Watercolour in pale green, red and brown with view of camp with huts, watchtower and telegraph poles, vegetation and mounds.

Klaus Friedeberger
drawings from an Australian Internment

Exhibition /

Past exhibition

23 January – 4 June 2023

Room 90a

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Klaus Friedeberger (1922–2019) was not yet 17 when he arrived in England as a German refugee from Nazism in 1939.

Born in Berlin to middle-class, secular Jewish parents, he was rounded up as an 'enemy alien' and, in 1940, was transported to Australia on the prison ship Dunera with 2,542 detainees, some 2,000 of whom were refugees, mostly of German and Austrian Jewish background.

Friedeberger spent a period of 18 months in three internment camps behind barbed wire in outback Australia: Hay and Orange in New South Wales, and Tatura in Victoria. His drawings and watercolours record the routine of the internees in the camps – manual work, playing football, sleeping, attending hut meetings – with the vast Australian landscape heightening the surreal experience of their internment.

In 1942 Friedeberger was released from the camps after volunteering to join a labour corps of the Australian Army. After demobilisation, he studied painting at East Sydney Technical College before returning to England to pursue his career as a painter and graphic designer.

This display was a selection of drawings and watercolours that Friedeberger made in the camps. They came from a gift of 34 works on paper recently presented to the British Museum by the artist's widow, Julie Friedeberger. This gift also included a group of 12 monotypes and a sketch-book from the 1950s produced after his return to England, as well as a few juvenile works made prior to his deportation on the Dunera.