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gift, Libya, POW

Victor Smith received this woodcarving as a gift from Kane Schmidt, a German prisoner of war in a POW camp in Libya, where he served as Commanding Officer from 1946-1948. Victor was born in London, England in 1916. In 1940, he enlisted in the British Army, where he rose through the ranks and became a Lieutenant-Colonel at just thirty years old. When he became Commanding Officer of Tobruk, the prisoners were apprehensive that a Jewish soldier was taking over. To everyone’s surprise, they got along quite well.

Victor treated the prisoners courteously and never allowed his personal feelings to interfere with his job.  The prisoners were so grateful that they would make Victor gifts from wood that had washed up from shipwrecks along the coast, including this scene of the German countryside. Victor treasured these gifts, as well as the kind letters he received from prisoners after they were released.

Victor loved the army and would have liked to stay forever, but an event in 1948 led to the termination of his service. That year, a boat of illegal Jewish immigrants was rerouted from Palestine to Tobruk and he was ordered to set up barbed wire enclosures. He refused, saying that these people were not prisoners or criminals and should not be treated as such. For his disobedience, Victor was encouraged to leave the army. 

He took his demobilization in Sydney, where he married and had three children. Again exhibiting his knack for leadership, he became president of the Lindfield Synagogue after attending only one meeting. Sadly, Victor passed away in 1968 at the age of 52.

Donated by Fae Smith

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