applying to New Zealand, Evacuation of refugee analysts, New Zealand's response to refugees during WW2. Australian response to refugees during WW2., refugee analysts seeking a place to go
…there was great difficulty in getting permission, to get in anywhere, and I don’t know what preliminaries were made, but they picked New Zealand first, which would have been largely my father’s choice, I think, he was a passionate hiker, or what do you call it in Australia, bushwalkers, and a field naturalist, and he’d spent most of his free time either walking in the hills or rowing, or on trips on the Danube, or various lakes, and he was prominent in a movement, which still exists, called the (Die Natural Frionde?), that’s German for “Friends of Nature”, which was a Swiss based movement, to give moderately priced outdoor holidays for people who probably wouldn’t be in a position to take them, otherwise, as an answer to the problems of the modern industrialised world…
(Dr George Geroe on his parents, Clara and Vilmos Geroe, 23 August 2013).
Siegfried Rothmann had his application repeatedly declined. The explanation he received from the naturalisation officer, who was R. A. Lochore, was that his wife’s anti-social behaviour was a problem. The behaviour regarded as anti-social was Mrs Rothmann’s attempts to establish a psychoanalytic practice without gaining a New Zealand medical degree first. In fact, she was legally entitled to do this. Eventually, thanks to the assistance of prominent New Zealanders Jim Roberts and Bob Semple, the Rothmanns did obtain their naturalisation. The Rothmanns were not alone in encountering such difficulties. Refugees and other aliens who were thought not to have adequately participated in the war effort had their applications declined in 1946 and 1947.
Beaglehole, Ann. A Small Price to Pay: Refugees from Hitler in New Zealand 1936–46 . Bridget Williams Books. Kindle Edition.
(I wish to thank Karin Ruppeldt for drawing my attention to this publication and for her contribution to this post).
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In 1938 five psychoanalysts wishing to flee from Nazi Europe applied for entry visas into New Zealand: Eva Rosenfeld, Erszebet Kardos, Endre Peto, Edit Gyomeroi and Clara Lazar Geroe. All of them were trained and experienced as child analysts. Four, from Budapest, were members of the Hungarian Psychoanaytical Society. Eva Rosenfeld, a former patient of Freud’s, had worked with Anna Freud in Vienna, where members of the group had met together for seminars with Anna Freud herself. Clara Lazar, a specialist in pedagogic and child analysis, held an appointment with the International Psychoanalytical Society to give lectures to educationalists. The group’s New Zealand contact, made through Ernest Jones in London, was a psychiatrist, Dr Stuart Moore from Dunedin on the South Island. Stuart Moore called upon Dr Mary Barkas for assistance. Barkas, born in Christchurch, was medically trained, and a former Associate member of the British Psychoanalytical Society. She had left New Zealand to train under Dr Otto Rank in the late 1910s and had returned to in the early 1930s. She had given up clinical work by then but continued to support the refugee analysts as they sought to enter her country.
Amongst Clara Geroe’s correspondence is a copy of a letter to Dr Moore, dated 2nd December 1938. Moore chose to delete the names of the participants in these conversations over the future of the five. It is clear though that the writer – perhaps Mary Barkas- was well acquainted with the local culture. How Clara Geroe obtained this letter is a mystery. Perhaps it was forwarded by Ernest Jones as he sought to assist the group’s plans.
The letter begins:
‘I discussed the matter with [the Minister]’. He had wondered whether their situation was as urgent as that for the Austrians or Germans – even though they were likely ‘to have a rather thin time’.
It merited pressing on.
‘On the whole I think it is worth taking some risk in the matter. We can assume I think that genione refugees will prefer personal safety than starvation and the risk of personal violence in Fascist countries’.
The writer was sympathetic to the injustices and local constraints the five would face. Their misfortune, as the New Zealand historian Ann Beaglehole has carefully established in her 2015 book, ‘A Small Price to Pay’ was that they were applying for entry into a country of just over a million settler colonials, into a culture resistant to any other immigrant group than British.
None would be able to work as medical practitioners, the writer continued. They would be required to work ‘as lay/an objectionable term/ non medical psychologists or get a footing here as teachers’, If necessary they would spend a year at a local teacher’s training college. They should be younger than thirty five years, and ‘recognized by the relevant people with personal knowledge of them in England’. Despite their qualifications and experience, ‘it should be clear that apart from a few cases only the briefer and shallower forms of psychotherapy are at present acceptable to NZ professional and public opinion’.
