Boaz Bischofswerder and Felix Werder, Refugee Musicians

In mid 1995, Mrs Hemda Patkin, the widow of Ben Zion Patkin gave the Archive of Australian Judaica some background papers used for her husband's book on the war time experiences of those who had sailed to Australia on the Dunera. Some years before in 1979, Ben Zion Patkin had published a book entitled: The Dunera Internees. He had gathered source material by contacting those who had made the voyage on the Dunera, and was supplied with reminiscences and memorabilia by twenty five men, who included Felix Werder (Bischofswerder). Among the material given to Patkin by Felix Werder was some synagogal and original chamber music, a handwritten manuscript in Yiddish, written in pencil in an exercise book and some background papers on the Dunera voyage and the internment camps in Australia. These detail of the experiences of Boaz Bischofswerder and his son Felix. They had been brought to Australia by the British as "enemy aliens" and were subsequently interned at camps in Hay and Tatura, not being discharged till 1944.

The Dunera arrived at Darling Harbour, Sydney on 7th September 1940, after a hazardous voyage. A typescript from Patkin's hand, found among his papers in the Archive of Australian Judaica is entitled: "Fragments of the Tatura Story " gives some details.

When World War 2 started in September, 1939, all refugees from Nazi Germany, who found a temporary home in England, were rounded up and divided into three categories. Category "A", who were classified as enemy aliens, were immediately arrested. Category "B", who were left free, had been taken into custody in May 1940. The third category "C" refugees were classified as friendly aliens and friends of England, mainly Jews, altogether about 30,000- had been left free until after the evacuation from Dunkirk, and the German occupation of France. It was then that the 30,000 refugees were asked if they would be prepared to go to Canada, where they will be free to take an active part in the Allied War Effort against Nazi Germany.

All volunteered immediately and after a short while many had embarked on ships to be taken across the Atlantic, to Canada.

About 200 of the refugees, all men, had been put on S/S "Duneera" which sailed to Australia instead of to Canada. The food was poor, many of the personal belongings of the 'passenger' were confiscated by the 'Friendly' guards, whose attitude to the inmates of the ship was similar to goal prisoners. They were even forbidden to come up on the upper decks.

The ship zigzagged along to the unknown"never-never" and was encountered on the way by a German submarine, which tried to torpedo it. The Germans, apparently, were not successful in sinking the ship immediately because the first torpedoes did not find their mark. Luckily, however, the refugees still had with them personal belongings, brought with them from Germany, also many of their kits resembled Prisoners of War Kits and these were thrown overboard. According to some refugees, a signal was sent to the German Commander that the inmates of the ship were German prisoners of War and, in addition, having examined some of the articles found in the waters, the Germans believed the story and from them on there was no interference with the 'Duneera.' After eight weeks of sailing from London, all around Africa, the S/S 'Duneera' with its cargo of 2000 friendly-enemy aliens, finally reached Sydney Harbour.

From Sydney, the inmates were taken by train to near Hay, N.S.W. where they were locked up behind barbed wire in a camp, twenty-eight people in each hut.

It was the beginning of Spring, the month of September, when they arrived in Hay. They had nothing else with them except the little clothing they wore, because, whatever was not thrown overboard when the Nazi submarine attacked, the guards had helped themselves. True, at a later date, a court martial was held, the guards were punished and the 'passengers' of the 'Duneera' received some compensation for lost property from the British Government.

Felix Werder's story, told in another typed manuscript in Patkin's collection which the latter published in his The Dunera Internees adds:

It was all very unpleasant, possibly unjust, even unethical, but by comparison not half as bad as being in a concentration camp, being bombed out or die on the Stalingrad from frost bite. I have learned long ago from Leipniz, who learned it all from his cat, to curl up in a corner and consider this the best of all possible worlds. One learns a lot from a Dunera situation about one's fellow man....

Soon after the war ended, a number of the internees... (Patkin's document becomes illegible). [They wished to immigrate to Israel but did not have the necessary documentation] owing to the war conditions and could not leave England for Palestine and when the round up of the Aliens occurred, the British Home Office did not make any exceptions, all were treated alike. In their letters to the Zionist Federation, the certificate holders expressed their anxiety, lest they would lose the legal right to enter Palestine, which would also affect their families, who were still in England, though the families of some of them were able to leave for Palestine earlier. They asked the Zionist Federation and Major Layton to act on their behalf, either to obtain an extension of the time or a promise that other certificates would be made available in due course." Another illegible half line follows ending with the word "Nazis".

The Patkin manuscript continues, with some crossings out:

Having learned from the letters of many internees about the "welcome" they received ... I telephoned to Mr Max Freilich and asked him to find out from major Layton, who at the time resided there (in Sydney), from Mr W. Brand and anyone else who could help, what steps could be taken in order to help the internees...

