The Internment of ‘Enemy Aliens’ in World War II provides students with knowledge and understanding of the historical experiences of specific groups within Australian society and their efforts to gain citizens’ rights at the end of World War II. The Case Study ‘encourages students to critically analyse the structures and processes of government and their impact on people in different historical contexts.’[i]

The Case Study addresses the following topics within the Syllabus:

(i) Mandatory Course Topic 4 Australia and World War II

Students learn about: Students learn to:

  • The impact of the war on Australian civilians with a particular emphasis on the internment of enemy aliens in World War II
  • Explain the impact of the war on Australian civilians with a particular emphasis on the chosen event or issue

The following outcomes are taken into account: 5.2; 5.3; 5.4; 5.5; 5.7

(ii) Mandatory Course Topic 6 Australia and World War II: Section B Migrants

Students learn about: Students learn to:

  • The experiences of ‘enemy’ aliens in WWII
  • Examine the experiences of a chosen group using a range of sources

The following outcomes are taken into account: 5.1; 5.8; 5.9; 5.10

(iii) Elective Course Topic 3 Thematic Studies: School Developed Study.


In the early days of World War II, the British, responding to a fear of “the enemy within” temporarily interned thousands of individuals. Australia and Canada agreed to help “the mother country” and in 1940, the HMT Dunera brought a group of 2500 refugees, mostly Jewish refugees, from Nazi Germany to Australia.

Singapore, having accepted a number of refugees in the 1930’s also intensified measures against ‘enemy aliens’. Australia was prepared to accept this group also, on a temporary basis. Over 200 internees arrived on the troopship, Queen Mary, in September 1940.

The internees were kept in internment camps in rural Australia and over time were released. Many elected to remain in Australia and a number served with Australia’s Defence Forces, notably the 8th Employment Company.


  • During World War II, the internment of ‘enemy aliens’ in Australia fell under the control of the National Security Act 1939. It allowed for the accommodation of Internees and Prisoners of War in Internment Camps.
  • As former citizens or residents of nations with which Australia was at war, Jewish refugees found themselves classified as ‘enemy aliens’.
  • The consistent position of the government was to limit internment ‘strictly to the minimum numbers necessary for security reasons, and to adopt such a measure only when it is considered that internment is essential because other forms of control are inadequate’ [ii]

Focus questions

  • Why were internment camps established in World War II?
  • What was the attitude of the Australian government towards ‘enemy aliens’?
  • What restrictions were placed on enemy aliens during World War II?

Teaching Strategies and Learning Activities

(i) Students use the internet to build an understanding of the Australian government’s attitude and decision to pursue an internment policy against ‘enemy aliens’ living in Australia in WWII.[iii]
(ii) Students research the National Security Act 1939; the Aliens Registration Act 1939 and the National Control (Aliens Security) Regulations 1939
(iii) Students mark locations of internment camps in WWII on a map of Australia

2. The Dunera Affair

2.1 Internees from the United Kingdom

  • With the German invasion of the Low Countries and the commencement of Hitler’s campaign in the west, the so-called “phoney war” had ended. Britain was fighting for survival. Panic developed which saw all enemy aliens whether refugees or not as “fifth columnists” or spies. Accompanying the panic were calls to deport as many enemy aliens as possible to places where they could do least damage to the war effort.[iv]
  • Australia was approached to take internees.
  • In July 1940, the Commonwealth government agreed to accept a total of 6000 internees and prisoners of war from the United Kingdom.
  • Only one shipment of internees was dispatched to Australia comprising of 2542 males (2342 Germans and 200 Italians). The internees were transferred on the Dunera, which arrived in Australia on 27 August 1940.
  • The group included 250 German Nazis and 200 Italian Fascists. The majority was strongly anti-fascist and two thirds of them were Jews.[v]
  • Among the internees were those who had until then been regarded as ‘friendly aliens’ and as such had been placed in Categories B or C. [vi]
  • Internees disembarking in Melbourne were sent to Tatura Internment Camp in Victoria and those disembarking in Sydney were sent to Hay in NSW.
  • The Australian government made it clear that no internees could remain in Australia; however, the United Kingdom authorities expressed the hope that “a system of less rigid custodial treatment to genuine refugees from Nazi oppression and others not falling within the dangerous class would be applied”[vii]
  • Intense criticism of the deportation and incarceration of unfortunate persons, most of whom were totally opposed to the Nazi regime, were voiced both in Britain and Australia and resulted in the British Government expressing regret as early as October 1940.
  • By 1941, a more flexible attitude towards the question of release developed on both sides. The Home Office dispatched a liaison officer, Major Julian Layton to supervise, in close cooperation with the Australian authorities, ways and possibilities for the release of internees.
  • While German-Jewish internees remained interned in Australia, or released to other countries in the ‘free’ world, the destruction of the Jewish communities was underway in their countries of origin.
  • Jewish internees were caught up in bureaucratic arguments and the general fear of alienating public opinion. They were given no special consideration. In due course, they were all released.
  • A substantial number served in the defence forces, notably in the 8th Employment Company.

