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Robert Salter, Austrian Jewish Migrant & Tailor, 1938

Letter - Commonwealth of Australia, 21st Jul, 1938

Image: Letter - Commonwealth of Australia, 21st Jul, 1938

Source: Museum Victoria

Robert Salter, a Jewish clothing manufacturer, was forced to flee Vienna just before the German annexation of Austria in 1938 or risk being arrested. The only way he could obtain a ticket on a ship leaving the country was by pretending he was going on a holiday and would return to Vienna. So on 20 July 1938 Robert left Rotterdam on board the holiday ship the Dempo, with just over 200 pounds - the amount required to land in Australia - and an overnight bag.

His journey took him to Batavia (Jakarta) in Dutch East India (Indonesia), where he obtained a six month tourist visa for Australia from the British Embassy. Five months before leaving Vienna, Robert had applied for residency in Australia, but had been forced to flee before it was approved. Arriving in Brisbane on a holiday ship called 'the Nieuw Zeeland' Robert was informed his application for residency had been rejected. He remained on the ship while it traveled to Sydney and Melbourne, and on his arrival in Melbourne with the help of William Maloney, a federal Member of Parliament who befriended him, he was finally able to obtain permits for himself, his parents, his fiancee Ida and his friend who had accompanied him on the journey. While fortunate in obtaining residency in Australia the Salter family did not completely escape the horrors of the Second World War, with Robert's sister and her family perishing at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

In Vienna Robert had managed his father's menswear and sportswear manufacturing business, but he was unable to find work in that trade in Melbourne. However using women's fashions drawings that his father had sent him from Austria, and contacts he made in the Flinders Lane rag trade, Robert set up a showroom with fashion samples. He went on to establish a well-known women's fashion label, Elegance, and remained in business until the mid 1970s. Robert passed away in 2005.

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