Out of Common Humanity: Humanitarianism, Compassion and Efforts in Australia to assist Jewish Refugees in the 1930s
Free Public Lecture
Forum Theatre 153
2017 Greg Dening Memorial Lecture
In June 1935, Edith Roll, a 13-year-old Jewish girl from Vienna, wrote to her Australian pen-pal Jean Doig, aged 10, from Colac, Victoria. The correspondence was short as Edith and her family were swept up in the violence of the Holocaust. Though Jean’s parents, Keith and Louise Doig, helped the Roll family apply to migrate to Australia, these efforts tragically failed.
Why should the attempt of one family in an Australian country town to assist another in Europe be considered of broader relevance to the monumental events of the mid-20th century?
Unsuccessful efforts to evacuate refugees are cursorily dismissed. A different focus, however, would direct our attention to the motivations of people who were not otherwise politically engaged to act. We miss an opportunity to return to the past – as Greg Dening put it – its own present. From this perspective, the Doig family efforts are part of the complex story of Australian migration history. If we choose not to tell these stories, we cannot fully chart how a history of compassion, and more broadly humanitarianism, can be written.
Joy Damousi is Professor of History and ARC Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellow at the University of Melbourne.