Case 10: 'Prisoners of War' at home: Internees

More than 25,000 enemy prisoners-of-war were held in prison camps in Australia during World War II. Many had been captured initially by other Allied forces, and the largest single group were Italians. As well, a number of aliens and civil internees were held, the number peaking at 6,780 in September 1942. These included a number of refugees from Nazi Europe who had fled to Britain and were detained there after the outbreak of hostilities, then shipped to other countries in a curious reprise of Britain's much earlier policy of transportation to the colonies. The most celebrated of these were 2,800 who arrived on the 'Dunera' in September 1940, mainly Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria.

  • Among them was Berlin-born Leonhard Adam (1891-1960). He had studied ethnology and law, and became a District Court judge in Germany; but stripped of office under Nazi anti-Semitic laws in 1933, he in time moved to England. His seminal bookPrimitive Art was published there in 1940, but in the same year he and his brother Manfred were interned as enemy aliens, and shipped out on the 'Dunera', whence they found themselves placed in an internment camp at Tatura, in up-country Victoria. While there, Leonhard Adam drew and painted aspects of his enforced environs, as in the sketchbook shown.
  • In Melbourne, Lady Masson - whose son-in-law, the anthropologist Malinowski, was known to Adam - helped secure Adam's parole in 1942. Thus began an association with the Museum of Victoria, with Queen's College and the History Department, University of Melbourne, where Professor Max Crawford provided Adam with research grants, some of which were used to further his knowledge of Aboriginal art and use of stone; the University's Museum of Art houses the ethnological Collection that Adam built up during these years of association
  • While in Tatura camp, with many other highly-educated refugees, Leonhard Adam taught primitive religion and ethnology at their 'Collegium Taturense', and became its Pro-Rector. Shown is the first anniversary issue of their house magazine, October 1941, and a 1942 New Year card designed, cut, and printed by Adam. Many other distinguished inmates of Tatura and Hay camps went on to make important contributions to Australia's intellectual life. The Archives also holds the papers of Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack, artist, designer, composer, Bauhaus member, and teacher (and a very substantial collection of his art works is in the University's Museum of Art, including studies of the internment camps at Hay, Orange and Tatura.), and a member of other internees, some of whom, like Adam, would make distinguished contributions as members of staff of the University.
  • During 1918, Prof. Joseph Kohler of Berlin University (with whom Adam had studied prior to the outbreak of World War I) suggested he go among Indian and Nepalese prisoners-of-war in Rumania to collect ethnographic and anthropological material. It was evidently during this eight months in Rumania that he met and befriended Roland Carter, an Australian Aboriginal Serviceman. Thirty years later, after the irony of Adam's internment in Roland Carter's country, he managed to locate and contact Carter, then living at the Point Macleay Mission on Lake Alexandrina (now called Raukkan and owned by the Ngarrindjeri). This is a letter and photograph sent by Roland Carter to Leonhard Adam, by now living in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton.

Leonhard Adam Collection

  • Letter, Marjorie Coppel, Honorary Secretary of the Victorian Refugee Immigration Appeals Committee to J.D.G. Medley, 3 May 1941, drawing attention to the plight of the 'Dunera' internees.

Registrar's Correspondence Series

While Adam and other Jewish refugees were often able to gain early release from camps and enlist or take up positions with the University, one who experienced the reverse process was Japanese instructor at the University since 1922, Mowsey Inagaki. He had arrived in Australia via Thursday Island at the turn of the century and in 1907 married Rose Allkins.

At 5.45 a.m. on Monday, 8 December 1941, news reached Melbourne of Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and Manila. When Rose Inagaki returned home from work that afternoon, she found the house 'a shambles', her husband removed, along with Japanese dictionaries, literature and other items. He was interned at Tatura, and his wife's attempts to have him released had proved unsuccessful when she died in August 1943.

  • Letters between Rose Inagaki and the Registrar of the University, 1941-42, expressing among other things, her 'hurt, that after Mr Inagaki's long and faithful service, the University did not...offer me a little sympathy at this treatment of an ageing, frail man, who above all things has been a loyal Australian'.

Registrar's Correspondence Series