Internee N1275

Wolf Klaphake was interned for more than four and a half years, from 10 June 1940 until 30 August 1944. This was far longer than most enemy aliens who abhorred the regimes of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

Internment camp dossier.

Wolf Klaphake's internment dossier.

NAA: D1901, K1056, p. 13

Fear of fifth columnists

In the first nine months of the war, the Australian Government was anxious to avoid repeating the World War I experience of mass internments of enemy aliens – despite vociferous public demands for their immediate internment. Only small numbers of Germans and Austrians were interned in September 1939, and many of them were released in early 1940. In February 1940, the Secretary of the Department of the Army reported:

Of the 5100 persons over the age of 16 years who have been registered as German citizens, 234 are now interned and 23 are placed under certain restrictions ... No other restrictions have been placed on the remaining German citizens at liberty, other than the requirement to register, to report themselves weekly to an Aliens Registration Officer, and to obtain a permit if they wish to travel outside the Police District in which their place of abode is situated. A very liberal interpretation has been placed on the latter. [FN1]

But the military situation in Europe and fear of fifth columnists in Australia moved the government to change its policy. In the first week of June 1940, the Germans embarked on a major offensive in France. The fall of France, and the capture of large numbers of British troops on the European mainland, seemed to be only a matter of time. Between 6 and 10 June 1940, all over Australia hundreds of enemy aliens were rounded up and interned.

Letter from Coolangata Town Clerk to J Francis MHR

Whenever the overall military situation appeared critical, individuals and organisations appealed to the Australian Government to intern all enemy aliens. This document is one of many similar letters from local government authorities.

NAA: MP508/1, 115/703/560, p. 11

Those interned in June 1940 included many German and Austrian refugees. In October 1940, the Director of Military Operations and Intelligence circulated a memorandum outlining the rationale behind the internment of refugees. It demonstrated that the Australian security services understood little about the circumstances under which refugees had left Germany. It claimed that 'virtually all the refugees in Australia from Germany left Germany by definite permission of the Gestapo' and stated that the onus was on refugees to prove their innocence. [FN2]

The logistics of internment

The Australian Army set up internment camps in all Australian states except Tasmania: Gaythorne in Queensland; Liverpool, Orange and Hay in New South Wales; Tatura in Victoria; Loveday in South Australia; and Harvey in Western Australia. [FN3]

Before the construction of purpose-built camps in the second half of 1940, prisons such as Long Bay Gaol and Bathurst Gaol in New South Wales and Fremantle Gaol in Western Australia, and army barracks such as the Keswick Barracks in Adelaide were also used to accommodate internees.

About a third of all adult male enemy aliens of German and Italian nationality, and almost all Japanese men resident in Australia were at some stage interned during World War II.

Orange – Tatura – Loveday

Wolf Klaphake was first interned in Orange, New South Wales. The Army had transformed the local showgrounds into an internment camp to accommodate the hundreds of men who had been arrested between 6 and 10 June 1940.

In August 1940, he was moved to Tatura in northern Victoria, where he was first interned in the main German compound (Tatura No. 1), and then, for a few months, together with other anti-Nazis, in Camp No. 4. [FN4]

Inside an accommodation hut of Tatura internment camp

Photograph by J Tait, 1945, inside one of the accommodation huts in the Tatura No. 1 internment camp.

Australian War Memorial

In late January 1942, Klaphake and other anti-Nazis were transferred by train to Loveday in South Australia's Riverland district. During that train journey, two German internees died while trying to escape – in order to enlist in the Australian armed forces, as their fellow internees later claimed. Three months later, Wolf Klaphake was back in Tatura to be reunited with his wife Maria, who had been interned in March 1942.

After his wife's release in February 1943, Wolf Klaphake was transferred back to Internment Camp No. 14D at Loveday – a transfer he tried to prevent by making what appeared to be a suicide attempt.

The Military Intelligence officer attached to the Tatura internment camps reported in March 1943 under the heading 'Suspicious Incidents':

On 26 Feby 43, N.1275 W. KLAPHAKE, an internee whose wife had been released from No 3, some weeks previously, was to have travelled under escort with O.W. SPECK to Loveday. When the time came to have him brought from the compound at No 3, it was discovered that he was fast asleep and subsequent efforts to awaken him were of no avail. He was evacuated to Waranga Hospital, still asleep ... KLAPHAKE on examination by M.O. was found to haven taken an overdose of sleeping draught. [FN5]
 

Wolf Klaphake was released from Loveday on 30 August 1944.

Service and casualty form, Wolf Klaphake

The misleadingly named 'service and casualty' forms allow researchers to trace the internment histories of prisoners of war and civilian internees during World War II.

NAA: MP1103/1, PWN1275, p. 1

Notes

[1] JT Fitzgerald to Secretary, Department of Defence Co-ordination, 26 February 1940. NAA: MP508/1, 255/702/137

[2] 'Military Security – Refugees: Internment: Fifth Columnists', p.2, encl. with Director of Military Operations and Intelligence to all commands, 31 October 1940. NAA: MP729/6, 29/401/273, p.5

[3] For a useful website about Australian internment camps, see home.st.net.au/~dunn/pow/pow.htm

[4] The Irrigation and Wartime Camps Museum at Tatura, Victoria is run by the Tatura & District Historical Society. The Society has produced a video about the Tatura camps, Collar the Lot (1997), available from the museum (Hogan Street, Tatura VIC 3616). See the website at http://www.taturamuseum.org.au/about_us.html

[5] 'Intelligence Report No 9 for Week Ended 27 Feby 43', 2 March 1943, p. 2, NAA: MP70/1, 37/101/185 PART 2.

^ top