Focus Questions

  • What evidence is there that the Australian government and the general public were aware of the plight of the Jewish internees?
  • Why did it prove too difficult for special consideration to be applied to Jewish internees?

Teaching Strategies and Learning Experiences

(i)Students research the Categories of internees on the Dunera transport.[viii]
(ii)Students write a report on the conditions during the voyage to Australia on the Dunera.
(iii)Students discuss the attitude towards the Jewish internees as set out in the document Chapter 3, Oversees Internees- Acceptance by Commonwealth for Custody in Australia
(iv)Students view the video (docudrama) “The Dunera Boys”

3. Singapore to Australia

Internees from the Straits Settlement

  • After World War I, The British government established Singapore as a British base in Asia east of India.
  • Most of the Europeans who made Singapore their home were British. However, after the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany, Jewish refugees arrived, seeking refuge.
  • At that time, many were in transit to Shanghai as it was the only place in the world that did not require a landing permit.
  • However, British Singapore was attractive as a destination in its own right, since the government accepted new arrivals as long as they were not “a burden on the public purse” and they could demonstrate that they had a guarantee of employment in the colony.[ix]
  • With the assistance of other refugees, the Singapore Jewish community grew.
  • In September 1939, with the outbreak of war, German and Austrian Jews together with other white civilians were registered, placed on probation and free to go about their business.[x]
  • As the war deteriorated, the British government made arrangements to deport its ‘enemy aliens’ to Australia and Canada. The government in the Straits Settlement decided to do the same.
  • 267 internees, men women and children (mostly Jews), came to Australia on the troopship Queen Mary in September 1940.
  • The Australian government’s position was that no releases would take place into Australia under any circumstances. [xi] They would stay in internment for as long as they remained in Australia.
  • In 1941, the Straits Settlement government informed Canberra that they did not want the internees back under any circumstances and the Australian government could do with them as they wished.[xii]
  • Singapore authorities sought permission for Major Julian Layton to facilitate applications for transmigration for internees from Singapore. (See 2 above: Dunera Affair)
  • The Singapore story became subsumed within the larger Dunera narrative.

Focus Questions

  • Why was Australia asked to take the internees from Singapore?
  • Why was the Australian government reluctant to accept the internees as immigrants?

Teaching Strategies and Learning Activities

(i)Students use the Internet to build an understanding of the reasons the Singapore government sent all enemy aliens to Australia?
(ii)Students research the attitude of the Australian government to the internees from Singapore.[xiii]

4. Internment

Tatura and Hay

Focus Questions

  • What was the attitude of the internees to their confinement at (i) Tatura (ii) Hay?
  • What were the causes of the ‘disturbances’ at Tatura?
  • What were the experiences internees at the camps?
  • What happened to the Dunera Boys?

Teaching Strategies and Learning Activities

(i) Document Study: students in small groups read and report the National Archives records concerning Tatura Camp. [xiv]
(ii) Document Study: students in small groups read and report on the National Archives records concerning Hay Internment Camp[xv] [xvi]
(iii) In small groups, students research and collect stories of the ‘Dunera Boys’[xvii]
(iv) Empathy Exercise: “Imagine that you were transported on the Dunera. Describe your experiences at Hay/or Tatura internment camp. In your narrative include description of how day to day life was organised in the camp(s)”

5. Museum Study

Excursion to the Sydney Jewish Museum: Lecture by Professor Konrad Kwiet; interactive session with Dunera Boy (or descendant); primary document study facilitated by Museum educator; limited access to archival material.

6. Impact of enemy aliens on the civilian population

  • Few Australians took an interest in the situation of the Jewish internees.
  • The Australian Jewish Welfare Society at first remained uninvolved; however, by July and August 1940, the executive of the Welfare Society wrote to the Minister of Defence recommending the setting up of Tribunals before which the ‘unfortunate people’ could attest their innocence and loyalty with the assistance of the Society. The terse reply stated that ‘enemy aliens’ had the right to apply to the commander of the military district.[xviii]
  • The Australian Jewish religious establishment also reinforced the plea for Aliens Tribunals.[xix] Rabbi Jacob Danglow (appointed senior Jewish chaplain to the Australian Army in 1942) was informed that ‘the internees may submit for consideration applications for permission to proceed to at their own expense to any other country which may accept them’[xx]
  • The Jewish Welfare Society was only able to offer small gestures. Rabbi L.A. Falk[xxi] traveled to Orange, December 1940; cigarettes, tobacco and some pocket money were provided, followed by warm clothes and books
  • The Anglican Bishop, Venn Pilcher demanded a ‘properly constituted Court’. He argued “At present (the refugees) are condemned to internment on the basis of certain dossier made up of papers contributed by the police and it may be by citizens who have given information against them.”[xxii]
  • Representatives of the Society of Friends (Quakers) visited the camps and took a keen interest in the fate and future of the internees.
    Many citizens were far from convinced that accommodating alien refugees was a good idea.[xxiii]
  • The authorities continued to argue the case for national security and in that context internment was described as a ‘precautionary measure’.

