The Safe House Down Under

Jewish Refugees from Czechoslovakia in Australia 1938–1944

by Anna Rosenbaum (Author)
©2017 Monographs XVI, 344 Pages
Series: Exile Studies, Volume 15


After the demise of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, the Jewish population fell victim to Nazi persecution. Hoping to find a safe haven elsewhere in the world, some Czechoslovak Jews turned to Australia to seek refuge. This book focuses on their struggles to survive in life-threatening situations and their efforts to reach the safety of the distant continent.
Although the German occupation of Czechoslovakia has been a subject of extensive academic debate, the role of the Australian government in this international event has thus far not been examined. This book evaluates the impact on Australia of policies pursued by Europe’s leading politicians with regard to Czechoslovakia that ultimately failed to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War.
Central to the book is a discussion of Australia’s policy towards the admission of Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia. Drawing on archival sources as well as original interviews conducted with former refugees from Czechoslovakia, the author offers insights into the lives and experiences of these Jewish refugees down under. At the same time, the book sheds light on Australia’s involvement in one of the defining moments of the twentieth century.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Figures
  • Abbreviations
  • Preface and Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: The Small Country in the Heart of Europe
  • The Czechoslovak Republic
  • Chapter 2: The Rise of Fascism and National Socialism
  • Towards the End of a Promising Beginning
  • Chapter 3: On Australia’s Horizon
  • Australia–Czechoslovakia Contacts
  • Immigration Prior to 1938
  • Czechoslovakia 1930–1936
  • Government Responses
  • Imperial Conference
  • The Key Players
  • Chapter 4: 1938: Australian Responses to the Munich Agreement
  • The Australian Media
  • Chapter 5: The Aftermath of the Munich Agreement
  • The Aftershock: The Human Cost of Munich
  • Appeals for Admission of Czecho-Slovak Refugees Worldwide
  • International Refugee Organizations
  • Appeals for Admission of Czechoslovak Refugees to Australia
  • The Immigration Challenge
  • Chapter 6: Czechoslovakia’s Refugee Crisis: The Australian Perspective
  • Government Responses
  • Response of Australia’s Non-governmental Organizations
  • The Collapse of Czecho-Slovakia: Responses in Australia
  • Chapter 7: Australia and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
  • Government Responses
  • Responses from Federal Parliament
  • Economic Repercussions
  • T. H. Garrett’s Fact-Finding Mission to Europe in 1939
  • Chapter 8: Emigration
  • Escape Routes
  • Passports, Travel Documents and Landing Permits
  • Professional Qualifications
  • Sponsorship
  • Evacuees from South East Asia
  • Chapter 9: Australia and the Czechoslovak Government in Exile
  • Developments during the Second World War
  • Case Study: Adolf Solanský
  • Internment of Czechoslovak Refugees
  • The Czech Refugee Trust Fund and the Australian Connection
  • The Participation of Czechoslovak Volunteers in the Australian Armed Forces
  • Chapter 10: Czechoslovak Jews Down Under: Individual Stories
  • Life Altering Changes
  • Their Stories
  • Conclusion
  • Chronology of Events
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources
  • NAA – The National Archives of Australia
  • NA, P – The National Archives, Prague
  • AÚTGM – Archives of the Institute of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
  • AMZV – Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Prague
  • NA UK – National Archives of the United Kingdom
  • Archival Institutions in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom
  • Hansard Reports
  • Film
  • Secondary Sources
  • Books
  • Theses and Unpublished Manuscripts
  • Articles (Journal Articles and Chapters in Books)
  • Lectures, Conferences, Proceedings, Panel Discussions
  • Index
  • Series index

| ix →


Figure 3.1: Dr Jiří and Růžena Baum. Source: Courtesy of Dr Peter Baum.

Figure 3.2: Egon Erwin Kisch. Source: Courtesy of the State Library of NSW.

Figure 4.1: Map of Czechoslovakia. Source: Národní Archiv, Praha (NA, P), Sbírka map a plánů (SMP), nezpracovaná část.

Figure 10.1: Dr Bruno Zdenko Breyer, front row, fourth on the right. Source: Courtesy of Nyree Morrison, Archives of the University of Sydney.

Figure 10.2: Dr Kurt Gottlieb 1910–1995. Source: Courtesy of Paul Gottlieb and Miriam Barash.

Figure 10.3: Francis Lord 1916–2010. Source: Courtesy of Eva Gertler.

Figure 10.4: Professor Emerita Helen Hughes 1924–2013. Source: Courtesy Robert Duong, Fairfax Syndicate.

Figure 10.5: Dr Julie Moscheles 1892–1956. Source: Courtesy of Dr Jiří Martínek.

