Veronica Meltzer is the daughter of Holocaust survivors Ernst and Soyka Stein, who arrived in Auckland in 1939. A substantial collection of documents and letters chronicles the lives of her family from their emigration from Prague to New Zealand.
Ernst Stein, who changed his name to Ernest when he came to New Zealand, was born in 1906 and his wife Ilse, née Soyka, was born in 1914. Both were born and grew up in Teplitz-Schönau (now Teplice-Šanov) in what was then Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic. In fact, they spoke German at home because where they lived, the Sudetenland, was historically a German-speaking region.
When Nazi Germany moved into and occupied that part of Czechoslovakia (“annexed”, they called it), Ernest and Ilse were already married and living in Prague. At that time, 1939, it was very unusual to be allowed to emigrate, but for some totally unknown reason Ernest and Ilse were extremely lucky and could leave Prague for London in August 1939. Then on 26 August 1939 they set sail from London to Sydney on the first SS Oronsay. From there another short sea journey brought them to Auckland where they settled and raised a family.
Arriving in Auckland together with fellow refugees Lena and Ernest Scher, they were greeted by Rabbi Astor. They later found out that their parents and many of their other relatives had perished in the Holocaust. Only after their death years later, did their daughter Veronica Meltzer find out that Oscar Stein, Ernest’s father, was deported to a ghetto in Poland and that he died during the transport.
Veronica has kept her parents’ correspondence with friends and family from those war years and ever since. She and her husband Barry, also have various historical documents from that period of time, including an extended residence permit to allow her parents to stay on in Prague until they could leave as well as the passports that they travelled to New Zealand on. All in all, a substantial collection of papers is still in her possession.
Ernest’s mother, Hilda Bechert, wrote a novel, which was published in 1933. It was published under the pseudonym of G S Hilbert by Halm & Goldmann in 1933 with the title Die Ehe der Lisa Herlinger (“Lisa Herlinger’s marriage”). The name “Hilbert” is clearly taken from Hilda’s surname but we do not know what the initials G S signify. The novel is set in Vienna during World War I and contains numerous autobiographical elements. Of course it is written in German, but it remains Veronica’s most prized possession.
Image above header: Veronica and Barry Melzer at home in Auckland. Photograph reproduced here with the permission of Veronica and Barry Meltzer. Photography by Stephen Robinson. © JoM 2012