Monash University publishes three new books of Jewish interest

October 5, 2018 by Geoffrey Zygier
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Australian universities have become prolific publishers of a wide range of academic and other works…writes Geoffrey Zygier.

One of the leaders in this field is Monash University, which has recently put out three books of particular interest to Jewish readers, through its publishing arm, Monash University Publishing. These include Dunera Lives: A Visual History;A Second Chance: The making of Yiddish Melbourne;and Tragedy and Triumph: Early testimonies of Jewish Survivors of World War II. While they tell different tales, all three touch upon the Holocaust in varying degrees, testifying to its continuing significance in historical consciousness.

Dunera Lives is the first volume of a two-part series on this subject (the second examines many kinds of written documentation) by Ken Inglis, Seumas Spark and Jay Winter, with the assistance of Carol Bunyan.

The Dunera story is already well known, but what differentiates this book from earlier works is that this one is a visual history that starkly illuminates the aftermath of this cruel and unjust affair. The authors have selected powerful and compelling images that make the transition of the ‘Dunera Boys’ from prisoners to free men crystal clear (and while many adapted very successfully, sadly others didn’t fare so well).

Dunera Lives adds a great deal to the understanding of the Dunera saga and, as Professor Frank Bongiorno from the Australian National University has written, is “[a] contribution to the history of Australia, to the history of migrants and migration, and to the history of human rights”. The visual material is presented extremely well and this is a fine work in general.

Another book centring on Jewish newcomers to Australia, albeit in quite different circumstances, is A Second Chance: The making of Yiddish Melbourne. Here authors Margaret Taft and Professor Andrew Markus from Monash University’s Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation employ both archival sources and the voices of Eastern European Jews to recount their substantial impact on Melbourne’s (and hence Australia’s) Jewish life.

Taft and Markus’ story is that of a relatively small group of Yiddish speaking Jews fleeing poverty and terrible persecution (culminating in the Holocaust). Their self-sufficiency, drive and (largely left-wing) political and cultural awareness more than compensated for their material deprivation and gave them a second chance for new lives. While by no means religiously unlearned, their Jewish identity was essentially secular and strong, fomenting an assertiveness that enabled them to take on the Jewish establishment and other forms of Jewish peoplehood such as Zionism.


A Second Chance is an intriguing, enjoyable and very readable account of a group whose influence was out of proportion to its size and, while today diminished (for example, Yiddish speaking is now almost entirely the province of the Haredi community), has left a lasting impression on Australian Jewry. In addition, it is worth noting that this book also seeks to provide an understanding of broader political and social issues, including immigration and settlement policies. Thus A Second Chance should find a wide audience interested in these matters.

Finally, we come to Tragedy and Triumph: Early testimonies of Jewish Survivors of World War II, translated from Yiddish by Freda Hodge, an interviewer of survivors and families at Melbourne’s Holocaust Centre.

Jewish refugees wrote these accounts while waiting in Displaced Person camps in the American zone of occupation in post-war Germany. They were initially published between 1946-1948 in a journal titled Fun Letzten Khurben(‘From the Last Destruction’).

These eyewitness accounts by both adults and children are historically very significant. Firstly, they have never before been available in English and for this Ms Hodge is owed a great debt. Secondly and more importantly, their ‘freshness of memory’ testifies to their veracity. Of course they are largely the recounting of dreadful experiences, their ‘triumph’ confined to stories of survival and liberation. One can only guess at the subsequent traumas these witnesses to atrocity had to bear. Nonetheless, these are important voices that have to be heard again and again.

Tragedy and Triumph will be launched at 1.30pm, Sunday 21 October at Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre by Emeritus Professor Dr Konrad Kwiet.

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