September 29, 2020
This month we tell the story of late Holocaust survivor Gerty Jellinek. Gerty was born in 1925 in Vienna, Austria.
On 12 March 1938, Hitler’s army annexed Austria. The next day every second house displayed a swastika flag, every other young person wore a Nazi uniform. The Austrians welcomed Hitler with open arms.
Gerty’s parents had rented a room to a nice Christian couple for years. A year later, the man appeared in full Nazi uniform. He was from the Brownshirts. He threw Gerty’s family out of their own home. Gerty’s father lost his job; Gerty was told she could no longer attend school.
Gerty watched Jewish people scrubbing footpaths with toothbrushes. Hitley Youths jeered and laughed, ‘Ha, ha, you Jewish women, your nails won’t look like anything when we are finished with you.’
Gerty was 13 at the time of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. On 9 November 1938, synagogues in Austria were burnt to the ground; Torah scrolls, prayer books, and prayer shawls were thrown into the street and trodden on. Austrians looked on in amazement, not in horror, at these happenings.
Gerty’s father was taken away for ten days. When he finally returned, Gerty recalled, “he was a broken man”. His only thought was leaving Austria. The only place visas were not needed was Shanghai.
They arrived there on 12 September 1939. Broken buildings were their camps. In time, the Hongkew area was built up and became a village of refugees. On 7 December 1941, the Pacific War started, Japan occupied Shanghai, and the village became a ghetto. On 15 August 1945, the Japanese surrendered and American soldiers arrived. They provided food, clothing and dignity.
In 1947, Gerty met Willie Jellinek. They married and left for Sydney, Australia. Gerty was pregnant with her daughter at the time. Gerty said, “She was made in China – because everything is made in China! – and born in Australia.”
In this photograph, Gerty was surrounded by a table of memories. Among the many documents are her husband’s travel documents, her father’s identity card, and her Chinese marriage certificate.
To read more from our Survivor Portraits blog series, click here.
To explore the personal stories and anecdotes of Holocaust survivors, click here for our first online exhibition.
Photograph by Katherine Griffiths.