Focus Questions

  • Why did many people within the civilian population fear the arrival of alien refugees?
  • To what extent were Australia’s internment policies a reflection of attitudes towards foreigners?
  • How did the Jewish and the wider community respond?
  • What contribution did the alien refugees make to Australian life?

The 8th Employment Company

  • Because of the labour shortage from early 1942, some male internees were permitted to volunteer for work outside Tatura in the fruit harvest.
  • This acted as a precedent for a more general enlistment of the men onto a specially formed army corps.[xxiv]
  • The fruit picking detachments became re-formed in April 1942 to become the Eighth Employment Company of the Australian Military Forces. With this, the men could obtain their release. Although they were now part of the Australian army, they were not Australian or British citizens. This was not resolved until 1944. As soldiers, they were, however, free to enter Australian life and free of the restrictions reserved for other enemy aliens.

Teaching Strategies and Learning Experiences

Student presentation: In groups of three prepare a presentation on the following topic:

(ii)a) “Do you think the government’s policy to intern enemy aliens during World War II was fair? Why or why not? b) Research the government’s current policy in regard to refugees.
(iii) Students prepare case studies on the contribution of the Dunera and Singapore ‘enemy aliens’ to Australian life[xxv]

Where are they now?

  • The vast majority of Singapore internees who had been released in Victoria to join the army stayed in Australia after the war.
  • Of the original two and a half thousand Dunera internees, more than two thirds left Australia after the war.
  • The Dunera internees continue annual reunions; the ex-Singapore community met for a re-union in 1990, exactly fifty years after their deportation on the Queen Mary.
  • Once a “scandal”, the “Dunera Affair” has now been reinterpreted as a success story; a chronicle of the contribution made by ‘unwanted refugees’ to Australian society and culture.

Suggested Assessment Task

Sir Winston Churchill called the story “A deplorable mistake”. Cyril Pearl called it “The Dunera Scandal”. Narrate the story of the deportation of ‘enemy aliens’ to Australia in WWII. In your response evaluate the attitudes of the British and Australian governments.

Selected Resources


Malcolm J Turnbull, Chapter 5, ‘Enemy Aliens and Internees’ in Safe Haven: Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia, National Archives of Australia Accessed 02/01/2007

Tatura- Rushworth Victoria (1940-47) Accessed 14/3/07

Australian Memories of the Holocaust Accessed 14/3/07

Chapter 3, Oversees Internees- Acceptance by Commonwealth for Custody in Australia Accessed 14/3/07

Hay Accessed 14/3/07

The Holocaust Educational Trust Citizenship resource Activity 14: seeking Asylum-A Case Study Accessed 14/3/07

Historical records on Detainees including Dunera Boys Accessed 14/3/07


Lewin, Ben, 1991 Dunera Boys

Burgan, John, 2000. Friendly Enemy Alien. (Documentary).

Oral Histories

Four oral histories of ‘Dunera Boys’ are held in the Sydney Jewish Museum resource Centre.


Bartrop, Paul R. with Eisen, Gabrielle, Eds(1990): The Dunera affair: a Documentary Resource Book, Jewish Museum of Australia, Schwartz and Wilkinson Melbourne.

Bartrop Paul R (1994) ‘Refugee and Rescue Policy 1939-45’ in Australia and the Holocaust 1933-45, Australian Scholarly Publishing Kew, Victoria

Bevege, M., (1993) Behind Barbed Wire: Internment in Australia during World War II. University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia.

Foster John Ed (1986) Community of Fate: Memoirs of German Jews in Melbourne

Patkin, Benzion, (1979). The Dunera Internees, Cassell, Stanmore

Pearl, Cyril, 1983. The Dunera Scandal, Angus and Robertson, North Ryde

Rubinstein Hilary L. & WD, 1991 The Jews in Australia: A Thematic History, Vol 1:1788-1945. Heinemann, Melbourne.

Rutland S (2005) The Jews in Australia Cambridge University Press, Melbourne

Saunders, K., (2003). ‘The stranger in our gates’: Internment Policies in the United Kingdom and Australia during the Two World Wars 1914-39 Immigrants & Minorities, 22(1): 22-43.