Figure 10.6: Dr Karl Josef Koenig 1898–1994. Source: Courtesy of Kay Koenig.

Figure 10.7: Paul Morawetz 1914–2001. Source: Courtesy of Judy Avisar.

Figure 10.8: Lotte Glaser 1910–2007 and Kurt Glaser 1906–1980. Source: Courtesy of Margaret Foster.

Figure 10.9: Vera Bonyhady 1926–2017. Source: Courtesy of Vera Bonyhady.

Figure 10.10: Mia Lipson, Jack Solar and their mother Anna Schulhof. Source: Courtesy of Misha Solar.

Figure 10.11: Leslie, Jack and Misha Solar. Source: Courtesy of Misha Solar. ← ix | x →

Figure 10.12: Marie-Louise Hirsch 1914–2015. Source: Anna Rosenbaum.

Figure 10.13: Robert, Dorothy, Gertrude and George Tugendhat. Source: Trove digitalized newspaper.

Figure 10.14: Dorothy Kiers (Tugen). Source: Courtesy of Dorothy Kiers.

| xi →


AAP Associated Australian Press

ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation

AJWS Australian Jewish Welfare Society

ALP Australian Labor Party

AMZV Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Archiv Ministerstva Zahraničních Věcí

AÚTGM Archives of the Institute of Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, Archiv Ústavu Tomáše Garrigua Masaryka

BCRC British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia

CRTF Czech Refugee Trust Fund

DSAP German Social Democratic Worker’s Party in the Czechoslovak Republic, Deutsche Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei in der Tschechoslowakischen Republik

HICEM Acronym for HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), ICA (Jewish Colonization Association), EMIGDIRECT (A migration organization based in Berlin)

JOINT American Joint Distribution Committee

NA, P National Archives, Prague / Národní Archiv, Prague

NA UK National Archives of the United Kingdom

NAA National Archives of Australia

SdP Sudeten German Party, Sudetendeutsche Partei

SMH Sydney Morning Herald

UAP United Australia Party

| xiii →

Preface and Acknowledgements

Having studied the history of the Holocaust for my master’s degree at the University of Sydney, I chose the topic of exile studies for my doctoral dissertation. This book is based on my dissertation. The refugee experience of my family, as well as that of my husband and his family, has left indelible impressions. The perils that people were exposed to in their quest for survival and the impact of the Shoah on their families, influenced my decision to explore the all-encompassing subject of the emigrant experience. Further, the desire to embark on a journey to discover the history of the refugee movement between Czechoslovakia and Australia was a natural choice for several reasons: I grew up in post-war Czechoslovakia, I know the history and the language of the country and have settled in Australia, a country that has absorbed refugees from all over the world.

I owe many people and institutions my gratitude for helping me realize this project. Professor Emerita Suzanne D. Rutland was my chief supervisor and Professor Emeritus Konrad Kwiet was my associate supervisor in the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney. With Professor Kwiet I undertook the studies of the Holocaust. His vast knowledge and experience in exploring the catastrophe that befell the Jewish population in Europe from 1939 to 1945 was invaluable and gave me the necessary foundation for the next step: to study how this situation impacted on Australia. With Professor Rutland I then undertook a study of Australian Jewish history, including the country’s immigration record prior to, during and after the end of the Second World War. Becoming familiar with the Jewish refugee movement and its impact on Australia, it was then possible for me to begin the research on Czech encounters with Australia, the immigration challenge this country faced in relation with events that shaped the pre-war history of Czechoslovakia and wartime contacts with the Czechoslovak government in exile in London. To Professor Rutland and Professor Kwiet I am greatly indebted for the expertise they shared with me, for their support and encouragement, their tireless efforts ← xiii | xiv → and the care they provided throughout the years that led to the completion of my dissertation.

Dr Kateřina Čapková in Prague was another seminal figure in bringing this dissertation to fruition. I owe her my deep appreciation. Her vast experience in Czech Jewish history prior to the Second World War as well as her knowledge of the situation of German and Austrian asylum seekers in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s were both of primary importance to my work.

In terms of organizations which have assisted me in my efforts to bring the history of Czechoslovak Jewish refugees to Australia to light, I want to thank the University of Sydney and the Fund for Jewish Higher Education. The University of Sydney provided me with grants that enabled me to visit archival institutions in Prague and to take part in 2008 in the conference entitled ‘Czechoslovakia and the Crisis of Democracy in Central Europe in the 1930s and 1940s of the Twentieth Century – A Search for Solutions’. The Fund for Jewish Higher Education also provided financial assistance for my overseas research.

