In 1940, the Dunera arrived from Britain, carrying German-Jewish refugees. These people had fled the Nazis only to find themselves imprisoned as 'enemy aliens' in England, and now again in Australia. Fortunately for Australia, among the 'Dunera Boys' were several workers who were trained in optics. R. v.d.R. Woolley, Director of the Commonwealth Solar Observatory (CSO) learnt of their skills and wrote to the Government seeking their release to assist in the work of the Optical Munitions Panel. Woolley argued that these men would 'more than double the number of experienced men in Australia for this particular class of work'.(1)
The British authorities objected to his request, but Woolley persevered, insisting that 'the optical munitions industry in Australia has been set an extremely difficult problem, and that the number of persons qualified to assist is extremely limited'.(2)
Finally, in May 1941, the matter was resolved by the Australian War Cabinet, and the internees were released into Woolley's supervision. They were not allowed to leave the Australian Capital Territory (where the CSO is located); however, living at the CSO on Mount Stromlo in a friendly environment, while doing useful, if not stimulating, work must have been a huge improvement over life in a prisoner-of-war camp.
Georg Froelich (born 1917 in Vienna, Austria) and Hans Meyer (born 19 April 1920 in Berlin, Germany) began work at the CSO on 1 July 1941. In total, six internees were released to work in the optical and mechanical workshops on Mount Stromlo.
(1) R. v.d.R. Woolley to Secretary, Department of Interior, 5 December 1940, Australian Archives, A 659, 40/1/8641.
(2) R. v.d.R. Woolley to Secretary, Department of Interior, 17 January 1941, Australian Archives, A 659, 40/1/8641.