Magdalena's work with Holocaust survivors
Magdalena Koehlen is one of Glenaeon independent music tutors, helping students with voice, piano and ensembles.
Magdalena Koehlen is one of Glenaeon independent music tutors, helping students with voice, piano and ensembles. She was educated at a Steiner school in Germany - Rudolf-Steiner-Schule Nürnberg – and grew up speaking several languages. After three years living in Australia, Magdalena realised she was starting to lose her native German language.
She was looking for native German speakers with whom to converse, and discovered an ad looking for someone to work with the elderly German community, including Holocaust survivors associated with St Christophorus church in Croydon. Since landing the job a year ago, Magdalena has had the privilege of meeting and talking to these people, many now the children of the survivors whose voices from this period of history, due to their old age, will soon forever be silent.
One such woman is Clary Schnitzler, daughter of Elly Schnitzler, whose grandfather’s brother was writer, Arthur Schnitzler. Arthur wrote a novella, Traumnovelle, which was later adapted into the Stanley Kubrick/Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman movie, Eyes Wide Shut. Clary’s grandfather was a friend and colleague of Sigmund Freud, and their children played together in Freud’s and Schnitzler’s extensive yards.
During their conversations, Clary showed Magdalena her mother’s passport, and two original letters written by her father from the concentration camps Dachau and Buchenwald, addressing his wife and trying with much secrecy and coded language to organise a way of escaping the fate awaiting not just his own, but millions of other Jewish families.
One night when she was seven years old and shortly after Hitler had annexed Austria, Clary’s father was arrested. He was one of many other Jews in leading national positions whom the Nazis wanted to immediately “get rid of” in order to gain control over Austria’s crucial companies and infrastructure. After days of brutal interrogation, they were all forced into a cattle train to Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps. Some of those people did not even make it there – they were shot dead at the train station “because they didn’t enter the train fast enough.”
Elly managed to save her family by selling everything they had - including her father’s 25-bedroom mansion and parklands, bribing a corrupt concentration camp officer and other powerful Nazis with this money to get her husband out of Buchenwald and manage to get onto a ship headed for Australia just in time. They arrived here with virtually nothing but were incredibly lucky to be alive.
Years later, daughter Clary and her brother George became doctors in Sydney and saved many people’s lives for over fifty years.
This week, Magdalena gave a presentation to the Sydney German International School in Terrey Hills in the presence of the German Consul General, Mr Lothar Freischlader, to tell Clary’s story. The visit was the brainchild of Magdalena in conjunction with the school’s Head of Languages and History teacher, Belinda Özodabasyan, otherwise known as our own Jonas Stoebe’s better half!! After the presentation, Magdalena was presented with a bouquet of flowers and a thank you card.