To all those who shared their experiences and stories I have to express my most sincere appreciation. The dissertation would not have been realized without the contributions of former Czechoslovak refugees or their descendants: the oral histories of Judy Avisar, Miriam Barash, the late Vera Bonyhady, Margaret Foster, Paul Gottlieb, the late Marie-Louise Hirsch, the late Professor Emerita Helen Hughes, Dorothy Kiers, Kay Koenig, the late Francis Lord, the late Mia Lipson and Misha Solar. Their refugee stories and those of their relatives were crucial to the understanding of the subject and my deep gratitude goes to all of them for having shared their experiences with me. Moreover, Peter Charles, the nephew of the late Marie-Louise Hirsch deserves thanks for providing information on the refugee experiences of Hirsch’s parents and parents-in-law.

In Sydney, my thanks also go to Sophia Masters for her artistic image of Uluru, to Helen Bersten, former archivist of the Australian Jewish Historical Society, to Jeanette Tsoulos of the National Council of Jewish Women, to Sister Dr Marianne Dacy, who was the archivist of the Judaica archival collection at the University of Sydney, Eva Gertler, Nyree Morrison, archivist of the University of Sydney, Tinny Lenthen, the librarian of the Sydney ← xiv | xv → Jewish Museum, to the late Dr Peter McNeice, Rena McGrogan and Anthony Kitson, the librarians of the University of Sydney, to Dr Sarah Plant of Puddingburn Publishing Services in Hunters Hill, NSW, the librarians of the Catholic University in Strathfield, the Moore College of Theology and the librarians of the State Library of New South Wales. Furthermore, to Julio Silveira of the IT Department of the University of Sydney, to Michael Binovec and to Russell Cox for their help in solving computer problems.

In Melbourne, my thanks go to Lionel Sharp for sharing his list of migrants from which I was able to extract names of Czech and Slovak refugees, to Peter Frawley, archivist of the Alfred and Caulfield Hospitals in Melbourne, Kate Woods, the archivist of the University of Melbourne and Dr Petr Baum.

In Canberra, I would like to thank Robert Tugen, the great grandson of Robert George Tugen (Tugendhat), Caroline Connor, Brett Fenton, Michael Wenke and Patrick Ferry, archivists of the National Archives of Australia in Canberra and Carol Bunyan, Secretary of the Dunera Boys Association.

In terms of the Czech Republic, I am indebted to Vlasta Měšťánková of the National Archives, Prague, to Tomáš Klusoň, Markéta Kuncová, Pavel Boháč, Štěpán Gilar and Dr Josef Boháč of the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and to Dr Jan Chodějovský and Pavel Holát of the Institute of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. They were always ready to provide assistance either in Prague itself or whenever I requested help from Sydney. I would also like to thank my brother Jan Rybar for researching archival material on my behalf in the Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague in 2013.

Furthermore, others who assisted me include Dr Jaroslava Milotová and her staff at the Institute of the Terezín (Theresienstadt) Initiative in Prague, historians Professor Petr Čornej, Dr Jan Martínek, Dr Alena Sklípalová, Associate Professor Bohumír Smutný, Dr Petra Meretová, Petr Brod, Dr Dagmar Černoušková from the Documentary and Research Centre of the Tugendhat Villa in Brno, Professor Ivan Kamenec in Bratislava, Associate Professor Antonie Doležalová, and Petr Kučera and Pauline Crump in London. I am grateful for their invaluable assistance.

It goes without saying that I must thank my husband Martin for his support, encouragement and patience throughout the years when I was ← xv | xvi → trying to get ahead with my work. I am immensely grateful to my cousin Dr Robert Klein, who was unwavering in his encouragement to write this dissertation. My thanks go to my son Daniel, my daughter Nicole, to Tony and Kasia and to my grandchildern Isabelle, Olivia, Raphael, Joshua, Sophia and Ben for their understanding when at times I was not able to give them the same attention as full-time grandmothers do.

Finally, I would like to take this occasion to pay homage to the late Professor Bedřich Baumann who instilled in me the love of history. I also want to thank Dr Udo Borgert, the former head of the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Sydney who told me the following when I was his undergraduate student: ‘Once you begin to study, you will never want to stop’. I am grateful to both for their inspiration.

I also acknowledge the support given by the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

| 1 →


To abandon the Czech Republic to its fate would be to abandon Europe and the world to the reign of naked force and the certainty of eventual war.1

— Editorial, SMH (1938)

Reading these lines published in the September 1938 editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), one of Australia’s most important daily newspapers during the Czechoslovak crisis, the readers’ attention is drawn to the reality that the gradual process of Czechoslovakia’s obliteration would encourage Hitler to advance his strategy for the conquest of Europe. Yet, Otto von Bismarck foresaw the consequences of aggression against the Czechs when he declared:

Whoever is master of Bohemia, is master of Europe. Europe must, therefore, never allow any nation except the Czechs to rule it, since that nation does not lust for domination. The boundaries of Bohemia are the safeguard of European security and he who moves them will plunge Europe into misery.2

Bismarck’s assessment was correct. Adolf Hitler, driven by his hatred of Czechoslovakia and its emancipated Jewish community, threatened punitive action against the country in retaliation for alleged discrimination and crimes committed by the Czechs against the ethnic German minority.3 Eager to secure the besieged country’s territory and its wealth, we know ← 1 | 2 → from hindsight that Hitler was already planning for his conquest of Europe and beyond. What became known as the Czechoslovak crisis was to have an impact on the political scene worldwide.