Suzanne Rutland comments in The Edge of the Diaspora that the Welfare Society in Sydney assumed a patronising attitude towards the refugees. After the war, the honorary secretary of the Jewish Welfare Society in Melbourne complained about the behaviour of his colleagues in Sydney.

The "Internees Affair" was discussed at length with Dr Bernhard (Dov) Joseph, legal adviser to the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, a member of its Executive and after the establishment of the State of Israel, the Minister for Trade and Industry. Dr Joseph spent a few days in Sydney and Melbourne, while en route to Palestine from United States, where together with David Ben-Gurion (who also spent a couple of days here) and other Palestine members for the Jewish Agency, attended the far-famed Baltimore Conference, but, owing to the impossibility of travelling via the Atlantic, arrangements and been made for their return to Palestine, via Australia and the Far East. If one were to speculate as to the reason that members of the Jewish Agency could not return to Israel via the Atlantic it could be suggested that it was because of problems with the British.1

The document relates further that the internees felt themselves to be in both a physical and spiritual desert during this time, but were cheered a few weeks later by the visit of Mrs Rieki Cohen of the Wizo-Ivriah, Sydney, who was able to give them courage and some tangible held.

As it is usual in camps, so in this camp too, the inmates after a while began to organise their lives the best way they could under the circumstances.

But, the "rest" did not last for long, because the internees were transferred to a more permanent camp in Tatura, Victoria, about 130 miles from Melbourne.

Life in a the camp at Tatura became a little easier, in as much as the internees were allowed to organise workshops, cultural activities and some were sent to work on nearby farms."

Felix Werder relates:

Looking back on the lecture given by Professor C on the philosophy of history; by Maestro S on the influence of C.P.E. Bach on Beethoven; by Dr H on Deutero-Isaiah; and Professor T on the Caro-Can defence, I doubt whether any university could have matched the performance. As for myself, having just been torn from the sheltered bosom of an English tertiary education, I found myself much in demand as a lecturer, not, I suspect, because of any great news I had to impart but because I was one of the few who could converse in english. In fact, later during the internment, I became a quasi-secretary to several camp-leaders.

There is no end of human ingenuity under stress. I found the Chess Club particularly appealing. Our diet consisted of kippers and inedible bread which we promptly kneaded into chess pieces and within days we had a flourishing tournament under way. My father organised a choir. The problem of music manuscript, or lack of it, was overcome by composing material on toilet paper. Both my father's and my memories were severely taxed to come up with bits and pieces from the classics. This resulted at times in the most extraordinary truncated versions of items from Handel's "Judas" and Mozart's "G Minor Mass", supplemented by original pastiches from yours truly. We wrote a lot of music in those months and never has the lowly toilet paper been so cherished as it was in those days.

As I was very interested in those days in Zarathustra and the original Zend-Avesta, I wrote a small thesis on the origins of much Hebraic literature. Of course, the poem"Akadamut Millin", in particular fascinated me...I made the first sketches to my tone poem by that name, on the Dunera, which was performed with much success by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra with Sir Eugene Goossens as conductor. I suppose, for myself and many of the other young people. It was a sort of adventure. Certainly, for me it proved a valuable lesson on the realities of life, men's adaptability under stress and the need to build on one's own abilities

Ben Zion-Patkin adds: After reading the hundreds of letters and subsequently, following my replies, a continual and frequent correspondence started between myself as Hon. Secretary to the Zionist Federation and many of the internees...

Meanwhile, the fact that 2000 Jewish internees in camps, behind barbed wire, only 130 miles out of Melbourne, had become known to a number of people, particularly through relatives and old friends of the internees themselves, who tried to establish some contact with the free world. Very little could be achieved by them except for a parcel of food now and again, some books, a few clothing items, though no personal visits were possible. Nevertheless, these contacts gave the internees some courage and faith in the future

Patkin continued negotiations and correspondence on behalf of the internees.

I know that for certain that owing to complete cessation of immigration from Europe, due to the war and blockade, the Jewish Agency should have a substantial number of certificates which must be used, otherwise these would be cancelled by the Palestine Mandatory Government and, moreover, it would endanger the next quota allocation of such certificates.

It was most important to avoid any complication which would give the Palestine authorities an excuse for not issuing immigration certificates or lowering the already degraded quota of such certificates.

Before the Second World War, Boaz Bischofswerder had been an Obercantor in the Brunenstrasse Synagogue, Berlin, and had published several musical arrangements of the synagogal music of Levandowsky, as well as his own compositions. The music was accompanied by an organ in the tradition of Reform Judaism. Copies of the sheet music published in 1933 were subsequently lodged with the British Museum.