Journal Articles

Bartrop, Paul R.(1993) ‘Enemy Alien Internees from Singapore in Australia’ Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal Vol XII, Part I

Bartrop Paul R (1995) ‘Education in Adversity: the Dunera Internees during the Second World War’ in Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal Vol XIII Part 1

Bartrop Paul R. (2007 draft) ‘“Authority can take no risks: Australia and the Internment of Enemy aliens during the Second World War’

Loewald Klaus (1985) ‘The Eighth Australian Employment Company’ in Australian Journal of Politics and History Eds Konrad Kwiet and John A Moses UQP Vol31, No1

Loewald Klaus (1977) ‘A Dunera Internee at Hay 1940-1941, Reprinted from Historical Studies Vol 17 No 69 October 1977

Kwiet Konrad (1985) ‘On Being a German Jewish Refugee in Australia’, Experiences and Studies in Australian Journal of Politics and History Edited by Konrad Kwiet and John A Moses UQP Vol 31, No 1


Dunera News (The committee of the Hay-Tatura Association, [email protected]


Most of the references cited in the resources list are available in the Resource Centre of the Sydney Jewish Museum


[i] History Syllabus Year 7-10 NSW Board of Studies 2003

[ii] NAA, MP729/6, file 29/401/273, “Refugees: Internment, Fifth Columnists”, Dept of the Army Memorandum (Chief of General Staff for Minister), October 1940 cited in Bartrop Paul R. (2007 draft) ‘“Authority can take no risks: Australia and the Internment of Enemy aliens during the Second World War’

[iii] See for example, statement by Prime Minister Menzies National Archives of Australia (NAA) A1608,file N19/1/1 Pt1, “War 1939.Position of Aliens and Refugees-Time of War” and NAA, A376, file T252m “Enemy Aliens” secret memorandum (Enemy Agents Travelling as Refugees) Australian Military Forces (Southern Command) to the 4th and 6th Military Districts, 20 June 1940.

[iv] Bartrop Paul R (1994) Australia and the Holocaust 1933-45Australian Scholarly Publishing Kew Victoria p222ff


[vi] After the outbreak of war 572 ‘enemy aliens’ were classified as category A (politically dangerous)and immediately interned; 6,691 were placed in category B and were exempt from internment but not from special restrictions; 66290 were recognized as ‘friendly’ or ‘neutral aliens’ exempt from internment. Of the 73,533 German and Austrian ‘enemy aliens’ about 75% were categorized as ‘refugees from Nazi oppression’.(cited in Kwiet (1985) footnote 4)

[vii] Chapter 3, Oversees Internees- Acceptance by Commonwealth for Custody in Australia

[viii] ibid

[ix] Bartrop Paul R (1993) ‘Incompatible with security: Enemy Alien Internees from Singapore in Australia, 1940-1945’ in Enemy Alien Internees from Singapore in Australia, Journal of the Australian Jewish Historical Society, Vol XII 1993 Part 1 p149

[x] Ibid

[xi] Ibid p152

[xii] Ibid p155

[xiii] See for example Ibid. and Bartrop Paul R (2007 draft) Op cit.

[xiv] Tatura

[xv] Hay

[xvi] See also Loewald Karl (1977) ‘A Dunera Internee at Hay’ Reprinted from Historical Studies Vol 17 No 69 October 1977

[xvii] For example, “Dunera Boys” Australian Memories of the Holocaust

[xviii] Cited in Kwiet K (1985) ‘On Being a German Jewish Refugee in Australia’, Experiences and Studies in Australian Journal of Politics and History Edited by Konrad Kwiet and John A Moses UQP Vol 31, No 1 p65

[xix] AA MP 508/1, file255/702/981, ‘German and Austrian Internees mostly of the Jewish Faith’ Rabbi Jacob Danglow (St Kilda, Victoria) to Prime Minister RG Menzies, Melbourne, 17 January 1941 cited in Bartrop Paul R (1993) op cit

[xx] Bartrop Paul R (1993) op cit p156

[xxi] See Biographical entry Australian Dictionary of Biography on line Accessed 14/3/07

[xxii] AA Victoria MP508/1-255/702/529. Letter Venn Pilcher to Mc Bride 28 August 1940 cited in Kwiet (1985) p65

[xxiii] See for example letter from M. Gibbs to Prime Minister Menzies in Bartrop and Eisen (1990) The Dunera affair: a Documentary Resource Book, Jewish Museum of Australia, Schwartz and Wilkinson Melbourne.p36

[xxiv] Loewald Klaus (1985) ‘The Eighth Australian Employment Company’ in Australian Journal of Politics and History Edited by Konrad Kwiet and John A Moses UQP Vol31, No1p83

[xxv] For example, Marx Otto (1897-1974) Australian Dictionary of Biography –Online Edition

Susi Brieger 2007