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Memento : Issue 24
September 2003 MEMENTO 15 At the height of the Second World War, hundreds of migrants of German and Austrian origin were interned by the Australian authorities. Most of them were released after about a year, usually after an Aliens Tribunal decided that the suspicions of the security services were unfounded. Dr Neumann's fellowship research focused on those who, despite their anti-Nazi credentials, remained interned for three years or more. And that's how he came across Wolf Klaphake. Wolf Klaphake was a German scientist and inventor. He detested the Nazi regime but did not actively oppose it. His wife, Maria, was a trained sexual psychologist and had been associated with sexual reformers targeted by the regime. Dr Neumann concluded that Maria's harassment by the German security services was probably the deciding factor in the Klaphakes' decision to emigrate in 1935. Because the Klaphakes were young, non-Jewish and highly skilled, they would have been welcome in many countries. They chose Australia because the South Australian Premier RL Butler had showed interest in the dew condenser that Wolf was developing. Butler could see the invention's potential to provide drinking water along the Kalgoorlie--Port Augusta railway line. When World War II began, the Australian security forces raided the German consulate in Sydney and found records showing Nazi Party members living in Australia, including Wolf Klaphake. Australian authorities interned Klaphake in June 1940 on the basis of his party membership and his association with IG Farben, one of the world's largest chemical corporations which by then played a key role in Germany's war effort. Klaphake was neither Jewish nor a socialist, and unlike many others had been able to transfer money out of Germany. These factors convinced intelligence officers that Klaphake was a Nazi agent. In 1933, Wolf Klaphake had sold an invention to IG Farben. Directors of the firm suggested he would be able to transfer the proceeds of the sale abroad -- if only he were prepared to apply for Nazi party membership. He did so from London, shortly before his final departure from Europe, but never paid dues or attended meetings. When the Klaphakes first arrived in Australia, in a desire to assimilate they called themselves emigrés rather than refugees. But by the time of his arrest Klaphake had begun to identify as a political refugee from Germany. He had no time for the Nazis, including those who had migrated here, and felt that he owed his loyalty to the British Empire rather than to Germany. Wolf Klaphake was interned for more than four years in Orange in New South Wales, Tatura in Victoria, and Loveday in South Australia. During that time, he wrote countless letters to the authorities protesting his innocence. Although his claim to be an anti-Nazi was genuine and credible, the security services were reluctant to release him. They recognised that he was an extraordinarily talented scientist and feared that the enemy would make use of his talents. Klaphake unknowingly enhanced his reputation by making numerous submissions to the Army Inventions Board to assist the Australian war effort. Dr Neumann says that internment almost broke Klaphake. The records show that he suffered on two accounts. First, he was never told why he had been interned and was therefore unable to properly defend himself. Second, he was interned in camps dominated and indeed run by German-born Nazi sympathisers. 'I have become frightfully nervous by this long living together with these Nazis', he told a friend in 1941. And in 1942, he wrote: I have made all possible suggestions in order to satisfy the authorities of the sincerity of my attitude towards Australia but without avail. I am told that internment is not a punishment, but only a man who has never been held captive under humiliating circumstances by his friends can say so, and I can say from my own sad experience that my internment is the most severe punishment I could think of and I envy a murderer, only because he knows the reasons for his confinement. Wolf Klaphake was finally released in 1944, and worked as a consultant chemist until his death in 1967. Dr Neumann is currently writing a group biography of Klaphake and other interned refugees. He has also written a radio script on Klaphake called 'A Doubtful Character' for ABC Radio National, which was broadcast on 12 July, and helped develop a website for the Archives on Klaphake's internment experience, which was launched in Sydney on 7 July. The website can be viewed at uncommonlives.naa.gov.au. During his time as our 2001 Frederick Watson Fellow, Dr Klaus Neumann investigated our files on 'enemy aliens' interned in Australia during World War II and found more than the official policy documents he expected. His research on individual internees has since led to a radio play and a website that focus on the extraordinary life of one particular German internee. Klaphake's sketch of a kiln for making charcoal. NAA: ST1233/1, N20785, p. 290 Klaphake's sketch of water purifier. NAA: MP76/1, 1001, p. 26