Herbert Carl Kann was born in Vienna, Austria on 28 October 1909 to Siegfried (born 20 February 1877 in Vienna, Austria) and Johanna Kann (born 13 April 1886 in Komotau, Czechoslovakia). The Kann's were Austrian Jews, and in 1938 they fled Austria to escape Nazi persecution. They obtained temporary visas for the Straits Settlements in Singapore and were working there when war broke out in 1939. Herbert was working as an Engineer for Malayen Tin Drd. Ltd., Siegfried as an accountant for Malayan Gutters Ltd, and Johanna as a singing teacher for the Far Eastern School of Music.

They were detained as enemy aliens in September 1940 and shipped to Australia for internment on the SS Queen Mary. Embarking in Sydney on 25 September they were sent to Tatura Internment Camp. Siegfried and Johanna's effects are listed as: draft for £48, cash $96 and 13 trunks and cases containing personal belongings, and Herbert's personal belongings are listed as: £165 draft, £11.1 Aust, $18 and clothing and personal effects. They all appear to have been released from Tatura in 1942, Herbert in February 1942 to a Labour Battalion and Siegfried and Johanna in July 1942 on 'parole'.

In Australia Herbert settled in Melbourne where he worked as a fitter, draughtsman and electrical engineer. He married fellow Austrian Jew Marion (Mimi) Edith who was born in Vienna, Austria in 1910.

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