Australia’s “Kimberley Plan” for the Jews


In 1939, Isaac Nachman Steinberg—lawyer, ex-Bolshevik, former comrade of Vladimir Lenin—arrived in Perth, Western Australia. His objective: to establish a homeland and safe haven for thousands of Jewish refugees in The Kimberley, in Australia’s far north-west.

Steinberg was the founder of the Freeland League and a proponent of territorialism, a political movement that sought to establish semi-autonomous Jewish colonies outside of Israel. An Orthodox, bearded, teetotaling Yiddishist with a fiery temper and passion for Jewish education, Steinberg charmed the Australian political establishment and undertook a long, grueling journey through The Kimberley, surveying the land for its economic and cultural potential.

The scheme gained serious momentum, but was ultimately nixed by Prime Minister John Curtin, who could not “entertain the proposal for a group settlement of the exclusive type contemplated by the Freeland League.” Curtin was not the only one who regarded Steinberg as a dreamer. The Jewish community saw him similarly, but after his death in 1957, German-Jewish philosopher Erich Fromm lauded Steinberg as a realist who “could visualize a flower when he saw a seed… To have faith of [his] kind means to have courage.”

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