Julian Layton – letters

I spent a couple of hours in the Wiener archives on Friday afternoon, mostly reading the correspondence of Julian Layton.

Layton was born in 1906, was a stockbroker by profession, and was of German Jewish background. He is a key figure in the Kitchener narrative, as well as in the Pioneer history, and he was important to the events that unfolded when many refugees were deported to Australia.

The CBF made good use of Layton’s talents: he was brought in as a trouble-shooter at several key points in this history. From 1934 onwards, he was also often asked to help in Germany and Austria in choosing which Jews would benefit from specific migration opportunities. Following the Anschluß in particular, he spent a lot of time in Austria between then and the outbreak of war in September 1939. There is a letter in the archives, for example, dated 6th June 1939, sent to the British Home Office (Aliens dept). The writer states that he has dropped a line to the passport office about a visit by Julian Layton to Berlin and Vienna, “to select suitable candidates for the Richborough camp.”

Later, once war was underway, there were problems among the men stuck in Kitchener waiting to be allowed to use their visas to travel onwards to other countries, or to be allowed to otherwise go about their lives after the majority had joined the army. Layton was again brought in to keep the peace, which he apparently managed with his usual mix of diplomacy and kindness. He was also sent to help the refugees deported to Australia when things had gone so badly wrong on board HMT Dunera.

Both in Australia and in Kitchener, the refugees seem to have been appreciative of Layton’s interventions, and one of the good things about getting a chance to look through his correspondence in the library on Friday was the opportunity to read the many thank you letters that the Kitchener men wrote to him.

I have produced some extracts below, with names redacted, so you can get a sense of the gratitude with which Layton’s kindness was received by the Kitchener residents.

Letter 21 March 1940

“You are not only the man who was bringing us to Freedom and Right; you are the first man who is lovable”
Letter 8 May 1940

“I received today my ‘for-good-permit’ from the Kitchener Camp, and I want to thank you once more for all you have done for me. Not only have you liberated me from the concentration camp which I had been in for 15 months, by getting me the British visa, but also I have felt your kindness during the many months I had the privilege to spend in the camp under your direction.”
Letter 21 May 1940

"In this moment where we are to leave the KC, we both should like to express you our feelings of gratitude and to render homage to your kindness and multiple endeavours to facilitate our living”
Letter 24 June 1940

“Dear Mr Layton In the name of the 41 internees of house 17, may I express our gratitude to you for what you have done for us ... it is not only the material help, it is perhaps even more your [?] and sympathy for our position and feeling which gives us some hope and spiritual support.”