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Munz, Hirsch (1905–1979)

by Malcolm J. Turnbull

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Hirsch Munz (1905-1979), scientist, businessman and man of letters, was born on 21 April 1905 at Krynki, Poland, then part of the Russian empire, son of Moses Munz, businessman, and his wife Mirjam, née Iwenitzki. Hirsch was educated at a Hebrew high school and a Jewish seminary at Lemberg (Lvov), Austria (Russia), before working as a schoolteacher. Assisted by his cousin Alfred Lipshut, he emigrated to Australia, arriving in Melbourne on 15 December 1927.

While working as a commercial traveller for the Benjamin Gross knitting mills, Munz studied woolsorting at the Working Men's College and commerce at the University of Melbourne. He then gained first-hand experience as a jackeroo on Merungle station, New South Wales, and as a woolsorter for the Australian Mercantile, Land & Finance Co. From 1931 to 1935 he was employed as a research officer with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Adelaide, investigating the microscopic structure of wool fibre. He was naturalized in February 1933. After moving to Sydney in 1936, he joined (Sir) Ian Clunies Ross's team at the F. D. McMaster Animal Health Laboratory and attended classes in wool technology at Sydney Technical College.

Munz was a gifted linguist, with a passion for literature. He lectured in Hebrew and tutored in contemporary European literature at the Workers' Educational Association, Adelaide, and taught university extension classes in Sydney and Melbourne. In the mid-1930s he was foreign editor of the literary quarterly, Manuscripts, to which he contributed articles on French literature, Polish Romanticism and Post-Revolutionary writing in Russia. His work also appeared intermittently in the Melbourne Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Bulletin.

Based at the University of Melbourne from 1940 to 1942, Munz continued to research the properties of wool. On 13 August 1942 he was mobilized as sub lieutenant (later lieutenant), Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve. He served in Brisbane with the Allied Intelligence Bureau. Proficient in German and Japanese, he interrogated suspected war criminals in the Netherlands East Indies and Singapore. His appointment terminated in April 1946. At the Synagogue, South Yarra, on 14 December 1943 he had married Estra Rosenblatt, a 27-year-old physiotherapist. He established an exporting firm (H. Muntz Wool Trade Co.) when World War II ended, published The Australian Wool Industry (Sydney, 1950) and devised the 'Munz Scale', a simple means of correlating international descriptions of wool fibres.

Munz was prominently involved in Jewish cultural circles, notably in the Yiddishist Kadimah in Melbourne and the Poale Zion (Labour Zionist) movement, and as co-founder of the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism. He had made a lasting impact on Australian-Jewish historiography with his pioneering monograph, Jews in South Australia (Adelaide, 1936). A founding committee-member (1938) of the Australian Jewish Historical Society, Sydney, he co-edited the Second Australian Jewish Almanac (Melbourne, 1942) and edited the Yiddish-language supplement of the Australian Jewish News in the 1950s.

After suffering a stroke in 1965, Munz retired from business. Survived by his wife and son, he died on 22 April 1979 at St Kilda and was buried in the Chevra Kadisha cemetery, Springvale.

Select Bibliography

  • S. D. Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora (Syd, 1988)
  • H. L. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia, vol 1 (Melb, 1991)
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, vol 8, 1979, p 475
  • Australian Jewish News, 1 June 1962, 27 Apr 1979
  • ASIO file, A6119/79, item 1304 (National Archives of Australia)
  • naturalisation file, A1/1, item 1933/792 (National Archives of Australia)
  • B741/3, item V/5127 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

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Citation details

Malcolm J. Turnbull, 'Munz, Hirsch (1905–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/munz-hirsch-11200/text19965, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 28 July 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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