In 1977, Melbourne nursing sister and mother of four, Sue Course, discovered a box of airmail letters in the dark recesses of a cupboard, written in German.
Her German was rusty, but she could see that most were from her parents and grandparents and were written from the time of the Nazi invasion of Vienna in 1938. The letters revealed a gripping tale of their war and that of their extended family, the stories of those who escaped and eventually resettled across the globe, and their experiences in that process.
The story was fleshed out through the later discovery of diaries and far-flung family members’ war memoirs. Lost Letters from Vienna provides a unique social history and insights into the lives of Sue’s wealthy Viennese Jewish family who, despite the centuries of persecution, managed to develop global businesses and achieve privileged lifestyles, enriched by the magnificent cultural and intellectual life that Vienna had become famous for. For Sue’s family, their entitlement to be remain a part of Viennese society and a citizen of the Austrian nation itself was lost when the Nazis annexed her country.
Sue was just four when she arrived in Australia with her family, too young to appreciate the penurious circumstances of their life at a time where German-speaking foreigners were viewed as ‘enemy aliens’, and where there was little immediate opportunity for non-English-speaking professionals to find respect or employment in their professions. Antipodean life was a far cry from the genteel experience of being raised in Vienna, and this story documents superbly the displacement, dislocation and immense struggle for those who have had to flee their countries, with its destructive consequences: loss of identity, culture, career, family and social networks, or any acknowledgement of value to the host society.
Growing up in suburban Melbourne, Sue became a nurse and activist, leading the 37-year reclamation process of the Darebin Parklands. Sue’s life has had its challenges, but it’s also been long and fulfilled. As one of the last remaining members of the Jewish families born in pre-war Vienna, she’s taken on the mantle of telling her family’s unique story.