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Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Astoria Dunera Typewriter Mystery Deepens

Geoff Winter, who donated his late father's Astoria portable typewriter (SIM line) to the Australian Typewriter Museum, has written an interesting article about the Astoria for the latest edition of the Dunera News, a publication for surviving former refugees from Nazi and Fascist persecution, and their relatives and friends. These particular refugees were mistakenly shipped to Australia in the Dunera and interned at Hay in New South Wales and Tatura in Victoria, many later serving with the Allied Forces in World War II.
Geoff's story is headed "The Typewriter Mystery". It begins:
"My father, Ernst Winter, was interned at Huyton (near Liverpool) in Britain before boarding the Dunera on July 10, 1940, without many possessions, or so it seemed! He, like many of the internees, had their personal possessions confiscated. In his case, a gold watch, presumably stolen by the guards, and a suitcase of clothes which was thrown overboard. He never mentioned anything else, but we were told that sets of crockery we had in our family home were the only 'compensation' for his losses and persecution.
"In 2012, I went to see the exhibition A to Z: Robert Messenger’s Typewriters at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. A senior journalist with The Canberra Times, Robert Messenger is an avid collector of typewriters and had a collection of more than 1000 different models. There was a selection of 100 typewriters which he had been invited to put on display at CMAG. It was a very interesting exhibition, and it made me remember that I had the old family typewriter in storage, as modern technology had made it obsolete.
"My father had used it frequently, as he could not write clearly for an extended period of time. He had from birth a withered right arm and webbed fingers on his
right hand and consequently had to adapt from being a natural right-hander to being left-handed.
"However, my father never mentioned the origins of his typewriter (he died in 1984). So I contacted Mr Messenger and we met for a coffee at the CMAG and I brought with me this old typewriter. He had never seen my model before – it is an Astoria, and he was very interested in it and was most delighted to receive it as a gift for his collection. He examined it carefully and identified that it was Austrian and a pre-World War II model. It had the German alphabet for keys, including the letters with umlauts.
An ad for a Società Industriale Meccanica (SIM) Patria made in Turin, from the Georg Sommeregger Collection. The machine advertised is identical to my Astoria.
"In an article about the exhibition, which Mr Messenger wrote for The Canberra Times, he mentioned our meeting and about the typewriter brought over by my father on the Dunera. Soon after the article appeared, Mr Messenger was contacted by a reader who claimed that his father was also transported here on the Dunera, and his father had mentioned that any typewriters on board must have belonged to the internees, as the staff on board did not have any typewriters (this deficiency was reported back to the authorities in England on September 12, 1940 by Captain A.R. Heighway, Australian officer in charge of the disembarkation of the Dunera internees in Australia).
"At the time, Mr Messenger did not have this reader’s full details but told me about it, and naturally I was interested in getting in contact with this man. Mr Messenger tried by various means to get this man to identify himself,  and after several months he did 'come forward'. It turned out that he is Alan Morgenroth, a member of the Dunera association living in England. Alan’s father was Kurt Morgenroth. Alan has contacted Mr Messenger recently about another typewriter owned by internees.
The Hay Internment Camp
"Reinhold Eckfeld, a Dunera Boy who lives in Melbourne, was one of my father’s hutmates in Hay (Camp 8, Hut 29) and remained close friends. Reinhold claims he didn’t see any typewriters in their hut. He doubts that my father ever had it there as he would have had to carry the typewriter with him on to the Dunera (secretly?) and keep it in their hut. As my father had written letters using this typewriter while in Hay (I have his carbon copies), and he was secretary of the camp school in Hay, Reinhold suggests that maybe one of the guards lent it to him for use in one of the guard posts or 'offices'.
"But how would it have ended up in my father’s possession?And given that he had had this typewriter in England, before boarding the Dunera, maybe he did have it on board. And the typewriter being useful to the orderlies, it was not confiscated but kept by them in their office. All a bit of a mystery!
"My father was not physically abused on board, as so many Dunera Boys were, perhaps because he provided this very useful item to the staff. We would be most interested if any readers have any further information about this mystery typewriter."
Geoff overlooked to stress three vital points here. First, his father had escaped from Vienna to England in 1939. Second, inside the case of the Astoria is firm evidence that it was bought in Austria. Third, Geoff has in his possession a letter dated November 14, 1939, which proves the typewriter was shipped to him in England from Vienna.
There is absolutely NO possibility whatsoever that SIM line typewriters such as this could have been imported into Australia and sold here before World War II - especially not from Germany, Austria or Italy. This typewriter had to have been brought to Australia by someone who bought it in Austria. I believe Geoff's last two theories, about why the typewriter wasn't confiscated and why his father wasn't physically abused, are the most likely answers in solving this mystery.
It's uplifting to think that a typewriter saved a man, especially a refugee from the Nazis, from cruel and unjust beatings.


Ted said...

Amazing! Great detective work. The machines tell us so much if we listen. (:

shordzi said...

Super, and touching, story. On a technical note, Astoria is indeed one of the many labels given to the SIM/MAS line of typewriters, produced in Italy. What surprised me at first was the Austrian label on the Koffer = case. But then this seemed to be practice to have imported machines fitted with a locally produced case. Thanks for presenting this rare find!