I was trying to finish my film, “For the Life of Me”, while facing a deadline only a few months away. And it was a “biggie”- our first screening for a live audience, at the International Conference of Jewish Genealogical Societies . But with only a short time remaining I had decided not to include Eva’s story, for lack of both information and enough film to cover what little I did have.
Help was Near!
Then my friend, Bob Sallin came aboard as my colleague and creative partner, and all that changed. But at that point we only had her bio; a few short paragraphs in German, coming from an obscure web site in the library at the University of Hamburg called die “Arbeitstelle fuer deutsche Exilliteratur”, aka “Actors and Artists in Exile”.
Yet we were so totally fascinated by what little we knew about her that it was easy for Bob to convince me that we HAD TO include her story. So, screw the deadline and full speed ahead!
I’m so thankful he did because those months spent doing additional research on my cousin have been as fascinating and rewarding as watching her incredible life story unfold, thanks to the people who helped me, and the resources that they brought to our project.
Help from the Internet
But first I had to get on the internet and contact the people I already knew from my earlier family research on JewishGen.com, the genealogy website. Two of them had lived in Shanghai during the war, both having fled from Germany just as Eva did with her family. The first one lived in Australia, but he couldn’t provide much information. However, the second was an entirely different matter. He not only came up with incredible information, but would steer me back on track whenever I’d make a wild assumption based on very little information.
Help from Germany
His name was Ralph Hirsch and even though living in Germany, he became my “Go to Guy” during the whole process. Because of his background, what he didn’t have at his finger tips, he simply pointed me to those who did. As a child of 10 in 1940, he and his family fled from Berlin to Shanghai to escape the Nazi persecution. Remaining in China throughout the war, he emigrated to the United States in 1947, and served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. Years later, after moving back to Germany, he co-founded the international network, “Council on the Jewish Exile in Shanghai” (CJES). So, he was the right guy and a vital link to other writers, film producers, university scholars and journalists.
As we worked together, Ralph kept quoting from a book in his library called, “Nicht einmal einen Thespiskarren – Exiltheater in Shanghai 1939-1947”, by Michael Phillipp. It expanded on Eva’s job with the British radio station there, as well as her theatrical credits. But it not only did it clarify the ambiguities of her abbreviated U.of Hamburg bio, it revealed her final two anti Nazi radio plays, “Wein Marz” and “Die Moorsoldaten”. A couple of Google searches then led me to the musical version of Die Moorsoldaten, which became the song of the “Resistance” in Europe, and then later the Pete Seeger rendition known to the world as “The Peatbog Soldiers.”
Among the many details, Ralph and I struggled for months trying to find information about the ship on which Eva and her cohorts escaped to Australia. Was it British, Chinese, or what? Was it a gun boat or a troop transport? Then from the internet he discovered that it was none of the above, but an American cargo ship, the SS Cape Fairweather, which carried the group to safety just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. From that information, it was relatively easy to find a picture of it in the Australian Naval History Archives.
Help from Vienna
Then Ralph put me in touch with his friend, Paul Rosdy, a documentary film maker, who lives in Vienna, Austria. Among his credits, he co-produced the landmark film about the European Jews who fled to China just before WWII, “Zuflucht in Shanghai”(“Port of Last Resort”). The film was a great resource for me. But it originally caught my eye when I saw that it included a publicity still and a theatrical poster of Eva.
While Paul was making his documentary, he learned the story of Eva’s unfinished film, “Driven People/Under Exile” and became obsessed with both finding the footage, and finishing the film. Sadly, after spending years, he never did. Yet he graciously supplied me with the Shanghai newspaper article that featured production stills from her film, as well as magazine articles that he had written during his fruitless search.
Help from Australia
Trying to pick up the thread of Eva’s life in Australia proved to be more difficult, until I began receiving emails from a genealogist in Brisbane by the name of Naomi Ogin. She became interested after finding my blind posts on JewishGen, asking for anyone who had any information about Eva to please chime in. She responded almost daily, sending me names, bits of valuable information and suggested resources.
One of them was the National Archive of Australia, which was like hitting the “Mother Lode”. I immediately found digital copies of Eva’s entry visa, details of her departure back to Germany, copies of her mother and her husband’s entry visas, and numerous other valuable bits of flotsam & jetsam. That in itself was an incredible find. But then I discovered the ship’s manifest from the Cape Fairweather with information about who her shipmates were on that American freighter. Those were her colleagues and fellow escapees from within the British Ministry of Intelligence in Shanghai. Some of them turned out to be quite famous “back in the day: the journalist/playwrite, Mark Siegelberg, who wrote many anti Nazi plays and possibly the radio adaptations for Eva’s programs; and Karl Bodan who directed numerous plays of Siegelberg’s.
Thankfully, I was able to discover all this information without ever leaving my office. The Australians have a marvelous internet search system, and much of their material is down-loadable. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
But I can’t leave Australia without introducing Eva’s son, Micheal (aka Peter Micheal) Schwarcz, who discovered me on the internet, and not the other way around. He was searching for information about his mother’s family when he found my family tree on JewishGen. But because he was barely five when Eva had to leave him behind, he knew very little about her, other than both she and his father were already Socialists when they arrived in Australia.
I was happy to send him pictures of his German family from my collection: his grandparents and his uncle (Eva’s mother, father and brother) plus childhood pictures of his mother and mine. We had a lively email correspondence for many months. Unfortunately, the only other information he was able to provide didn’t hold up against my later research. But I can’t blame Micheal. Having been left behind as a small child to live with his embittered father, I’m certain that most of what he learned about his mother was tainted and not the real story.
More Help from Germany
Meanwhile, back in Berlin, my friend, Lars Menk, the renowned genealogist, sent me a copy of a newspaper article about Eva’s 1937 performance in the Berlin theater. He also helped me track down the letter that Eva wrote to her former director, Fritz Wisten, in which she asked for his help pending her post war return to Germany. This he did by putting me in touch with the curator of the Berlin Akadamie der Kunst, Stephan Doerschel, who sent me a copy of the letter from his archives. Stephan also helped me sort out information having to do with other relatives of mine.
Since I wrote Chapter 4 primarily for you genealogists out there, here is a list of additional resources. Some are self explanatory. For others, I’ve added some notations to clarify the information:
“Secret War in Shanghai” by Bernard Wasserstein – about all the behind the scenes intrigue in that international enclave.
“Uprising in East Germany, 1953” by Gregory Domber – for events that both led up to and followed the Workers’ Rebellion.
DEFA Studios, Berlin Germany – for possible stills and film clips from her work in German movies, both before and after the war.
Google News Archive – for background information about Eva’s theatrical and journalistic cohorts from BMI.
Leo Baeck Institute, New York – for possible photos and artifacts from the Jewish exile period in Shanghai.
Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, New York – same as above.
Berlin and Hannover Gedenkbuchs
Yad Vashem Database
Music of the Holocaust – for various renditions of “Die Moorsoldaten” and “Peatbog Soldiers”.
www.Time.com – for information about the East German theater and Berthold Brecht.
Plus many many unrecorded Google searches.
* Interesting to note that Siegelberg listed his occupation as a “salesman”, and Bodan as “a former actor/producer – now a hairdresser”. Yet they both continued to thrive theatrically in Australia both during and after WWII.