Herszel Bachrach (1904-1994)

Yiddishist and community worker Herszel Bachrach was born in the Polish town of Prasznitz on 7 March 1904, the son of a poor watchmaker. One of five siblings, he was educated in a traditional Cheder until the age of thirteen when the family moved to Warsaw. Once there he secured employment as a linotype operator for the Yiddish newspaper the Folkstsaytung. He also became involved in the Printers Union and became active in the Bund, a relationship that would remain with him for the rest of his life.

Herszel married Hana Perczykow in Warsaw in 1928 and had one daughter Dina who was born in 1932. With the outbreak of war in 1939, Herszel together with his wife and young child fled Warsaw to Soviet occupied Lithuania. In August 1940, in Kovno he was able to secure Japanese transit visas from the Japanese Vice Consul Chiune Sugihara. From there the family were able to board the Trans-Siberian Railway for Vladivostok where they made their way to Japan. They remained in Kobe, a town with a small Russian Jewish community, for ten months. From there they were deported to Shanghai where they were to remain for the duration of the war.

With assistance from the JOINT, which had helped them in Shanghai, they were able to obtain visas for Australia. The family left Shanghai on New Year’s Eve 1946, arriving in Sydney on 28 January 1947 and in Melbourne on 1 February 1947. Upon arrival in Melbourne, the family were greeted by members of the Bund and given immediate accommodation in the home of Mr A Goldstein. Herszel was able to secure employment as a linotype operator in Yiddish at Allan Maller’s printing works, with additional work with Patterson Press and the Jewish News.

From the time he arrived in Melbourne, Herszel’s interest in and commitment to Yiddishkeit and the Bund saw him become active in Yiddish and Jewish communal affairs. He joined the Melbourne Bund not long after his arrival and was on the inaugural editorial committee of its journal Unzer Gedank when it published its first edition in October 1947. He later became its Editor in Chief and printer. Over time he served the Bund as both Treasurer and President. In addition, he was a key officer bearer at the Kadimah, serving as Honorary Secretary in 1955-56 and again in his later years in 1988-89 and 1990. He was Vice President of the Kadimah in 1957. But it was his involvement with the Jewish Welfare and Relief Society that saw Herszel give his longest years of continual service. He remained a Board member from 1948 until 1985, serving as its Honorary Secretary from 1955-1970.

As a post-war immigrant to Australia, Herszel realised the importance of giving assistance to others seeking to immigrate and he was instrumental in gaining numerous visas for family, friends and others not known to him, to settle in Australia. He was an important member of the organising committee of the Holocaust Museum and Research Centre, where he became its inaugural co-Treasurer (together with Motl Roth) in 1984, also serving as a member of its Building Committee at that time.

In recognition for his long and devoted service to the Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society, he received a special award in March 1984 and, in recognition of his distinguished service to the Jewish community, he received a B’nai Brith award in May 1985.

Herszel Bachrach’s daughter Dina Webb described her father as a “very modest man who never looked for kudos”.  He passed away on 13 June 1994 at the age of 90.

Sources:  Questionnaire completed by Dina Webb (daughter); Rodney Benjamin A Serious Influx of Jews:  A History of Jewish Welfare in Victoria 1998.