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Hans Johnson (Jottkowitz)


Berlin-born Hans Jottkowitz, South Island weaver and dyer, survived the Holocaust and began a new life where he " put his horrific past behind him ... to forge a new life in New Zealand".

Hans Jottkowitz was born in Berlin in 1919. His mother, Else Wachsner, was born near the same city; his father, Georg, hailed from Upper Silesia, which is now part of Poland.

Georg went into business with his father-in-law, selling textiles. Wachsner & Co initially represented a Swiss firm that manufactured cotton and linen fabrics, Else and Georg doted on their son Hans, a daughter having died as a baby.

With the increasing pressure from the Nazis, they had to give up the business, a move that plunged the family into poverty. A year later, in 1943,  the two were arrested and sent to Theresienstadt, and then again a year later to Auschwitz, where they were sent directly to the gas chamber.

Else’s mother, Laura Wachsner, was arrested on her 75th birthday in 1941. She was to be deported to Theresienstadt but she appears to have preempted that move by taking her own life with the help of some sleeping tablets that she had sewn into her skirt.

In the meantime, aged 19, Hans was able to escape from Germany after having successfully achieved a transfer of a distant cousin’s immigration permit to himself; the cousin and his family deciding at the last moment to head for Australia instead of New Zealand. He settled in the South Island, working variously as a weaver and dyer in Dunedin, Milton, and Invercargill. After the war he changed his name to 'Johnson'.

He met and married a local art teacher Patricia Summers in Invercargill in 1948 and in 1959 the family moved with their daughter to Auckland where Hans found work as a master dyer. In the words of the daughter, Naomi Johnson, her father “had the ability to put the horrific past behind him and to forge a new life in New Zealand”. The marriage lasted 53 years until Hans died on March 17, 2002 at the age of 83.


Image header (above): Hans Jottkowitz. Photograph by Freya Klier kindly reproduced here with permission for the JoM.

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