Monday, 19 October 2015

A Lithuanian Jewish community in Broken Hill

Jews from Eastern Europe began arriving in Australia in the 1880s, following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and the subsequent introduction of anti-Semitic measures in the Russian Empire.  While around 2 million Jews emigrated to the USA during the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first few decades of the twentieth century, the numbers reaching Australia were much smaller, probably a few thousand. Most of these were from Poland, but Lithuanian Jews (known as Litvaks) were also represented in this early stream of Eastern European migrants.

Most Litvaks settled in the major cities, but small numbers made their way further afield.  The mining town of Broken Hill is one such, perhaps exceptional, example.  Founded in 1883 following discoveries of huge silver and lead deposits, by 1901 the population had grown to 27,000.  At that time it was certainly one of the most dynamic places in Australia, despite being in an isolated part of the country, in far western New South Wales.    

Postcard of Broken Hill, around 1900;
 from the collection of the National Archives of Australia (NAA:C4076, HN17451)


The Broken Hill cemetery provides an interesting indication of the multicultural nature of the town's early years.  Of the 38 known burials in the Jewish section, around a third were either born in Lithuania or were their descendants (see A Guide to Broken Hill Jewish Cemetery, http://www.british-jewry.org.uk/bhguide.pdf).  For example:


  • Leopold NUROCK, born in Šiauliai around 1869, was an apothecary who arrived in Broken Hill in 1891 and died there in 1895;
  • Louis OBERMAN, born in Kedainiai around 1857, arrived in Broken Hill with his wife Lena and children by 1895 where he operated a fruit shop;
  • Leaha GORDON, born in Lithuania around 1843, widow, arrived in Broken Hill in 1916 to join her children.  Her son Leo Gordon (1879-1942) had been born in Kaunas and arrived in Broken Hill in 1911; he operated a grocery and mixed business there.


During the first half of the 1900s families with Litvak origins were a significant component of Broken Hill's Jewish community (estimated to have numbered around 250 during the 1920s and 1930s).  For example:


  • BUB (BURBAS); Simon/Simonas and wife Dobe (born in Židikai, around 1878), daughters Dveire and  Base; 
  • DUBIN (DEMBINSKY); Louis (born in Vištytis on 9 July 1880), wife Lisbeth, sons Rudy and Werner;
  • EDELMAN; Louis (born 1846 in Lithuania) arrived in Australia with his two oldest sons (Albert, born in Veikšniai, and Edward George) in 1889, followed by his wife Sophia and the other four children in 1891. They settled in Broken Hill in 1897; Albert later operated a grocery and drapery store and was a founder of the Synagogue in 1910; http://mgnsw.org.au/organisations/synagogue-outback-museum/.  Albert's son Alwyn Edelman died in Broken Hill in 2005.
  • GRIFF: Frank (born in Žagarė) arrived in Australia in the early 1900s from South Africa and became a prominent businessman as well as head of an influential Broken Hill family.  While Frank and his family relocated to Adelaide in the late 1930s, one of his sons stayed on in Broken Hill.

Other Broken Hill residents with Lithuanian Jewish origins or connections included the HYMAN (HEIMAN), PRESS and SILVER families.


Sources:
Suzanne D Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora: Two Centuries of Jewish Settlement in Australia, 2nd ed., Brandl & Schlesinger, Sydney, 1997;
Suzanne D Rutland, Leon Mann, Margaret Price (eds), Jews of the Outback; the Centenary of the Broken Hill Synagogue 1910-2010, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 2010.

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