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Frankfurt, Germany 1893 – Victoria, Australia 1965

  • England 1936-40
  • Australia from 1940

Desolation, Internment camp, Hay, N.S.W. 1940-41 Place made: Internment camp, Hay, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: prints, ink; paper woodcut, printed in black ink, from one block Support: thick yellow wove paper
Manufacturer's Mark: poles
Edition State: 1st state

Primary Insc: Signed lower right below printed image in black pencil, 'L. Hirschfeld-Mack'. Dated lower left below printed image in black pencil, '...1940-41'. Titled lower left below printed image in black pencil, 'Hay...'.
Dimensions: printed image 21.8 h x 13.1 w cm sheet 31.8 h x 25.6 w cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of Olive Hirschfeld 1979
Accession No: NGA 79.812
Subject: War: second world war, 1939-1945
  • Gift to the Australian National Gallery, from the artist’s widow Olive Hirschfeld, 1979.

One of the most poignant images of the Second World War Australia is not of Australians fighting for God and Country on foreign shores; it is rather this image of a solitary unidentified figure in an Australian internment camp. It graphically portrays the utter desolation and loneliness of an individual separated from loved ones and in a vast and unfamiliar environment.

In 1936, Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack fled from Germany to England, to escape Fascism and Nazi persecution because of his association with the teachings of modern art at the Wiemar Bauhaus. Ironically, by 1940 British wartime security regarded him as a threat and interned him as an ‘enemy alien’ before sending him halfway round the world to Australia. From Sydney, he travelled hundreds of kilometres by rail to an internment camp as far removed from Europe as he could ever have imagined. Over a two-year period he lived in camps in Hay, Orange and Tatura.

For an Australian, to see the Southern Cross in the night sky is to know he is home. While soldiers serving overseas may have despairingly searched foreign skies for the comfort of this iconic star, the brilliant glow of this unfamiliar constellation in the crisp, clear sky of outback Australia taunted Hirschfeld Mack. It would eventually, however, become a symbol for his transition to a new world, a world that was so vast yet was then denied him by the confines of barbed wire and misunderstanding. In 1942, Hirschfeld Mack was offered an unconditional release. He lived in Melbourne until his death in 1965.

Anne McDonald

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002