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Newsletter of the Adelaide Jewish Museum – June 2003

The Janzow Correspondence

On Deaf Ears

It was at last year’s Yom Hashoa Memorial that guest speaker Peter Monteath spoke about the Janzow correspondence. He alerted the community to the existence in the archives of the Lutheran Church of 73 letters from Europeans, most of them Jews, that were written to Dr Janzow, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Australia, in late 1938.

The letters were responses to a small article that appeared in The Times in London, concerning the Lutheran Church in Australia, offering to assist with applications for immigration. Within weeks Dr Janzow was inundated by a flood of letters.

A colleague notified Dr Monteath, who is Head of the History Department at Flinders University, about these letters. They had recently been deposited into the archives from the private collection of the Janzow family. Monteath found the correspondence compelling and sent photocopies to Yad Vashem and the Washington Holocaust Museum. He began researching these documents, bringing to this find his wealth of knowledge about this period of world history.

His research led him to write a journal article * that weaves a fascinating factual account of the period of the late 1930s in Germany, the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, and the desperation of the Jews in particular to try and get out of Germany and Austria. With research assistance from Yad Vashem and Washington, he managed to follow up on the fate of at least half of the correspondents. Evidence points to the fact that just one managed to make his way to safety in Australia and few survived the Holocaust. His account makes riveting reading and many issues are raised regarding the role of the church, welfare organizations and immigration agencies, in taking notice of the plight of desperate refugees applying to resettle in Australia.

Yet the letters of appeal, together with occasional photographs and letters of reference, as a body of objects are a treasure of the written word, as the only remaining physical evidence of many of these particular people. It is touching to go through these letters and read how impossible life was for them and the insecurity and sense of impending doom that was also felt by Aryans who had a connection in some way to being Jewish, by marriage, birth or conversion.

The archivists have been unable to locate any supporting material for these letters, that is, there is no reply correspondence, no forwarding letters to immigration authorities. There is no evidence that attempts were made to realize the dreams of the hopeful letter writers that someone had acted upon and attempted to pursue their cries for help. Looking through the letters however, it is clear that someone, if not Dr Janzow himself, had carefully read them, and underlined certain salient points, such as the occupation of the person or the skills they had by which they could find employment in Australia. The letters have also been numbered and a careful list had been drawn up giving the name, marital status and nationality. There is this evidence to suggest that there were good intentions. Finger marks and liquid stains on the paper also point to signs that the letters were read and not simply ignored or filed.

We can be grateful that the family felt these documents were significant and so kept them for over 60 years. It is not surprising that the envelopes have long been discarded and only their contents saved. The archivist surmised that Lutherans are avid stamp collectors and the inclination of the person who would have opened the mail would probably have been to save the foreign stamps.

The 73 letters, some handwritten, others typed, some in English, many of them in German, are now frail and fragile, and slightly yellowed from age. Yet they are still a powerful reminder of the fate of the Jews under the Nazi regime. We’d like to start considering how the letters could be the subject of an exhibition or publication. Either way, while they are at present being cared for in the Lutheran Church Archives, it is important that a wider audience be given an opportunity to read them. In this way the writers will not be forgotten.

* Peter Monteath, Australian Lutherans and the Fate of Europe’s Jews – The Janzow Correspondence, No. 11 October 2001, Journal of Friends of Lutheran Archives.

Addendum: We are hoping to find information about the Adelaide branch of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Please contact me if you can help, and if you have any other information related to these letters.

Roslyn Sugarman, Curator Adelaide Jewish Museum