Gerty Jellinek (nee Gertrud Altar)

Gerty is surrounded by a table of memories. In 1939, the family fled Europe for Shanghai. Among the many documents are her husband Wilhelm’s travel documents, her father’s identity card, and her Chinese marriage certificate.

“Whenever I looked at people a little bit older, I thought to myself, ‘Where were you at that time?’ But when I meet younger people, there was no worry because you cannot blame the young people for the sins of their grandfathers.”

“My parents gave me an abundance of love and values: to be tolerant and accept every person.

On 12 March 1938, Hitler’s army invaded 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. My parents had rented a room to a nice Christian couple for years. A day later, the man appeared in full Nazi uniform. He was from the Brownshirts. He threw us out of our home. My father lost his job; I was told I could no longer attend school.

In summer I watched Jewish people scrubbing footpaths with toothbrushes. Hitler Youths jeered and laughed, ‘Ha, ha, you Jewish women, your nails won’t look like anything when we are finished with you.’ On 9 November 1938, Kristallnacht, synagogues in Austria were burnt to the ground; Torah scrolls, prayer books, and tallisim (prayer shawls) were thrown into the street and trodden on. Austrians looked on in amazement, not in horror, at these happenings.

My father was taken away for ten days. When he finally returned to us, he was a broken man. His only thought was leaving Austria. The only place visas were not needed was Shanghai. We arrived there on 12 September 1939. Broken buildings were our 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 gave us food, clothing, and dignity.

In 1947 I met Willie Jellinek. We married and left for Sydney. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time. She was made in China – because everything is made in China! – and born in Australia.”