Jewish Life in Australia
With the proclamation of V.E. Day, the Allied peoples
of the world celebrated. In Sydney, thousands jammed
Martin Place late in the afternoon, shouting, waving
flags, laughing and singing. The spontaneous celebrations
continued on well into the night in the city and in
Kings Cross. But for many Jews in Sydney, particularly
those who had family in Europe, victory was not a
time for celebration. They knew that the news to come
would not be good.
survivors sought to establish new lives in Australia,
which seemed to them a very inviting place; it was
a highly-favoured haven. It was geographically as
far from Europe (and their European memories) as possible,
and offered its citizens freedom and democracy.
During 1945 the Australian-European Search Bureau
published lists of survivors, which it shared with
the Red Cross and the Australian Jewish Welfare Society.
In August 1945 Australia's Minister for Immigration,
Arthur Calwell, instituted a Close Relatives Reunion
Scheme. This scheme made Holocaust survivors with
family already in Australia eligible for immigration,
but had a quota of 2000 immigrants for the first year
and then 3000. This was still far lower than the pre-war
quota of 5000 per year.
Some survivors were accepted into Australia on the
basis of their work skills. Nevertheless, proportional
to population size, only Israel accepted more Holocaust
survivors than Australia.
The Australian Jewish Welfare Society was instrumental
in obtaining entry permits for, receiving, integrating
and rehabilitating immigrant Holocaust survivors.
The Society assumed responsibility for the employment,
housing, medical care and English tuition of survivor
immigrants. One very special group they brought to
Australia was 300 Jewish orphans, who arrived between
1947 and 1950.
arriving at Pyrmont, Sydney, 1946
Despite difficulties including shipping shortages,
quotas imposed on Jewish passengers per ship and local
xenophobia towards non-British immigrants, approximately
15 000 survivors settled in Australia in the four
years from 1945. Although they brought with them little
by way of wealth or possessions, these immigrants
did bring a strong commitment to hard work. They shared
with other immigrant groups the usual difficulties
of adjustment to a new language and culture, but in
addition, they had to cope with the psychological
trauma of their Holocaust experiences. Their ability
to put the past behind them and to forge new lives
for themselves is a tribute to their courage and an
inspiration to us all.
In total, about 35 000 pre-war Jewish refugees and
post-war Holocaust survivors had immigrated to Australia
by 1961. These people have become loyal and grateful
Australian citizens. The Australian ethos of a 'fair
go' enabled many to achieve success in both psychological
and material terms. Holocaust survivors have made
significant contributions to Australia in fields as
diverse as industry, theatre, art, medicine, architecture,
academia and more. For many, this has been their way
of giving something back to the country which has
given them so much.