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Re Mark Aarons' review of Leslie Caplan's The Road to the Menzies Inquiry.

In his otherwise useful review of Leslie Caplan's The Road to the Menzies Inquiry (AJJS 2012:164), Mark Aarons repeats the furphy also presented in both editions of his book on Nazi War Criminals that the Jewish community terminated its campaign against German migration solely because of threats by the Coalition Government regarding Jewish migration to Australia and donations to Israel.

Strangely, Aarons makes no reference to my detailed 2002 study of the Jewish campaign against German migration. The study, based to a large extent on Jewish communal archives, documents that the public campaign was temporarily halted during the April 1951 federal election. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) was concerned to retain its long-time policy of non-partisanship in party politics, and believed that any public activity during the election period could be construed as aligning the Jewish community with the Labor Party.

For a variety of reasons, the campaign was never resumed. Firstly, the campaign had largely achieved its objective of placing German migration on the political agenda, and influencing public opinion. In addition, whilst the government refused to rescind the overall German migration program, it had in practice reduced the numbers from the original proposal of 25,000 per year to approximately 5,000.

Further, the Jewish community faced a number of serious obstacles in demanding further concessions from the government. The German migration plan was supported by a number of powerful organisations including the RSL and much of the mainstream media. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) was also at best neutral given its participation in the Immigration Advisory Council which had endorsed government policy.

In addition, there was no certainty that a future federal ALP Government would pursue a fundamentally different policy. It is also instructive that the then Jewish Council Vice-President and long-time pro-Soviet activist Sam Goldbloom, whom Aarons cites as one of his principal sources (2012: 165), stood as an Independent Labour candidate against the endorsed ALP candidate in the Federal Seat of Isaacs in that same election. According to the then ECAJ President Ben Green, Goldbloom's unexpected candidature caused considerable embarrassment in that the Jewish community was perceived to be taking sides during an election campaign.

Equally, the Immigration Minister Harold Holt does appear to have directly threatened the Jewish community with political reprisals. However, contrary to the reference Aarons makes in his books to the year of 1953, it is likely that these threats occurred in late 1950 or early 1951 when Holt was severely embarrassed by the campaign. Regardless, the evidence suggests that other local political factors as cited above and international factors such as the reconciliation of Israel with West Germany were far more important influences in ending the campaign.


Aarons, Mark. 2012. "Review of Leslie Caplan's The Road to the Menzies Inquiry", Australian Journal of Jewish Studies, 26: 164-177.

Mendes, P. 2002. "Jews, Nazis and Communists Down Under: The Story of the Jewish Council's Controversial Campaign against German Immigration," Historical Studies, 119: 73-92.

Response from Mark Aarons

Philip Mendes made similar claims in his review of my book War Criminals Welcome (Australian Jewish News, 13 July 2001). Mendes again narrowly focuses on the specifically German migration campaign, which he says never resumed after the April 1951 federal election.

My focus has always been on the broader anti-Nazi migration campaigns, especially Central and Eastern Europeans as well as Germans; these campaigns certainly continued after April 1951.

The Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism commenced campaigning from late 1947, focusing initially on non-Germans involved in Nazi mass killings and subsequently on Germans. The Council's records demonstrate that these activities continued into the early 1960s, involving publicity campaigns (including significant media coverage), public meetings, lobbying politicians, collecting petitions and presenting evidence about suspected war criminals.

The ECAJ's campaign also commenced in the late 1940s and continued post-1951, petering out post-1952/53. As Mendes wrote in his 2002 article, the 1951 ECAJ Conference resolved "to implement a range of educational activities in conjunction with broader social and political groupings, and to continue to lobby the Minister and other members of Parliament." The June 1952 ECAJ Conference re-endorsed previous policy, calling "upon all State Jewish constituent bodies of the ECAJ to loyally maintain their resistance to any proposals for such migration from which Nazis and other undemocratic German elements are not rigorously excluded", and directing ECAJ affiliates to "continue to take all practical steps to inform public opinion of the dangers" of migration policies that did not exclude Nazis. The ECAJ's records (Archive of Australian Judaica, Sydney University) demonstrate that cases of suspected non-German war criminals were taken up post-April 1951.

In my 2001 reply to Mendes I stated that it "may well be the case that other events also influenced the Jewish leadership to abandon the [anti-Nazi] campaign." In his review of my book Mendes suggested that the West German-Israeli Restitution Agreement was more influential in the community's decision. He repeats this theme in his latest foray.

Sam Goldbloom was one of my sources for the meeting at which Harold Holt blackmailed the community, but the blackmail was also confirmed to me by the late Syd Einfeld. Norman Rothfield also confirmed it in 1993 (Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal). Goldbloom stated that he was called to the meeting by ECAJ president Einfeld (a position Einfeld assumed in 1953).

Mendes now claims that Holt's blackmail likely occurred in late 1950 or early 1951. In my review article I stated that it occurred "in the early 1950s", but in my books I quoted Goldbloom's recollection that it occurred in 1953. It may have occurred earlier. Goldbloom's recollections were recorded 25 years later, while Rothfield recorded his 40 years later, dating the meeting to sometime in 1952. Time may have blurred their memories.

But if, as Mendes contends, Israel's reconciliation with West Germany was a significant factor in the community's decision to abandon the anti-Nazi campaign then this decision could not have been made before 1952 when negotiations leading to the first Restitution Agreements commenced (they were signed in September 1952). So the Holt meeting would likely have occurred during or after 1952, not much earlier as Mendes hypothesises.

The precise date of the meeting does not alter the pertinent facts: Holt threatened the community in the early 1950s; the ECAJ then abandoned its anti-Nazi campaign; it did not resume until the mid-1980s.
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Title Annotation:Letters
Author:Mendes, Philip
Publication:The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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