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Bourke Doctor traces footsteps of the ‘Jew of Wanaaring’

Fighter Max Haim in 1940s. Photo Haim family archives

A former Bourke doctor has been on the trail of one of the Bourke district’s remarkable residents.

Dr Max Kamien was based in Bourke from 1970-1973 and worked as a locum in the years after that. In more recent times the good doctor has been something of an amateur detective, tracking down the story of Marcel (Max) Haim and his family, who ran the Victoria Hotel in Wanaaring.

Many others in the district may also recall Max, his wife Rita, and his mother-in-law Katharina who had a concentration camp number tattooed on the inside of her left arm. His diligent work paid off and Dr Kamien has now written the history of the man known as the Jew of Wanaaring’. The story appears below:

Marcel Haim was born in Wronki, a small town in the west of Poland, 100 kilometres from Germany, on 30 January 1920.

His parents were from Poland and both were murdered in the Sobibór concentration camp in Poland. When Marcel was a toddler, his father abandoned his mother leaving her impoverished. She struggled to look after Marcel and when he was 3 years, she placed him in a Jewish orphanage on the outskirts of Paris. When he was 9, his mother’s circumstances improved and she took him out of the orphanage to live with her in Berlin.

Marcel was athletic and became a competitive boxer. Early in 1939, three Hitler Youth decided to give him a beating. They came off second best and were hospitalised. Marcel had to leave quickly as he was now in mortal danger. He went to Genoa, Italy where The Melbourne Jewish Aid Society arranged passage to Australia on a British ship, the SS Largs Bay. He landed in Melbourne on July 4, 1939. His nationality appeared as ‘Stateless, formerly Polish’ and his occupation as ‘plumber’. He made his way to Sydney, got a job as an assistant plumber and later became a registered tradesman.

In 1940, Marcel enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces (Service No: N346753) and worked as a German interpreter. His integration into Australian and army culture was assisted by his boxing prowess that got him selected to fight in various service contests. He was never defeated. He served until 1945 and rose to the rank of sergeant.

He married Rita Landmann at the Great Synagogue in Sydney on 20 June 1948. By this time the electoral role recorded that Marcel’s occupation had changed from plumber to salesman and his first name from Marcel to Max. He became a fully-fledged Australian citizen on the 30th April 1948.

In the early 1950s, Max bought a second-hand International truck and used it to sell clothing and other goods to remote towns and properties in the south-west of Queensland and across the border into far-west NSW. Hawking was profitable and with the help of a loan from Les Leigo of Moreland Downs and Ted Gleeson of Barrajong Station, Max bought the Victoria Hotel in Wanaaring.

An item in the the Western Herald, 18 April 1958, mentions that the new publican, Max Haim, was welcomed to the Hotel. Max was regarded as a smart operator and few itinerant customers tried to pass a dud cheque or try to ‘put one over the Jew’.

Colin Leigo, of Moreland Downs, Wanaaring, recalled that “Max Haim was a friend of my parents, who first turned up in an old International truck hawking clothing to the small towns of western NSW and south-west Queensland in the 1950s and 1960s. Max was grateful to my parents and Ted Gleeson for loaning him money, and always shouted Les and Ted to a couple of free beers.”

Read more in the printed edition of the Western Herald.

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