Shadowline: The Dunera diaries of Uwe Radok
Monash University Publishing, $34.99 pb, 189 pp
Uwe Radok was born in 1916 in East Prussia to a family of Christian converts who identified as German Protestant. Nevertheless, after the Nazis came to power in Germany, the Radoks were classified as Jews – their five children Mischlinge, of mixed ancestry. In 1938, the family applied to emigrate to Australia. When their visas finally arrived in August 1939, it was too late.
This is a familiar story: family scattered. By late 1939, Uwe and his two younger brothers had left for Britain, his father had been arrested and sent to a concentration camp, and his eldest brother was completing military service in Germany (still required of Mischlinge until 1941); only his sister and mother remained at home. What is more astonishing is that they all survived the war and that Uwe left twelve notebooks documenting the years of his internment as a Class A enemy alien.
The diaries begin aboard the SS Arandora Star in 1940 and end in Melbourne in 1943. His account of those three years – the sinking of the Arandora Star, the voyage to Australia aboard the infamous HMT Dunera, life in internment camps, and the relative freedom of working for the Australian Army’s Employment Company – is impressively even-handed and without rancour. Only occasionally does Radok succumb to ennui or allow a note of sarcasm to creep in, betraying his bitterness: