German Jews and spontaneously greeted them by saying "Good Yomtov". The couple responded and finding out that these young men were from Berlin recommended them to the Kanimbla Restaurant run by Mr Rosenstein and serving European style food. They were also told to introduce themselves to Mr John Lewinnek who ate there regularly as he would surely like to say hello to them.

They went to the Kanimbla as suggested and they met Mr Rosenstein and John Lewinnek who chatted with them. When they finished their meal and were ready to pay Mr Rosenstein told them that John, who had left already, had paid for them. Henry was astonished. This complete stranger had shown them hospitality and welcomed them to his city. It had a huge emotional impact on Henry, it was as though he had found an uncle.

Henry sent John a "thank you" note and then New Year's greetings. After the war John offered Henry a job in his company. Henry was delighted and keen to please, so when John asked him to come with him to spend an evening helping Jewish Welfare to prepare food parcels he could not refuse. Henry learned from John's example that he, too, had a responsibility to help others and share his good fortune in being an Australian.

When Henry said "Good Yomtov" to his fellow Berliners it wasn't really Yomtov but a way of making a connection with his Jewishness. He was proud to wear an Australian uniform, he became proud to be a Jew.

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