Elsa and Franz

"Franz and Elsa Burger were a Jewish couple from Vienna Austria, who were in mortal danger after the Anschluss with Nazi Germany in 1938. They applied to come to Australia as refugees, but the government required that they had a job arranged before allowing them to immigrate. My grandfather, FJ, was able to offer Franz Burger a job and they settled in Warrnambool in 1939."  Ralph Jones Junior.  

Elsa was born Elsa Max in Vienna on 25 August 1900.  It is believed she met Franz at the University of Vienna.  She was initially a language teacher and private secretary.  After her marriage on June 24, 1923, she was employed by a firm specialising in drawing office supplies.  She and Franz shared a love of skiing and hiking in the Alps.  The Italian Alps had a special attraction as they both spoke fluent Italian.  Franz was a magnificent photographer and their beautifully arranged albums of those days are works of art.  Franz graduated as a Doctor of Law from the University of Vienna.

The advent of Hitler and the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria in March 1938 had a marked effect on their lives.  Both were forced to leave their jobs shortly afterwards because of their Jewish background and this in spite of the fact that Franz (born in Vienna 14 February 1896) was an officer in the Austrian Army in World War 1, and was wounded and decorated. 

From then on, they were desperate to emigrate and in fear of their lives.  Contact was made with Miss Constance Duncan, Secretary of the Victorian International Refugee Emergency Council.  (Other activities of this remarkable woman are documented in the book ‘The Dunera Scandal’ by Cyril Pearl). She found that Mr. Fletcher Jones was prepared to act as guarantor and thus pave the way for their entrance into Australia.  She advised the Burgers of this and received the following reply. 

Vienna, 16 January 1939.

Your letter of New Year’s Day reached us yesterday.  We must say it made us happy – it is the most beautiful letter we have ever received.  We read it over and over again and could not believe that there still exist friends of mankind like you in the world.

They arrived in Warrnambool without friends.  The Jones family initially ‘adopted’ them and it became a tradition to share Christmas day with the Burgers.  They became life long friends of the family.  At the conclusion of the war when Franz and Elsa tried to contact relatives who had been left behind, they found without exception that all had been killed in the Holocaust.  They had no children. 

Franz’s European legal and accountancy qualifications were not recognised in Australia.  Initially, he worked for the Western District Fruit Supply in Warrnambool while he studied accountancy for which he later qualified.  During this period he volunteered for military service, but was discharged from the Labour Unit as medically unfit.  He was employed for a long period with the Warrnambool Standard and did other accountancy work. 

Elsa was an active member of the Country Women’s’ Association for many years and many remember her warm friendly personality.  She was an active tennis player at a surprisingly late age (into her late eighties) and a Life Governor of Lyndoch Homes where she eventually spent the last years of her life.  She died on 28th November 1991.  Her beloved Franz died on July 21st 1981.  They are both buried in the Jewish Memorial Cemetery in Springvale.  (Garden 1 Row FF Grave 03 and 04) 


Information from Ralph Jones, Ralph Jones Junior, Rita Williams and the Warrnambool and District Historical Society - thanks to Glenys Phillpot.


This picture of Franz and Elsa Burger is probably for their engagement in Vienna in 1923. Share by Ralph Jones Junior
Franz and Elsa Burger 50th wedding anniversary in Warrnambool in 1973. Photo shared by Ralph Jones Junior
From left to right - Ralph (my father), Charlotte (Rena's mother), FJ, Rena Jones, David, Lois, Elsa Burger. My father says "Indeed Elsa and Franz were made to feel that they were part of our family, and my mother introduced Elsa to her friends, and she became well accepted." Photo Photo taken by Franz Burger and shared by Ralph Jones Junior

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