Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Becker, Johannes Heinrich (1898–1961)

by John Perkins

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Johannes Heinrich Becker (1898-1961), medical practitioner and Nazi, was born on 27 September 1898 at Schmalkalden, Thuringia, Germany, son of Heinrich Thomas Becker, art teacher, and his wife Frieda Johanne Luise, née Hornäffer. In World War I Johannes joined the German Army. Wounded twice, in 1917 he fought at Verdun, France, and at Ypres, Belgium, and was awarded the Iron Cross. He was a corporal by the time of the Armistice. Fair haired and blue eyed, he bore scars on his forehead, hand and arm. Becker studied medicine at the University of Marburg, graduated in 1924 and spent a year as a ship's doctor before migrating to South Australia in 1927.

Having practised at Tanunda in the Barossa Valley, Becker applied for naturalization in 1930, but lacked the necessary five-years residence to qualify. On 22 August 1932 at St Stephan's Lutheran Church, Adelaide, he married Mona Gertrude Price; they were to have two children. Because of his German credentials he was never registered as a medical practitioner in Australia, yet he worked as a doctor until 1939, which involved him in a continuing struggle with the local branch of the British Medical Association. He was backed by his patients and by the premier (Sir) Richard Layton Butler. During the dispute Becker won two libel cases, as well as the admiration of many German-Australians. While often considered charming and diplomatic, he could also be intolerant, imperious and forthright in expressing his extreme views. He had visited Germany in 1933-34.

In the 1930s Becker attracted the attention of the public, and of Australia's security services, through his association with Hitler's National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei). He joined the N.S.D.A.P. (Nazi Party) on 1 March 1932 and next year was appointed state trustee (Landesvertrauensmann) for Australia; he later became state leader (Landeskreisleiter) for the South Pacific and head of the Tanunda branch. In 1936 he was allegedly approached by the State secretary of the Australian Labor Party who asked him to stand for the South Australian parliament.

Becker supported the radical wing of the N.S.D.A.P. and his relations with South Australia's German-Australian elite were cool. His wartime experiences had turned him against the Fatherland's traditional ruling class and his aversion extended to men like Dr Rudolf Asmis, the German consul-general in Sydney, with whom he clashed over methods of bonding German-Australians to the Nazi cause. Becker's approach—through propaganda, in fostering 'Friends of the New Germany' and by confronting opponents—failed to impress the authorities in Berlin. He was removed as state leader late in 1936.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Becker was interned at Tatura, Victoria, and at Loveday, South Australia. His role in Nazi organizations in both camps was a limited one. Paroled in 1946, he made headlines in November 1947 when he was discovered as a stowaway on a ship lying off Watsons Bay, Sydney, bound for Panama. Next month he was deported to West Germany where his exoneration by a 'denazification' tribunal in December 1948 was assisted by the disappearance of a dossier on his Australian activities. Despite repeated appeals, he was never allowed to re-enter Australia. In 1953 Becker's marriage was dissolved in the Supreme Court of South Australia. Survived by his son and daughter, he died on 21 February 1961 at Bremen, West Germany.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Perkins, 'Dr Asmis and the ''Rescue of Deutschtum" in Australia in the 1930s', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 73, no 4, 1988, p 296, and 'The Swastika Down Under: Nazi Activities in Australia, 1933-39', Journal of Contemporary History, 25, no 1, 1991, p 111
  • AP308/1, SA15163, A4391/1 51/11/6691, A472, W31449, SP1714/1, N41719 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

John Perkins, 'Becker, Johannes Heinrich (1898–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/becker-johannes-heinrich-9467/text16653, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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