Saturday, July 07, 2018

Saturday Morning Musings - memories of Klaus Loewald, a Dunera Boy

Historian and former diplomat Klaus Loewald (right), shown here with fellow Dunera internee Hans Marcus on the fiftieth anniversary of the vessel’s arrival. Rebecca Silk
There has been a real rush of new material on the now famous story of the Dunera Boys, the group of mainly German and Austrian Jewish refugees forcibly deported to Australia on the Dunera in July 1940. Upon arrival, they were interned at Hay. From that group came many who would become leading Australian intellectuals.  

On 19 June 2018, Nicholas Gruen posted A lucky boy from a golden age of economics, a summary of the speech he gave at the launch of economist Max Corden's memoirs, Lucky boy in the lucky country. Corden was a Dunera Boy as was Fred Gruen, Nicholas's father and another leading Australian economist. My attention was caught in part because I'm interested in the Dunera Boys, in part because of the discussion on the changing nature of economics.

Nicholas's reflections triggered  a part completed post drawing from his thoughts but also my own reflections on and experience with the changing nature of economics. I paused in writing because I realised how little I actually knew in some areas.

I will complete that post, but in the meantime my attention was caught by the publicity surrounding a new book by Ken Inglis, Seumas Spark and Jay Winter with Carol Bunyan, Dunera Lives: A Visual History. This included a radio discussion between the ABC's Phillip Adams and Jay Winter on the book. Then, digging around, I found this 12 December 2016 piece by Seumas Sparke in Inside Story,  "Ken Inglis and the Dunera: a seventy-year history", telling a little of the history of the book. My attention was caught by this paragraph:
Loewald’s story is remarkable. Born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1920, he escaped the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938 by staying on the move, resting at night on trains rather than at home. In London he worked in a factory job before his arrest and deportation to Australia. Released from internment in 1942, he served in the 8th Employment Company of the Australian army alongside other former Dunera internees. He returned to London in 1945 and emigrated to the United States the following year; there, he took American citizenship and built an academic career. In 1962 he left Berkeley for Saigon to teach American politics and history at the university and to serve as American cultural attaché. He resigned from the US diplomatic service in 1970 in protest against the Vietnam war and Nixon’s presidency, moved to Australia with his wife, and joined the history department of the University of New England. He died in 2004 without having travelled to Hay with Ken, a trip Loewald had suggested they make.
In 1981 I returned to University of New England to work full time on my PhD. This was a happy time in my life. I was without real care, I had enough money for little luxuries, friends to do things with and I was back in an academic environment, able to dive down all sorts of rabbit holes not always directly connected with my main topic.

Over 1981 and 1982 I often sat next to Klaus in the tea room or at our various social functions. He was an kind and urbane man, an interesting man, who was interested in many of the things I was interested in. I had come back into an academic environment after 14 years in the public service, including several at senior level. I found that I did not have to explain things to him, that he understood.

We were then in the first or second stages of the specialisation and fragmentation that has come to mark so many disciplines.  I found that this had led to a narrowing of focus, a shallowing of thought, an increased unwillingness to discuss broader issues including the methods and philosophical underpinnings on which various disciplines rested.  Credentialism had also increased, something that I was coming to detest.

I suppose that I was especially conscious of these things because I was coming back into a university that I had known well, not just as a student but also from growing up in an academic household. So I was comparing a now with a past that, arguably,  had already become wrapped in a degree of golden nostalgia. Still, and more broadly, I do remember saying to Klaus in frustration one day after a seminar, how on earth can they seriously hope to research that if they have no idea how organisations or systems work?

Klaus and I talked a little about his past. I clearly remember his description of the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938 which he escaped by staying on the move, resting at night on trains rather than at home.I remember the descriptions of broken windows, of glass crunching under foot. However, I really had no idea of his background, his broader experience, and greatly regret now that I did not pursue further when I had the chance.

Perhaps I should record at some point what I have now discovered as a short memoir. The time Klaus and his second wife Do Thi Uyen Nhu, herself a remarkable woman, spent in Armidale was only a small part of their very varied lives. It was, relatively, a bigger part of mine, sufficient that he remains fixed in my memory, saying hello as I come into the tearoom, waving at me to sit down with him.


Winton Bates said...

Very interesting, Jim.

I never met Klaus Loewald, but had the privilege of working with got Max Corden and Fred Gruen for short periods during the 1970s.

Australia was fortunate to get this boat load of refugees. I wonder what motivated the government of the day to accept them.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Winton. I'm not surprised you knew them. We got them in the first instance as internees sent from the UK in the dark days of 1940 because the Churchill Government saw them, wrongly, as a threat and deported them The error was recognised later. We kept 900 of them to our ultimate benefit because, I think, of the links they forged with each other and the country while here. Their treatment by the Australians they met from the train ride to Hay and then in the camp helped created positive feelings

Nicholas Gruen said...

I think they were kept because
1) they weren't going anywhere during the war
2) during the war they were deployed – not in combat but on the wharves etc – in the 8th Employment Company – which they called the 8th Enjoyment Company
3) after the war various politicians repeated their desire to get rid of them, but it was all complicated. Some went back – mainly to Britain I think, but eventually, the silliness of returning them was recognised and they were allowed to remain within a few years of the end of the war. Only a few parliamentarians championed their remaining, a Labor, a UAP and a Country Party person I think.