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Memento : Issue 29
needed to produce more information on why Kisch had been banned from entering Britain. They were unable to and in February 1935, Thomas Paterson, Minister of the Interior, found himself pushed into a legal corner from which he could not extricate himself. Paterson agreed to pay Kisch’s court costs if he would leave Australia. The Kisch case became a public relations disaster for the Lyons government because Kisch, a master journalist himself, became the darling of the Australian press and the general public. Many ordinary Australians could not understand why Kisch, who came to Australia with a message of peace, was so relentlessly persecuted. Kisch was one of the first journalists to reach stardom in Europe as a writer of incisive travelogues. An advocate in the fight against fascism, he also worked directly with Willi Müenzenberg, the propaganda chief of the West European branch of the Comintern, in his vast, international publishing empire. Kisch knew everyone worth knowing between Paris and Moscow, and he, in turn, was widely known. And Kisch always used his fame wisely. A compassionate and committed man, he spent much of his time defending others, often through the International Labour Defence, which came to his aid in Australia. After he escaped Hitler’s clutches because he had a Czech passport, Kisch spent months in Prague trying to help colleagues who were still trapped there. It is unlikely that Kisch was a ‘dangerous communist’ as the Attorney-General claimed, although he was a foundation member of the Austrian Communist Party in 1918. After the horrors of World War I, he saw communism as the only guarantee for world peace, as did many other intellectuals at the time. Despite having grave doubts about Stalin, Kisch remained a communist until his death. The Moscow show trials and party purges of the 1930s and Stalin’s pact with Hitler in 1939 betrayed everything Kisch thought communism stood for. But, although he tried, Kisch found that he could not leave the party. Younger colleagues like Arthur Koestler and Manès Sperber who had only joined in the late 1920s could still imagine life outside the party and shrugged off the label ‘renegade’. But to Kisch, his whole life was bound up with the party. According to his biographer, Dr Marcus Patka, Kisch viewed the world with the eyes of a poet, hoping that better times would soon arrive. But they did not. Had he not died of a massive heart attack in March 1948, shortly after his return to Prague, he would have been strung up next to his close friend Otto Katz in Stalin’s last 1952 party purges of the newly acquired East European satellite states. Although the Australian episode was only a brief one in Kisch’s nomadic life, it is better documented than any other. The Attorney-General’s Department files held by the National Archives of Australia are an invaluable source. They contain a number of Kisch files, some of them hundreds of pages long. The records include official correspondence, secret service missives, newspaper clippings and several massive folders of letters in support of Kisch from the general public. A few key documents are missing, such as Kisch’s immigration file, letters of support from friends abroad, and some of the secret service correspondence. However, the Archives has more open access records on Kisch than any other English-speaking country. (right) A cablegram from one of the many files on Kisch in the Archives’ collection. NAA: A6119, 24 (left) Kisch (on crutches) and Griffin posing for the media in Australia. Private collection of Dr Marcus Patka, Vienna Autumn–Winter 2005 MEMENTO 13