What life was like as a Jew in post-Second World War Australia

As his book nears its release date in July, Robert Hillman explores the tensions in Australia as more and more Jewish people fled there during and after the Second World War

Saturday 01 June 2019 12:25
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An Orthodox Jewish man walks along Hotham Street in St Kilda East, Melbourne. Approximately 120,000 Jews live in Australia today
An Orthodox Jewish man walks along Hotham Street in St Kilda East, Melbourne. Approximately 120,000 Jews live in Australia today

Australia has no serious record of antisemitism. Over the past few decades, small groups of what Australians refer to as “ratbags” (usually young men of impaired intellect and an appetite for offence) have written anti-Jewish slogans on the walls of Jewish schools. Maybe even a swastika. Before that, next to nothing.

Every now and again, in conversation, one hears examples of the “gentlemanly” antisemitism that TS Eliot and his pals exercised, referring to Jews as “Hebrews” or “the chosen people”. But in every important way, Australia could be considered a haven for Jews, and has been for most of its white history, with a few periods of exception.

It is not as though Australians since colonial times had adopted a humanitarian attitude to the oppressed and persecuted Indigenous Australians, who were murdered in significant numbers following white settlement in 1788, dispossessed of their traditional lands, not counted in any census until 1967.

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