How a desert in the Australian outback almost became a refuge for Jewish people fleeing Nazi Germany
How a desert in the Australian outback almost became a safe haven for Jewish people fleeing Adolf Hitler’s reign at the height of Nazi Germany
- A remote desert in the Australian outback could be Israel in Australia
- Jewish poet Melekh Ravitsh traveled to the area to find a Jewish harbor
- Before World War II, Jews faced increasing anti-Semitism in Europe
- A pastoralist family in Western Australia offered the Jews 27,000 square kilometers of land
A remote desert in northern Australia could have become a refuge for Jewish people fleeing from Nazi Germany.
In 1933, Melekh Ravitsh, a Yiddish poet, looked for a suitable place for the Jewish people to move – and discovered the rugged interior of the Northern Territory.
Three months earlier, Mr Ravitsh had visited Germany where the Nazi regime led by Adolf Hitler had come to power and the growing wave of anti-Semitism that he witnessed prompted him to take action.
Traveling from Poland to Australia, Ravitsh managed to organize a rickety mail truck ride to the remote area, accompanied by an Italian postman and a young Aboriginal boy who served as a guide.
“It was a wild, crazy, crazy trip. But he had a terrifying sense of doom that he wanted to save his people from, “said author Anna Epstein ABC Radio on Mr Ravitsh’s efforts this week.
A map of 27,000 square kilometers of leasehold land in Western Australia, presented to the Jews by a well-known shepherd family
When World War II broke out in Europe, the Nazi regime began to gather Jews seeking security in other countries
He had arrived in Australia with an introduction letter from Albert Einstein and was tasked with finding money for Yiddish schools.
“I think the mission was the most important to him and that fundraising for the Yiddish schools was a pretext. It’s what paid for his trip to Australia, ”said Epstein.
He had visited Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide to raise money and also wrote articles for a Yiddish newspaper in Poland.
He then headed north through the outback on his own mission – a four-day train ride to Alice Springs, then five days on a dusty mail truck along sand-covered tracks to the isolated community of Birdum.
“In a place where 5,000 people have settled down of their own free will … and have a life that is not bad on average, a hundred thousand could settle, especially when material circumstances compel them to do so,” Ravitsh wrote.
He wrote that the first generation of Jews who traveled to the area would suffer from the extremely hot and dry conditions, but the second generation would have acclimatized and use desert wells to sustain agriculture.
In Darwin, he met the administrator of the Northern Territory, who was open to the idea of resettling Jews in the outback.
Ravitsh continued to campaign for the lecture move in Sydney and Melbourne before returning to Poland.
Later, in 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II in Europe, the Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonization reverted to Ravitsh’s idea.
Under their plan, they identified the Kimberley in Western Australia as fit to resettle 75,000 European Jews.
An organization representative, Dr. Isaac Steinberg, traveled to Western Australia to pitch his vision of “Jewish people writing poetry about laughing kookaburras” and “transforming the region into an agricultural hub” to the public.
A shepherd family, The Duracks, offered the Jews 27,000 square kilometers of leasehold land, but the settlement was canceled.
Eventually, Malekh Ravitsh returned to Melbourne with his family to teach at a Jewish Yiddish school where he lived for many years before traveling again.
He eventually settled in Israel after the country was established in the 1940s.
The remote Kimberley region (pictured) of northern Western Australia was one of the locations the Jewish people considered for a massive Jewish settlement