Annie and Max Deckston were born in Russia and arrived in New Zealand in 1900. They farmed in the Hutt Valley for some years, then moved to Wellington where they made a considerable fortune in real estate and from their business as pawnbrokers. The were childless, but used their wealth to bring 20 children to New Zealand from orphanages on Bialystok, Poland. They set up a home for them in a large house in Berhampore, which became an island of orthodox Jewish observance in the city.
This essay looks at the response of the New Zealand government to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi dominated Europe in the years before World War II and to survivors of the Holocaust in the years immediately following the end of the war. In the 1930s and 1940s New Zealand preferred British settlers and placed strict controls on the immigration of racial minorities such as Jews and Chinese people. The small number of Jewish refugees who gained refuge in New Zealand before and after the war encountered prejudice and suspicion of cultural differences. Given attitudes to non-British immigration at this time, it is in a way remarkable that New Zealand accepted any Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors at all. In the 1930s and 1940s, non-Maori New Zealand society was extremely homogenous and most New Zealanders were ignorant about and isolated from the rest of the world (except Britain) in a way difficult to imagine today. They were very proud of their British heritage and took for granted that the most desirable immigrants to New Zealand would be British, or as much like the British as possible. This changed gradually as New Zealanders gained experience of other countries during the war and through their encounter with successive waves of immigrants arriving in the country.
An account of Jewish refugees interned on Somes Island during the Second World War with Germans, and other enemy aliens with Nazi sympathies. It describes the security concerns about aliens in general, the classification of refugees and the experience of Jewish refugees is the internment camp.
During my research into the Registration of doctors in New Zealand for a paper presented to the Wellington Medical Historical Society in 2003, the sequence of events for doctors applying to come to New Zealand as a result of Hitler’s persecution of the Jews became clear.
I had a particular interest because my parents Dr. Georg Lemchen and Dr. Ruth Lemchen (geb.Mai) had arrived in New Zealand with 2 small children in 1935, leaving behind the Nazi regime which would not allow them to practice medicine, and all the rest of their families.
In 1933 in Germany, Hitler began the first discrimination against Jews. This included denying Jewish doctors the right to health insurance practice. This meant they had no access to the hospitals (except for Jewish ones), and they were unable to study medicine. Those who COULD began to leave Germany. Some went to Edinburgh where a special one year course had been set up. 500 left Germany in the first year. Dr. Alfred Sternberg was one of those. According to an interview with him in Wellington, New Zealand the Dominion newspaper on December 24 1934 reports that 100 went to Great Britain, 200 to Palestine, and the rest to France, Italy and Switzerland. Some applied to come to New Zealand. The first one, in 1934 , came in under the 1924 Act (the NZ details will be spelled out a little later), and was asked to sit the final examination in Dunedin, as were all foreign graduates who came to NZ. Then came several with the added Edinburgh degree which was accepted in New Zealand. Dr. Sternberg was one of those. He registered in New Zealand in 1935.