Shanghai to Melbourne
In Chapter 1 we discussed Eva’s work in the Shanghai Theater, her work with British Ministry of Information (BMI), and her anti Nazi radio shows.
As an open city, Shanghai had among its many nationalities a large German contingent, many of whom were pro Nazi. This included a network of Gestapo agents. In October, 1941, only weeks before war broke out in the Pacific, Eva produced two anti-Nazi radio plays. The first was called”Wien, Maerz 1938″ (Vienna, March 1938), a dramatization of Hitlers “Anschluss” – his annexation of Austria into the German Reich, and more specifically, a Nazi raid on a Jewish cultural center in Vienna.
The following day the Shanghai Herald gave it rave reviews, equating its raw drama with a recent stage play, “The Masks Fall” by Mark Siegelberg, a BMI (British Ministry of Information) colleague of Eva’s. The critic went on to call Eva’s radio play, “Stark and revealing! Aimed at those who don’t know the Third Reich…or who remember another Germany”.
The second play was called “Die Moorsoldaten”, an early term for concentration camp inmates. They had to dig in the marshes for peat moss, which the Germans used to fuel their power stations. The play was an adaptation of the book by Wolfgang Langhoff, who spent thirteen months in Nazi prisons prior to 1935, the year the book was published.
It was Langhoff’s autobiographical memoir which became one of the first internationally known eyewitness accounts documenting the kind of brutality that was developing in the Nazi concentration camps.
The next day, the Shanghai Jewish Chronicle reviewed Eva’ s radio show and said, “What Langhoff lived through in prison is known to most of us from our own experience. This impressive radio play has brought it back into shocking memory. No, Langhoff! We do not want to forget what was done to us.”
Langhoff’s words became famous after they were translated into English and performed by American folk singer, Pete Seeger. Known as “The Peatbog Soldiers” they had been set to a melody composed by another concentration camp inmate, and had become a powerful rallying song for the resistance during WWII.
Even though Eva was the producer of her radio shows, and often played one or more of the characters in her programs, no one was ever credited on the air in any of her anti Nazi shows – no writers, actors or announcers. A choice she undoubtedly made for their own protection.
Many of them were her BMI colleagues, who were a collection of producers, writers and actors, already well known in Europe. But now as exiles, they continued to use their expertise on the stage, radio and in German language newspapers, as a demonstration of their resistance against the Nazis in Shanghai and throughout the world.
The group contained such stellar names as Viennese actor and producer, Karl Bodan; his wife, singer Olga Bodan; German writer/journalist, Ernst Platz and Russian born playwrite, Mark Siegelberg. But the highest profile among them was the Austrian author, Adolf Josef Storfer. Already famous as the long time publisher of the works of Sigmund Freud, he was celebrated in Viennese cafe circles as a liberal, intellectual and staunch anti-Nazi. In Shanghai he continued his high profile as the publisher of the widely read anti-Fascist newspaper, “Die Gelbe Post”.
Shanghai’s German speaking audience was the focus of Eva’s radio plays. She apparently had no problems until her two most recent ones: “Wien, Maerz 1938”, and “Die Moorsoldaten” which, to put it mildly, did not go over well with the local Nazi authorities. Within a short time, she learned that she and her BMI collaborators were wanted by the Gestapo. And to complicate matters, she was pregnant.
Once again she was in danger, but this time it was far worse because Eva was facing arrest. Three years earlier, she and her family escaped from Berlin after Kristalnacht, but they never confronted anything quite so imminent. And now most of Europe was at war with Germany, while another war was looming in the Pacific.
And once again Eva had to find a way to escape. But this time it would have to be from Shanghai.
Fortunately, through his connection with the British Consulate, her husband Josef was able to secure a way out. On December 3, 1941, Eva, Josef and ten of her Jewish BMI associates, were quietly evacuated aboard the last Allied troop ship to leave Shanghai. It was an American vessel, the S/S Cape Fairweather, bound for Melbourne, Australia. Among the evacuees were A.J. Storfer, the Bodans, Ernst Platz and Mark Siegelberg.
It’s doubtful that any other Jews were able to escape after that, because four days later, on Dec. 7th, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and seized control of Shanghai the next day.
Somehow the S/S Cape Fairweather was able to avoid the Japanese Fleet by meandering and hiding on its route between Singapore and Melbourne. But it took nearly a month to complete the voyage. Finally on December 30th, 1941 the ship, with its exhausted passengers, arrived safely at the Australian port.
But the previous months had taken a terrible toll on Eva. Her Australian registration photo shows how she had aged dramatically. Only 23 years old, now she looked 40.
Then in July, she gave birth to a son, Peter Micheal.
Hoping to resume her theatrical career in Melbourne, Eva joined the actors union. Although her bio in the Hamburg Library claims otherwise, my own research makes it doubtful that she was ever able to support herself in Australia as an actress. I don’t think she ever considered having to find roles in the English speaking theater before her abrupt departure from Shanghai. Now she faced the burden of trying to resume her career in wartime Australia, where precious few, if any, speaking parts existed for women with heavy German accents.
Sadly for Eva, the Austrian influenced “Exile Theater”, which was created for Jewish audiences in Australia, was still years away. Ironically, the prime movers behind it were three of her former BMI shipmates from their perilous SS Cape Fairweather voyage: Mark Siegelberg, and Karl and Olga Bodan.
There’s some evidence, however, that Eva was able to support herself and her baby by working as a seamstress in a garment shop.
A Marriage Goes Sour
As the war dragged on, some of Josef’s Czech relatives were able to join him in Melbourne. But Eva was feeling isolated. Finding little if any work in her chosen profession only added to her gloom. The anger and hostility between them escalated , and finally she and Josef separated, living out the rest of the war apart.
Eva kept her son, Peter Micheal, and continued to raise him alone, while Josef was left with his Czech family.
According to her son, Peter Micheal, she and Josef were already Socialists when they arrived in Australia. Soon after, she found a local chapter of the Heinrich Heine League*, and later became secretary of the organization. Part cultural, part political, and part humanitarian, it also raised money, food and supplies for refugees. As a very active member, she organized lectures, produced little theater events and film screenings, and set up meetings with business organizations.
It’s possible that her efforts earned her a meager income to augment whatever she made working as a seamstress. It’s also quite possible that during the five years she spent in Melbourne, she did not work at both simultaneously.
A Communist Connection
During her time spent in the League, she discovered the works of Australian play-write, Mona Brand. An outspoken Communist, Brand found it to be a most logical reaction to the horror, cruelty and worldwide devastation left by the Nazis. But whether Eva ever collaborated with Brand, or even met her in Australia is unknown. Yet it’s possible that she did, because years later, Eva was responsible for editing and translating a number of Mona Brands plays into German.
In Chapter 3 Eva reunites with her mother, but her life gets messy before she can return to Germany, the theater and much much more…!Did you find this article of interest? Feel free to share it on your favorite social media site using the buttons below.