My father Fred was born Fritz Heinz Georg Grün to a family living at Reisnerstrasse 5, Vienna on 14th June, 1921 making today the centenary of his birth. Accordingly I’m reposging a speech I gave at the unveiling of the portrait of him by his good friend Erwin Fabian in Hay concentration camp * not long after they both arrived. Erwin died less than a year ago aged 105.
* It was not an extermination camp obviously enough, but I believe (though I’ve not been able to source it) that at the time there was an official sign in Hay along these lines “Concentration Camp =>”. Certainly early in the war the term ‘concentration camp’ was officially used in Australia to describe such facilities — though, given their experience in the Boer War, the British were now using the term ‘internment camp’ which became standard usage in Australia.
Last night I attended the unveiling of a facsimile of a portrait of my father painted when he was fresh off the boat in 1941. Thanks go to Bruce Chapman above all, but to many others for organising. To Erwin Fabian, who pained the portrait all those years ago. It’s been over 16 years since Dad departed and I’ve made two other speeches reflecting on things, one at his memorial after he died, another, more general one using Dad as a foil to reflect on ‘the asylum seeker issue’. I needed to make another one!
When Heinrich Schliemann unearthed a gold mask in Mycenae, he was reputed to have said “I have gazed on the face of Agamemnon”. In a more modest way Erwin Fabian’s magnificent portrait allows us to gaze back through time – upon the face of a very different person to the one we all knew.
When Dad arrived in England in 1936, he was 15 and alone. He must have been scared. Met by a teacher from Herne Bay College where he was to board, Dad had no English. “Salve” he said, greeting the teacher in Latin. No dice: He was the gym instructor.
The portrait was painted just four months after the Dunera arrived. To find him in those days you just followed the signs in the main street of Hay to the “Concentration Camp”. Dad must have wondered where his mother Marianne was; how she was. She was taken to Theresienstadt. It was a way-station to Auscwitz.
It also had creepy similarities to Hay. Theresienstadt was Hitler’s home for Europe’s Jewish cultural elite. So, as the inmates quietly starved, it doubled as a set for Nazi propaganda showing how well Jewish ‘resettlement’ was going. As she waited to discover her fate, Marianne would sometimes have attended lectures, recitals, poetry readings, and concerts, just as Dad was doing in Hay.1 Continue reading
- I have since discovered from the Yad Vashem database that one ‘Marie Grün’ was transported to Lotz Ghetto on a passenger train from Vienna in 1942 and I think that was Marianne. If so, the Theresienstadt story seems false. Further, if she was shipped out of the ghetto to an extermination camp, chances are it was Chelmo. ↩