Attitudes Towards Jewish Migration to Australia in the 1930s

2 February 2017

Describe and account for attitudes towards Jewish migration to Australia in the 1930s (distinguishing between political and public attitudes). Did Australian policy towards Jewish refugees change significantly during and after war from what had prevailed in the 1930s? How would you explain the policy continuity or change? Throughout the 20th Century, the policy adopted by Australia towards Jewish migration can best be described as one of restriction and limitation.

Australian political and public attitudes during the 1930s were influenced by fears of the Jewish community’s inability to assimilate into Australian culture, the threat that they may have posed on job security and standards of living as well as the potential for their arrival to stimulate extreme anti-Semitism problems within Australia. The outbreak of war and the publication of Jewish persecution in Europe did little to alter the feelings of insecurity towards Jewish communities in Australia.

While there were some attempts to increase the arrival of Jewish people after World War II, the sentiment of the majority of the Australian population remained unchanged and restrictions on immigration were still enforced.

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This theme of underlying racial prejudice continued to shape Australian policy throughout this entire period. During the 1930s, it is evident that the Coalition Government, comprised of the United Australia Party and Australian Country Party, made attempts to restrict the immigration of Jews into the country.

First and foremost, the recent Australian struggle through the Depression meant that the Government was intent on protecting the job security and living standards of the Australian populace. The migration of any foreign immigrants was therefore unpopular due to the threats it placed on the Australian worker. This policy became an excuse for limiting the number of Jewish refugees accepted into Australia and resulted in an increase of the amount of landing money required to five hundred pounds for alien immigrants.

This requirement was difficult for the majority of Jewish refugees to satisfy, making their entry into Australia virtually impossible. This policy remained in place until 1936 when the amount required was reduced to two hundred pounds or fifty pounds with a guarantor. Due to the poor economic conditions that had been experienced in Australia throughout the 1930s, the Government was reluctant to increase Jewish migration when so many of the migrants were impoverished, meaning that they would place a further strain on the Australian economy. The

Government was also reluctant to permit the entry of a significant number of Jewish refugees due to the belief of their inability to assimilate into Australian society compared with some other cultures. The Government believed that the Jews were a separate race due to their distinctly different religious beliefs and customs and that this would significantly inhibit their assimilation into the Australian population. Australia’s political attitude towards Jewish migration was made clear at the Evian Conference, a meeting for the discussion of Jewish refugees, in June 1938.

Australia realised the importance of attending the meeting so as not to gain a bad reputation, however the outcome showed that the Government was unwilling to increase the number of Jewish immigrants into the country. At this international meeting, the Australian representative Colonel T. W. White stressed the idea that Australia did not suffer from internal racial problems and its desire to maintain these peaceful conditions meant that allowing ‘undesirable’ migrants into the country was not an option.

Colonel White also made it clear that the Australian Government felt that as a young nation, the importance of maintaining a strong connection with its Anglo-Saxon roots was vital for the growth of the Australian population. At the conference, the nations present most often put forward the case that they had already done what they felt was enough in response to the refugee crisis without undermining the standards of living within their own countries.

It was felt however, that due to the vast amounts of free space and low population compared to some other nations, Australia should take a greater role in accepting refugees as the economy would not be as degraded and these refugees had the potential to provide workers needed in primary and secondary industries. Despite the prevalence of this resistance to Jewish migration, it is evident that there was at least one politician who pushed for the Australian Government to accept more refugees.

Stanley Bruce, a former Australian Prime Minister who moved to London and became the Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom was well known on an international platform due to his appearance at numerous world conferences and meetings as an Australian representative. He pressed for Australia to take a more humanitarian approach to the issue of refugee migration, especially after the Kristallnacht in Germany and Austria in November 1938.

He appealed for the Government to increase its quota to 0,000 refugees over a three year period, thereby doubling the 15,000 quota suggested by the Australian Government. With a large increase in the number of applications being made to Australia House for entry into Australia after the Kristallnacht, this number seemed reasonable to Bruce. Instead it was decided in December of 1938 that Australia would accept 15,000 refugees over three years. In comparison with the number of refugees that had been accepted over the past five years, this was a significant increase, however not enough to satisfy the humanitarian plight of Bruce.