The letter writer was clearly knowledgeable about the needs of New Zealanders and their limitations. Child work was sorely needed. It would be a great thing if an analyst with an educational interest was granted entry… someone similar to Susan Isaacs, the British analyst who had visited the country with the New Education Fellowship in August 1937.A woman had better prospects than a man, the writer said. It would be easier for her to make her way, without being perceived as competing with local people for work.
‘They could win themselves a reasonable financial and societal status within a few years’, the writer continued. ‘Teaching is one of the least crowded of professions – little resentment will be caused by bringing in a few able foreigners’. Support could build up slowly as knowledge spread.
Perhaps, upon reading this letter, Clara Geroe began thinking about her strategy. If she was able to emigrate to New Zealand she would start small, she wrote to Ernest Jones in London. That way, the local people would begin to know and trust her work. Ernest Jones, so strongly committed to seeing as many European analysts settled, wherever they could find a place, supported her view. In his mind the group’s applications and New Zealand’s acceptance them was a foregone conclusion. At least that is what he wrote to them. If anything he had to keep hope alive. It may have been better for everyone had he apprised himself of the realities of the Dominions’ positions. Even the British Government knew better than to prevail upon its former colonies to accept the refugees that no-one else wanted.
Moore’s correspondent seemed surprised that anyone of the analysts would actually choose New Zealand as a destination. If the applicants were not too desperate and ‘could pick and choose’, wouldn’t they ‘be inclined to head for England or the USA’ ?
But then again, ‘should a well qualified applicant have financial backing, I would be inclined to say by all means come to NZ and set up as a /child/ psychologist. As a starting point I would say one in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch – I am not sure about Dunedin’. This was Stuart Moore’s hometown. ‘It is a small city and you are able to take most of the work that is there….’
In the longer term Stuart Moore was to advise against the group’s migration, suggesting that New Zealanders would not accept their contribution. It was too small, too conservative, too British…
Beaglehole notes that only about 1100 European Jews were accepted into New Zealand prior to Kristallnacht, in November 1939. New Zealand seeking to protect its British Settler culture, closed its doors. The Australian government which had undertaken to accept 30,000 refugees – later halved this intake to 15,000 – eventually accepted about 7000. None of the group was accepted into New Zealand. But amongst the 1100 luckier ones who got accepted to New Zealand was a 5 year old John Steiner with his parents and a baby brother, as refugees from the Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. John Steiner was raised in Wellington until his age 26 and trained at Otago Medical School. He became interested in psychoanalysis as a student. His friend, the son of a professor in education, had the complete works of Freud, which Steiner borrowed and read through. He left New Zealand in 1959 to the US and then the UK, and became a distinguished psychoanalyst in Kleinian tradition.
Encouraged by the ever optimistic Ernest Jones Clara Geroe, Kardos and Peto turned their attention to Australia. But despite strong representations from Duncan Hall, the League of Nations Secretary for the Colonies, none of their applications was accepted by the government. Clara Geroe eventually arrived in Australia on her husband’s application in March 1940. Eva Rosenfeld emigrated to Britain. Edit Gyomeroi wound up in Ceylon. Erszebet Kardos and Endre Peto, who married in 1941, remained in Hungary. Tragically Erszebet was murdered when the Nazis reached Budapest in 1944. She left behind her husband, Endre Peto and their two year old daughter, Agnes. The Peto family, Andrew, with his second wife, Hannah and little Agnes, aged eight, Hannah’s daughter from a previous marriage, finally reached Australia in 1950.
Mary Barkas, Women Psychoanalysts in Great Britain, https://www.psychoanalytikerinnen.de/greatbritain_biographies.html#Barkas accessed 7 March 2019.
Copy of letter to Stuart Moore dated 2 December 1938. writer not identified. (Geroe Correspondence).
Letter from Clara Lazar Geroe to Ernest Jones, c. March 1939. (Geroe Correspondence)
Ann Beaglehole, A Small Price to Pay: Refugees from Hitler in New Zealand 1936–46. Bridget Williams Books, 2015.
Louise London, Whitehall and the Jews, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000.
Christine Vickers and George Geroe, 23 August 2013. (transcript in possession of the author).
Elisabeth Hanscombe said:
Thanks for all your fantastic research here, Christine. this story as it unfolds is fascinating and reading between the lines, so very sad. They certainly had some grit and determination, these psychoanalytic pioneers to the antipodes.
Frances Minson said:
Yes ditto Christine a fascinating story
Thankyou Liz and Fran. The effort to escape was hugely difficult and arrival even more so.