During the time in the camps at Hay and Tatura, Felix and Boaz continued to compose music. The liturgical music arranged by Bischofswerder includes Mir Adir and Sheva B'rochot , which forms part of the musical heritage of German Jews, and is designed to be sung at weddings. He also wrote music for En Kelohenu, part of the morning service in the synagogue, which appears at the end of the volume published by the Archive in 1996. In the same year (1943) in which Boaz Bischofswerder scored En Kelohenu Felix wrote Symphony No.1 (Opus 6, Tatura [Internment] 1943) revising it in 1952. The latter is now available on compact disc, forming one of eight compositions. (Aspect 1996. Felix Werder). In addition, the manuscript of Actomos was found among the papers being composed for violin and voice by the twenty year old Felix Werder. Felix later rescored it for strings, and it was performed in 1948 by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra conducted by the Director of the Conservatorium of Music (Sydney) by Eugene Goosens. In addition to the arrangements of liturgical music an original piece, Phantasia Judaica was written by Boaz Bischofswerder. It appears that the first performance was while on board the Dunera. It was written initially for four tenor voices, in the German vocal tradition. While at the camp in Hay a violin and piano part were added. Felix Werder has commented that Phantasia Judaica represents Jewish ideas similar to those in the works of Bloch. It was written for violin and piano, as these was the only instrument available at the time. Bischofswerder wrote both violin and choral compositions.

Phantasia Judaica and Sheva B'rochot were published by the Archive of Australian Judaica in 1996 on the reception of a grant of $1000 from the then Ethnic Affairs Commission. It is hoped that eventually some of this music will be performed.

Boaz Bischofswerder died quite young, only after he had been a little more than ten years in Australia. In the 1970's, his son Felix Werder visited Berlin for the first time since the War. He discovered that they are still singing his father's musical arrangements. "The cantor showed me an original manuscript of my father's cantorial compositions. It was thrilling to know his music was alive." Boaz Bischofswerder also had another son, Fred (Bishops) by a second marriage. The latter died in recent times.

A Yiddish Manuscript

In addition to the music, the Bischofswerder papers also contain a handwritten document in pencil of about 200 pages. There are a few loose pages and then two sections divided into chapters, the longer version repeating some chapter titles. The work is entitled " Amol in ger" -" Once in Ger, formerly a centre of hassidism in central Europe. The manuscript could be categorised as being halfway between a biography and series of stories. The stories begin in Lublin and recapture the backgound of the feasts, moving to the Yeshiva in Ger, the journey being described. The Bischofswerders came from a line of rabbis. Chapter headings include: "Warsaw"; "Ger"; '"Once there was a hassid and "Celebrating Rosh Hashanah in a Hostel". The manuscript is of great interest to historians for its wealth of details describing a lost world. It is hoped that eventually it will be possible to translate this manuscript and have it published. All of the Bischofswerder papers, including the handwritten diary have been put on microfiche.


  1. All citations of the document are quoted from Patkin's papers which he cites in his book on the Dunera internees. See also Suzanne Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora: Two Centuries of Jewish Settlement in Australia , 2nd ed. (Melbourne University Press 2001), 308-9. Rutland's book also provides further background on the Dunera affair. This material was presented as a paper in Jerusalem at the Twelfth World Congress of Jewish Studies in 1997.


    Archive of Australian Judaica. Holdings 1983-1997. Monograph no 11. Compiled by Marianne Dacy. General Editor and Project Director Alan D. Crown.

    Bischofswerder Papers. Archive of Australian Judaica, University of Sydney Library.

    Bartrop, Paul, and Gabrielle Eisen, eds . The Dunera Affair: a Documentary Resource Book. South Yarra, Vic., Schwartz & Wilkenson and the Jewish Museum of Australia, 1990.

    Bischofswerder, Boaz. Mi Addir and, Sheva B'rochot [music] with the accompaniment of the piano or organ, and with flute accompaniment by Felix Werder. Sydney, NSW, Archive of Australian Judaica, University of Sydney, 1996.

    Patkin, Benzion. The Dunera Internees. Sydney, NSW, Cassell Australia Ltd, 1979.

    Patkin Papers. Archive of Australian Judaica, University of Sydney Library.

    Pearl, Cyril. The Dunera Scandal: Deported by Mistake. Paddington, NSW, Cyril Pearl, 1990.

    Rutland, Suzanne. The Edge of the Diaspora: Two Centuries of Jewish Settlement in Australia. 1st edn, Collins 1988, 2nd revised edn, Sydney, NSW, Brand & Schlesinger, 1997.

    Marianne Dacy
    University of Sydney