This thesis examines the life of Dr Eugen Hirschfeld who emigrated from Germany to Australia in 1890, aged twenty-four. He became a naturalized British subject and married an Australian-born woman of English-born parents. Prior to World War I, he was a Member of the Legislative Council for Queensland; Senior Honorary Physician at both the Brisbane Hospital and the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital; a member of the Medical Board of Queensland; and a member of the University of Queensland’s first Senate. He was also Honorary Imperial German Consul for Queensland. War brought termination of his post as Consul and compelled resignations from his other positions. He was interned from 1916 to 1920 and then deported, despite intercession by a number of prominent people. After being granted readmission, he returned to Australia in 1927, reconstructed his family life and medical practice in Queensland, and conducted agricultural and pastoral research. Before and during World War II, he was again subject to Commonwealth Government surveillance, whilst in Germany his Jewish relatives were victims of the Nazi regime. He died in Queensland in 1946.
Historian Gerhard Fischer has described Hirschfeld’s internment and deportation as ‘perhaps the most widely publicized and debated case of its kind during the war’. This first extensive biography of Hirschfeld analyzes his internment and deportation in detail. It not only investigates what was unique to his case and why it was publicized and debated on the national stage, but it also provides insights into the wider historical moment of World War I internment and deportation in Australia. It highlights transnational issues of resonance today, such as the targeting of minority groups on the basis of ethnicity, and detention and deportation without charge or trial. It is the only known study of a World War I internee who was deported from Australia and then subsequently permitted by the Commonwealth Government to return.
The thesis argues that Hirschfeld was not disloyal to Australia or Britain but was in Johannes Voigt’s words ‘a man of two nations’, of two cultures, which were brought dramatically into conflict by war; a man who contributed significantly to the Australian community. It contends that Commonwealth Government decision-making regarding his internment and deportation was influenced primarily by public opinion and lobbying, rather than being based on substantive grounds, and that he was not accorded natural justice on internment, or at deportation hearings. It argues that his internment and deportation were not justified at the time, and cannot be retrospectively justified, as claimed in recent decades by some historians. It further argues that Hirschfeld journeyed throughout his life in and out of ‘Otherness’, but did so with resilience and a positive spirit.
The thesis draws on rich public and private primary sources in Australia, Germany, Poland, and the United States, and on Hirschfeld’s personal and family papers, not hitherto accessed by any writer. As well as making an original contribution to World War I home-front historiography, it contributes to the history of the German community, medicine, education, and agricultural and pastoral research in Australia. It also adds, in small part, to the history of Germany in the second half of the nineteenth century, and during the Nazi regime, and to the history of medicine in Pennsylvania in the 1920s.