Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Patkin, Benzion (1903–1984)

by J. S. Levi

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

This is a shared entry with Aaron Patkin

Benzion Patkin (1903-1984), Zionist and Jewish community leader, was born on 23 October 1903 at Tatarsk, Smolensk, Russia, son of Yisrael Dav Ber Patkin, baker, and his wife Nechama.  Educated at gymnasia in Kaluga, Mstislavl and Moscow, he became involved in Zionist activities and in 1922 was suspended from the University of Moscow and the Institute of Textile Technology, partly for his association with Maccabi, a Jewish sports association.  In 1924 he migrated to Palestine where he gained further prominence in the Maccabi movement.  In 1929 he married Hemda Chaya Sheiderovitz at Nes Ziona; that year they travelled to Melbourne.

Among relatives settled in Melbourne was Benzion’s uncle, Aaron Patkin (1883-1950), born on 27 October 1883 at Tatarsk, son of Eliesar Patkin, merchant, and his wife Gita Risha.  Aaron had grown up in a traditional Orthodox Jewish home and from his youth he enthusiastically embraced the rebirth of Hebrew as a modern language.  While a law student at the University of Warsaw, he was jailed for participating in the activities of the Social Democratic (Menshevik) party.  As a young barrister in Moscow he served as an aide to Alexander Kerensky, but—having been wooed by the Bolsheviks—he then became a secretary to Maxim Litvinov.  In 1905 he had married Liota (Leonara) Kokoshko (Kokoszko) at Łomża, Poland.

Repelled by the Bolsheviks’ denial of Jewish cultural rights and national identity, Aaron moved to Germany in 1920 and completed a doctorate in law at the University of Berlin.  He remained a determined anti-communist for the rest of his life.  Migrating to Australia in 1927, and naturalised in 1932, he established an import-export business in Melbourne and abandoned law to devote himself to writing and communal activity.  In 1935 he launched the Australian Jewish News with Pinchas Goldhar and Hirsch Munz, and in 1943 founded the lively monthly journal The Zionist, serving as its editor until 1950.  Survived by his wife, their son and daughter, he died on 16 November 1950 at East St Kilda and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery.

Sharing much with his uncle—particularly a desire to democratise the representation of Jewish interests and build support for the Zionist cause—Benzion had helped to found Ivriah, a Hebrew-speaking cultural circle.  In 1936 he co-founded the Victorian Zionist Organisation (of which Aaron was president, 1946-47), the State Zionist Council of Victoria, the Australian Friends of the Hebrew University and the Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.  Next year he sponsored the first visit of Eretz Israel Maccabi soccer team to Australia.  Naturalised in 1937, he established Patross Knitting Mills in South Melbourne and later pioneered the import of manufactured goods from Israel.

From 1934 Patkin led a campaign for a Jewish day school.  He served as the first president (1948-52) of the Mount Scopus College council until passionate debate about the extent of Hebrew studies in the school led to his exclusion from future involvement in its affairs.  Heritage and Tradition (1972) was his account of the college’s foundation.  In 1941, as honorary secretary of the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand, he organised the migration from Tatura internment camp to Israel of 150 of the refugees transported from England in the Dunera; he subsequently published Dunera Internees (1979).  In 1946-49 he was Australian correspondent to the Israeli newspaper Haboker.

Always a combative and eloquent debater in Yiddish, Hebrew and English, Patkin straddled Melbourne’s often antagonistic Zionist and Yiddish communities, through organisations including the Kadimah Jewish Cultural Centre and National Library (vice-president 1951-54; president 1955-58), and State (1958-59, 1962) and national (1962-82) president of Brit Ivrit Olamit.  He sought to ensure that a younger generation of Jews understood their history; modern Hebrew was his family’s spoken language.  Benzion Patkin died on 25 April 1984 at Malvern, survived by his wife, their son and daughter.  He was buried in Israel.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Rubinstein, The Jews in Victoria (1986)
  • B. Hyams, The History of the Australian Zionist Movement (1998)
  • Journal (Australian Jewish Historical Society), vol 9, pt 6, 1984, p 483
  • Zionist, October 1950, p 1
  • private information

Citation details

J. S. Levi, 'Patkin, Benzion (1903–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/patkin-benzion-15032/text26229, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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