Australian Screen

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The Dunera Boys – Episode 2 (1985)

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The appeal education content clip 2

Original classification rating: PG. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Mr Baum (Warren Mitchell) has become unhinged by the injustice of his internment. He’s harmless enough but he has made himself the camp spokesman and has approached the soldiers on duty in the tower to explain that a terrible mistake has been made.

Curator’s notes

A poignant scene in this bleak and godforsaken internment camp, as poor Mr Baum, played with great pathos by Warren Mitchell, tries to explain, with deference and formality, in a very Middle-European way, that the prisoners are not Nazis but people who have escaped the Nazis. The gulf between the jailors and the jailed means that Mr Baum won’t be understood and nothing will change.

It’s significant that after the war, around 900 of the over 2000 'Dunera Boys’ as they became known, decided to remain in Australia. They were compensated for what had happened to them, while many of them and their children have made a mark as Australian citizens. It does seem odd that although so many of them were grown men when they were interned, they were called the 'Dunera Boys’.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Mr Baum (Warren Mitchell), a German Jew interned as an 'enemy alien’ in Australia during the Second World War. He approaches two soldiers on duty in a guard tower to explain that a mistake has been made – he and his fellow internees are not Nazi spies but have fled Nazi persecution. The clip cuts between Mr Baum looking up at and addressing the guards and the guards staring down at Mr Baum. The soldiers are perplexed by his speech and one raises his rifle as if to shoot. Mr Baum collapses in the heat and a fellow internee carries him off.

Educational value points

  • The clip portrays something of the anger and frustration felt by German Jews who had initially fled to Britain to escape Nazi persecution and were then interned as 'enemy aliens’ in Australia. In 1940 Australia reached an agreement with Britain to intern 2,036 German, Austrian and Hungarian Jewish men. The men, mainly young, were sent from Britain in 1940 aboard the HMT Dunera and became known as the 'Dunera boys’. They were released in 1942.
  • Many of the Dunera boys were bitter at being interned alongside people who were pro-fascist and anti-Jewish. As well as transporting about 2,000 Jewish men, the HMT Dunera also carried about 240 German and 200 Italian prisoners of war. Australia also interned German citizens who were in Australia and German Australians regardless of their political persuasions. The result was that Jews and Nazi supporters were often interned together.
  • A number of film techniques are used to underline Baum’s impotence. The cultural divide, symbolised by the physical distance between Baum and the guards, is reinforced by camera angles over the shoulders of each. Baum’s formal manners and suit are juxtaposed with the searing sun, buzzing flies, crows’ cawing and guards’ colloquial speech and motley uniforms. A shot of Baum taken from above and pulling back also serves to portray his actions as futile.
  • Interned at remote camps, firstly at Hay and Orange in New South Wales and later at Tatura in Victoria, the Dunera boys felt isolated and frustrated that the British authorities mistakenly saw them as a threat to national security. During 18 months’ internment at the camps the men had little contact with the outside world or with their families.
  • Warren Mitchell (1926–) plays Baum with a combination of dignity, comedy and pathos. This is evident in the way he draws himself up, addresses the guards, bows and then, clutching his briefcase and notes, resolutely makes his point. Mitchell is famous for his role as Alf Garnett in the long-running satirical British television series Till Death Us Do Part (1966–74). He has also played other television roles and has a distinguished career on stage and in film.
  • In 1940 Australians were unaware of the extent of Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany and in occupied Europe, and hence the soldiers in the clip are perplexed by Baum’s appeal. This lack of knowledge of the persecution was exacerbated by the establishment of the camps, which were administered by the Australian Army, in isolated country areas far away from sources of news about the War.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

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  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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