1941 Dunera Boys Hay Internment Camp Collection


Era: Cultural background: , , Collection: Theme:Education Folk Art Games German Internment Government Military Refugees Religion Riots Settlement WW2

Hay Internment Camp football card, 1941. Photograph Stephen Thompson
Hay Internment Camp football card, 1941. Photograph Stephen Thompson

Collection
Sydney Jewish Museum, Sydney, Australia.

Object Name
Dunera Boys Hay Internment Camp Collection.

Object/Collection Description
A collection of objects from the German and Austrian Jewish refugees from the SS Dunera who were interred at Hay internment camp during World War II. The collection comprises various objects including a soccer jumper, newsletters, passport, artworks, a suitcase and documents. The collection is in good condition.

Internee Identity Card, 1941, Werner Hirschfeld Collection, Sydney Jewish Museum. Photograph Stephen Thompson
Internee Identity Card, 1941, Werner Hirschfeld Collection. Photograph Stephen Thompson

Dunera Boys ephemera. Photograph Stephen Thompson
Dunera Boys ephemera. Photograph Stephen Thompson

With the outbreak of war the Australian government began the registration of all people classified as Enemy Aliens. As the conflict progressed, internment camps were set up to place not only Prisoners of War (POWs) behind barbed wire but also civilians considered to be a threat on the homefront. In addition to the internees from Europe German Christian families arrived from Papua New Guinea and Palestine. By September 1942, the total number of internees in Australia was 6,780. They included 3,651 Italians, 1,036 Japanese and 1,029 Germans. Among the internees were women and children.

Hay Camp print made by Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, 1940-41. Photograph Stephen Thompson
Hay Camp print made by Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, 1940-41. Photograph Stephen Thompson

One of the best-known episodes of wartime internment is the story of the HMT Dunera (Hired Military Transport). In July 1940, the Commonwealth government agreed to accept 6,000 internees from the United Kingdom. However, only one shipment was dispatched to Australia. On board the HMT Dunera were about 2,000 male German Jewish refugees aged between 16 and 45, who had escaped from Nazi occupied territories. Also on board were 200 Italian POWs and 250 Nazis.

Camp football jumper, c1941. Soccer was a popular pastime in the camps. The internees established a football team and named it after the famous Italian football team Juventus Turin. Photograph Stephen Thompson
Camp football jumper, c1941. Soccer was a popular pastime in the camps. The internees established a football team and named it after the famous Italian football team Juventus Turin. Photograph Stephen Thompson

The voyage lasted 57 days. The conditions were appalling. Apart from overcrowding on the ship with the attendant problems of hygiene and harsh treatment by crew members, the journey was also made unpleasant by the fear of torpedo attacks, the uncertainty of the destination, and by tensions between Jewish refugees and Nazi passengers.

Tatura Camp drawing made by internee, 1941. Photograph Stephen Thompson
Tatura Camp drawing made by internee, 1941. Photograph Stephen Thompson

Arriving in Sydney on the 6th of September 1940, the Dunera Boys were first interned in Hay and Orange in New South Wales. Eventually they were brought to Tatura, Victoria 1.

Henry Lippmann made this suitcase in Hay from corrugated iron and the handle from an old shoe, c.1941. Photograph Stephen Thompson
Henry Lippmann made this suitcase in Hay from corrugated iron and the handle from an old shoe, c.1941. Photograph Stephen Thompson

The Hay POW camp was constructed in 1940. The first arrivals were 2036 German and Austrian Jewish refugees who fled the Nazis. They were mostly professionals who had simply fled for their lives. They were placed along side 451 German and Italian POWs many of whom were pro Nazi and fascist.

While awaiting release, the Dunera Boys developed a rich cultural and intellectual programme at their camp, giving concerts and establishing an unofficial university. The small group of strictly Orthodox Jews also managed to organise a kosher kitchen. After a period of time the injustice of their situation was realised and they were permitted to return to Britain.

'HMT Dunera', Melbourne, 1940. Courtesy National Archives of Australia
HMT Dunera, Melbourne, 1940. Courtesy National Archives of Australia

Initially treated as a scandal, the story today is a significant chapter in the history of Jewish immigration to Australia. 900 of the 2,000 ‘Dunera Boys’ stayed in this country. Many joined the 8th Employment Company and became proud and loyal Australian citizens. Among them were intellectuals, economists and artists all of whom made a significant contribution to the emerging multicultural Australian society 2

The repatriation of the POWs was carried out in 1946 and the camp was dismantled and all building materials auctioned in 1947.

Dunera Boys Reunion 1990. NLA
Dunera Boys Reunion, 1990. Courtesy National Library of Australia

The collection is historically significant as evidence of the events that surround the internment of refugees in Australia in World War II and the experience of the refugee’s life at the Hay camp, the attitudes of the refugees to the war and internment and their relationships to other POW communities in Australia especially Tatura, Cowra and Holsworthy.

The collection has intangible significance in providing a reminder of the fears felt by the Australian, German, Italian and Japanese communities of war, the loss of loved ones and the insecurity of war time. Refugees, POWs and guards families have a common link to the place and many local residents have developed a strong attachment to it.

The collection importance lies in its potential to interpret Hay as a site associated to refugees, POWs and internment, the internment camp itself, the refugee/ POW experience. The collection presents the opportunity to interpret the stories of German and Austrian anti Nazi refugees who sought sanctuary in England only to be transported and interned at Hay and Tatura POW camps and those who stayed after the War to become successful members of the Australian community despite their experiences.


Footnotes

1 Sydney Jewish Museum Exhibition text
2 ibid

Bibliography

Coupe, S & Andrews, M 1992, Was it only Yesterday? Australia in the Twentieth Century World, Longman Cheshire, Sydney.

Heritage Office & Dept of Urban Affairs & Planning 1996, Regional Histories of NSW, Sydney.

Heritage Collections Council 2001, Significance: A guide to assessing the significance of cultural heritage objects and collections, Canberra.


Websites



Migration Heritage Centre logo
The Migration Heritage Centre at the Powerhouse Museum is a NSW Government initiative supported by the Community Relations Commission.
www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au


Powerhouse Museum logo
Regional Services at the Powerhouse Museum is supported by Movable Heritage, NSW funding from the NSW Ministry for the Arts.