Australia declared war on Nazi Germany on September 3, 1939, and almost one million Australians served in World War II (WWII). Australia’s Jewish population grew significantly during the 20th century. The community numbered an estimated 23,000 in 1933. Between 1933 and 1939, Australia absorbed between 7,000 and 8,000 Jewish refugees from Europe, including from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. A further 2,000 were deported to Australia by the British government in 1940. An estimated 127,000 Jewish refugees migrated to Australia between 1946 and 1961, the majority of whom were Holocaust survivors. The 2016 census reported 91,022 people identifying as Jewish in Australia. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, an affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, describes itself as the officially elected representative organization and voice of the country’s Jewish community. A number of other Jewish organizations are also present in Australia.
The Department of State does not know of any cases of Holocaust-era confiscated property in Australia or of laws specifically addressing the restitution of Holocaust-era property. There has been one reported case of a prominent Australian art gallery voluntarily returning a painting believed to have been sold under duress. The most tangible aspects of the Terezin Declaration for Australia are therefore the country’s commitment to supporting Holocaust survivors and promoting Holocaust remembrance.
Certain private social welfare organizations provide assistance to Holocaust survivors resident in Australia, with support from the Australian government and significant financial support from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference). Australia joined the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in June 2019.
The Department of State does not know of any Holocaust-era immovable property claims in Australia. As Oxford Scholarship Online’s publication, “Searching for Justice After the Holocaust: Fulfilling the Terezin Declaration and Immovable Property Restitution” notes, “[no] immovable property was confiscated from Jews or other targeted groups in Australia during the war. As a result, no immovable property restitution laws were required.”
Australia is a signatory to the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art. The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts reported that it was not aware of a legal framework in the country that specifically relates to the restitution of Holocaust-era property, a view shared by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
However, the country’s Department of Communications and the Arts notes that the Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Act (2013) provides legal protection for cultural objects on loan from overseas lenders for temporary public exhibition in Australia. Institutions such as museums, galleries, libraries, and archives seeking accreditation under the scheme must demonstrate robust due diligence and provenance policies and practices. The Australian Federal Police reported that it was not aware of any examples of a law enforcement investigation in Australia resulting in the return of Holocaust-era property, but it was aware of an example of voluntary restitution. In early 2014, the National Gallery of Victoria agreed to return a painting, “Head of a Man,” believed to have been sold under duress. The gallery’s decision to return the painting followed a request made on behalf of two South African women deemed to be the legal heirs of a Jewish industrialist who auctioned the painting at a reduced price in Amsterdam in 1933 after fleeing Berlin. The portrait had been sold to the National Gallery of Victoria in 1940.
In 2015, the government published a best practice guide to collecting cultural material that also refers to provenance research and due diligence and provides guidance to cultural institutions considering a request for restitution, among other topics. Australia’s most prominent art galleries, Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia and Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, have their own due diligence and provenance policies that require thorough research regarding the provenance of art works prior to acquisition.
Australia is party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The convention requires parties to ensure that no collecting institution accepts illegally exported cultural property. According to one commentator, Australia’s Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act of 1986 implemented Australia’s obligations under the UNESCO convention, although its focus on the cultural heritage of foreign countries does not adequately address the issue of Nazi-looted art. Australia has not established any spoliation procedure or advisory body to adjudicate looted art claims.
Australia received 3,307 books from Jewish Cultural Reconstruction after WWII. The Department does not know whether provenance research has been conducted on these holdings or whether other Judaica may have reached Australia during or after WWII.
The Australian government’s best practice guide to collecting cultural material directs collecting institutions to international databases of stolen art, including the INTERPOL Stolen Works of Art database, Art Loss Register, and national databases within relevant countries. Certain Australian galleries have established their own databases documenting the provenance of their collections. For example, the National Gallery of Australia’s Provenance Research Project, Art in Europe 1933-1945, transparently documents the provenance of all works in its collection presumed to have been in Europe between 1933 and 1945.
In June 2019, Australia became a full member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). In a statement, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs said, “Australia’s IHRA membership demonstrates our continuing commitment to combating anti-Semitism and protecting freedom of religion.” Ceremonies marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day were held in Sydney and Melbourne on January 27, 2019, and a presentation by Holocaust survivors at the Sydney Jewish Museum was fully subscribed.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) reported that learning about the Holocaust is mandated in Australia’s national curriculum and in the curricula of every Australian state and territory, which public and private schools are required to follow. For example, students in Year 10 (high school sophomore equivalent) examine “significant events of WWII, including the Holocaust.” The inclusion of the Holocaust as part of the mandatory Year 10 curriculum was advocated by the ECAJ and included in the national curriculum beginning in 2008.
At least three institutions in the country have permanent exhibitions dedicated to Holocaust education and remembrance. The Sydney Jewish Museum hosts a permanent Holocaust exhibition tracing the persecution and murder of European Jews and the new lives forged by survivors in Australia. Perth hosts the Holocaust Institute of Western Australia, and Melbourne hosts the Jewish Holocaust Centre, a museum and resource center that exhibits photographs, artifacts, and documents donated by Melbourne Holocaust survivors. The Holocaust is also documented as part of the Second World War Gallery at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, which welcomes more than one million visitors per year.
Private social welfare organizations provide support to Holocaust survivors, including JewishCare Victoria and JewishCare New South Wales (NSW), both of which have received grants from the Claims Conference. For example, JewishCare Victoria’s Holocaust Survivor Support Program assists eligible Holocaust survivors with tailored services, including in-home and personal care, therapies, and medical assistance. Service providers such as JewishCare receive financial support from the Australian government. According to the Claims Conference, JewishCare NSW serves 1,800 Sydney-based Holocaust survivors, most of whom are from Central Europe, and JewishCare Victoria serves approximately 1,500 Holocaust survivors in the state of Victoria. In 2015, the Claims Conference budgeted 16,646,630 U.S. dollars for programs in Australia, consisting of direct compensation; social welfare services; and Shoah education, documentation, and research.