It is also evident that this quota was never reached as the outbreak of war in 1939 saw the termination of immigration and by this time only 7-8,000 refugees had been accepted into the country. While the Government was developing its policy regarding migration during the 1930s, politicians were under a significant amount of pressure from the Australian public to limit the growth of the Jewish population in Australia. Interestingly, this sentiment was felt from groups in both non-Jewish and Jewish communities in Australia.

The Australian Jewish community were opposed to the large influx of Eastern European Jews due to the difference in language spoken which they felt would make it difficult for them to assimilate easily into Australian society with the help of the already established Jewish community. Another fear was that due to the impoverished state of the Jewish refugees, the Australian Jewish community would be burdened by the arrival of the poor refugees and thus their status within society would be diminished.

It was also hard to convince the majority of the Australian populace of the benefits of a large migrant intake. It is evident that many Australians felt that the Jewish population would undermine the standards of living as well as pose threats to the security of their jobs, a prominent issue after the hardship of the Depression. There was belief that the Jews were far too distinguishable from the normal ‘Australian way of life’ through the way they dressed, their general behaviour and their religious customs.

This sentiment was particularly strong amongst religious groups within Australia. For example a particular Anglican group felt that the Jewish community should not be welcomed on a large scale as their beliefs would challenge the traditional Christian teachings of many Australians. It was also feared that the establishment of a larger Jewish community in Australia may lead to the development of a strong anti-Semitic . movement within Australia. The Australian community was aware of the problems this had created in other nations and was fearful that the same problem would face Australians.

Therefore, the preference of the public was for the migration of smaller numbers of Jews, as it was felt they could be more easily assimilated into Australian culture this way. The public resistance to migration was further evinced by the fact that members of the public made requests to the Government to create specific application requirements and toughen selection procedures in order to restrict the numbers of migrants who were able to meet these requirements.

Throughout this period Australians were unaware of the atrocities that were to follow during the war period and so their priorities lay with the protection of the economy, maintaining standards of living and ensuring peaceful relations between members of society. Despite this widespread public sentiment, there was some pressure from the media to increase Jewish migration for humanitarian reasons.

The Sydney Morning Herald and the West Australian both stressed the need to make a larger contribution to the refugee problem and expressed that Australia was in fact not doing enough to assist the refugees. It is also evident that within some professions, there was encouragement of refugee migration, for example some architects in New South Wales welcomed the arrival of Jewish migrants with an architectural background as they had the potential to bring with them new ideas and thus add to the cultural identity of Australia.

However, such opinions were in the minority and there is increasing evidence that the majority of Australians, along with their political counterparts, were sceptical of the Jewish arrival and wished for only particular migrants to be allowed into the country that were non-intrusive and therefore able to assimilate easily. While Jewish migrants that entered Australia during the 1930s did their best to quickly assimilate into Australian society, the outbreak of war in 1939 prevented this from occurring as once more Jewish migrants were seen as aliens who threatened the security of Australia.

Throughout the first few months of the war, newspapers around Australia detailed some of the atrocities occurring in Europe against the Jewish population. However by 1940 the large publication of this murderous activity had declined significantly. While the papers still published stories about the treatment of Jews in Europe, the Australian public was largely unaware of the extent of the persecution. With the world at war, Australians were fearful of people who had previous ties with Germany and the Nazis and therefore refugees were termed ‘enemy aliens’.

In Britain this led to harsh internment policies of these potential spies, however in Australia the internment policy was more relaxed. It is evident however that even if the refugees were not interned during the war period they were often treated with hostility by other Australians. Jewish communities in Australia also had to deal with frequent police checks and restraints on their freedoms, such as the ability to own a radio. There is evidence to suggest that post-war attitudes to Jewish persons in Australia in many respects mirrored those of the pre-war years.

After the direct attack on the Australian mainland during the second half of World War II, Australian Government policy was directed towards increasing the population so as not to leave the vast unoccupied lands in Northern Australia unprotected. For the first time, Australia began to look further than Britain for prospective migrants, although it is apparent that regardless of this, Jewish migration was still looked upon unfavourably.