Hitler’s ambitions for the expansion of Germany, beginning with the acquisition of the strategic Sudetenland border region, was supported by two leading powers in Europe: Britain and France. It is significant to question why the fate of Czechoslavakia was decided by foreign powers who appear to have overlooked Czech sovereignty in a land that had belonged to them for more than a millennium. One possible explanation is a lack of understanding outside Czechoslovakia at this time about the long history and traditions of the Czech people.

Reports by officers of the British Legation in Prague during the 1930s were heavily influenced by the backgrounds and beliefs of their authors. They were often a blend of fact-finding with personal interpretations of the situation. These views were contributing factors in substantiating the British Cabinet’s perception of Czechoslovakia, leading to its failure to recognize not only the country’s political stance as a hindrance to Hitler’s plans for European hegemony,4 but also its importance as an outpost of Western democracy in a region surrounded by totalitarian regimes. Significantly, there was widespread belief amongst British diplomats and politicians that if the Sudetenland was annexed to Germany this solution would in the end be recognized by the Czechs themselves as being in their interests because the country would then be saved from an insoluble problem.5

Following the ‘Anschluss’ (annexation) of Austria into the German Reich in March 1938 and aware that Hitler’s next victim would be Czechoslovakia, world leaders espoused a policy of appeasement in an ← 2 | 3 → effort to prevent the outbreak of a new world war. Given Hitler’s insistence that the Sudetenland was actually German territory, the notion that the creation of Czechoslovakia had been an error of judgement seemed justifiable. This perception also served as an expression of magnanimity towards an old enemy who claimed to have been wronged in defeat. The so-called ‘artificial creation’6 that was Czechoslovakia, which had absorbed several ethnic minorities of the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire, was therefore viewed as worth sacrificing. However, the ease with which Hitler achieved the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia on 30 September 1938 merely emboldened him to embark on the destruction of what was left of the country. On 15 March 1939, the German army invaded Bohemia and Moravia, absorbing it into the Third Reich while Slovakia’s fascist leadership created an ‘independent’ state, subservient to Nazi Germany.

Although the tragedy of Czechoslovakia has been an area of extensive academic debate, the role played by the Australian government during that period, in particular its attitude towards the admission of Jewish refugees from that country, has so far not been examined. This book therefore seeks to shed some light on the following issues: Australian government policies towards Czechoslovak Jewish immigration and to what extent were these policies influenced by antisemitism; the Australian government’s contrasting attitude towards the admission of non-Jewish Sudeten German opponents to the Nazi regime as well as German and Austrian asylum seekers who found refuge in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s; and the attitude of Czechoslovakia’s diplomatic representation in Sydney towards its Jewish citizens.

In addition, this work investigates the history of contacts between Czechoslovakia and Australia in the interwar period and the position taken by the Australian government towards the Czechoslovak crisis. It determines whether the Australian government recognized the legality and rationale of Czechoslovakia’s opposition to Hitler and points to crucial factors that influenced the Commonwealth government’s decision to support Britain’s policy of appeasement. It examines whether Australia’s leading ← 3 | 4 → politicians presented a united stand vis-à-vis the situation in Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939, scrutinizing the impact of the Czechoslovak crisis not only on decisions taken by the Australian government but also on a broad section of Australian society. Finally, it explores the refugee experience using personal stories to illustrate the overall experience, integration and contributions of this group to Australian society.

In the absence of any academic literature on the topic of Australian and Czechoslovak connections in both the Czech Republic and Australia, relating in particular to Jewish immigration, I began searching for relevant material in archival collections. Visits to the National Archives of Australia in Canberra and in Sydney over several years, followed by two study trips to three archival institutions in Prague, reveals a wealth of information that has so far escaped the attention of historians.


XVI, 344
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (October)
relations between Czechoslovakia and Australia the Munich Agreement of 1938 dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1939 Australian immigration policy towards Czechoslovak Jewish refugees interviews with former refugees from Czechoslovakia
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. XVI, 344 pp., 3 coloured ill., 14 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Anna Rosenbaum (Author)

Anna Rosenbaum holds a PhD from the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney.


Title: The Safe House Down Under
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