After World War II, both of the major political parties shared a similar view in relation to Jewish migration; that the emphasis should be placed on the arrival of British migrations in preference to any others. The newly appointed Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell’s policy in the early post-war years implied a restriction on Jewish migration. While he had introduced a family reunion scheme in which 2,000 survivors of the Holocaust could be united with family in Australia, this only lasted for a period of twelve months, after which time limitations on Jewish migration were increased.

One such example was the limitation of the number of Jewish migrants per ship arriving in Australia to 25% of the total number of people travelling on the ship. The Liberal party policy under the Opposition leader Robert Menzies followed along the same lines as the pre-war policy in that Jewish migration should be kept at a minimum due to the potential for extreme anti-Semitism to develop in Australia and the impact that the migrants may have on Australian standards of living. Under the direction of Calwell, migrants were accepted through the Displaced Persons Scheme.

Under this scheme there were 34,890 arrivals into Australia in 1946, of which only 187 were Jews. Of these 187 Jewish arrivals, only 156 were permanent migrants. This is an incredibly low number given the large number of Jewish people that would have been seeking respite after the end of the Holocaust in Europe. A statement regarding the migrant intake in 1946 by Calwell expressed his feelings that the Australian Government had done all that it could at the present time to assist with the post-war refugee problem.

He also expressed that the Government was only able to accept refugees that already had family living in Australia with whom they could settle with due to the housing shortage being experienced at the time. The post war attitude of the Australian public towards Jewish migration attitude was also reminiscent of the 1930s period. Australians had developed a fear of foreigners after their close encounter with the Japanese during the second half of World War II. This insecurity led them to believe that Jewish migrants would smuggle opium into the country.

The Jews were also criticised for their preference to establish communities within the city as opposed to rural areas where Australians thought migrants would make a more significant contribution to the development of the nation. There were numerous newspapers and magazines which circulated negative opinions towards the post-war migration of Jewish persons to Australia. For example an excerpt from the Bulletin in August 1946 detailed the feelings of many Australians at this time that Jewish migrants should be some of the last ethnic groups considered due to the tendency for them to form ghettoes and compete with Australians for jobs.

One public attitude that did change was that of the Australian Jewish community. Instead of looking towards the Jewish refugees as a threat to their social status, after the horrors of the Holocaust, many people were keen to provide as much assistance as possible to the survivors. Therefore the Australian Jewish community were supportive of the Government’s family reunion programme and the seemingly humanitarian plight of Arthur Calwell at this time.

Under increasing pressure from the public and other members of Government, Arthur Calwell’s humanitarian position on Jewish migration was changed to restrict Jewish immigration. From 1947 onwards the refugee immigration program ceased to exist and so the ability to migrate to Australia was determined by the suitability of the person for employment in Australia. This change in policy made it increasingly difficult for Jewish people to migrate to Australia as Peter Witting found when he and his family applied to leave Shanghai for Australia in 1947.

It is also evident that the Australian Government made false claims that acceptance decisions were made without racial prejudice when the selection committee of the International Refugee Organisation in Australia were secretly told to select only migrants of Baltic background, thereby excluding Jews once again. Overall, it can be seen that Australia’s attitudes towards Jewish migration followed a similar pattern from the 1930s through to the immediate post-war years. The underlying feelings of Australians throughout this period were of anxiety, apprehension and hostility which ultimately impacted on the attitude of Australia towards migrants.

The restrictions placed on migration in the 1930s via the quota system and high landing permit costs through to the opinions displayed at the Evian Conference portrayed an image that suggested an Australian fear of Jewish people. These feelings were motivated by the fear of the rise of anti-Semitism in Australia and threats to the security of Australian jobs and standard of living that the public and government believed Jewish migration would pose. These tensions remained during the war when the Government placed restrictions on the freedoms of Jewish people, who were considered a threat to the security of Australia.

During the post-war period, despite the fact that there was some effort to increase the numbers of Jewish people entering Australia through Government policy and the support of the Jewish Welfare Society in Australia, the Australian public remained sceptical of the arrivals and the effects they would have on society. The further restrictions placed on Jewish migration after 1946 indicates that minimal changes to political and public opinion were evident over time and that racial prejudice against Jewish migrants still existed after the events of World War II.

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