In the middle of 2019 I received an email from my daughter Monica, who lives in Bonn, Germany that she had been contacted by a Persian professor, Pedram Khosronejad, who was interested in the author of the book “The Traditional Crafts of Persia” – Hans Wulff, who is my father and her grandfather. Pedram had tried to track down the author and the manuscript of the book and had traveled to Boston to confront MIT Press, the publishers, who unfortunately no longer had any records. Monica van der Haagen Wulff teaches cultural studies at the University of Cologne and had published the following paper in 2018: Gorgobad: reflections on a German-Australian family biography, which Professor Khosronejad saw online. He contacted her in Bonn and she referred him to me.
Professor Khosronejad, Pedram to the members of the group, which has since evolved, was on sabbatical leave in Australia at the time and I contacted him at Western Sydney University. To his great surprise I was able to supply him with a lot of oral material about my father and his work on the traditional crafts of Persia, which Hans Wulff started in the late 1930’s as a direct consequence of being ordered by the then King of Persia, Reza Shah to collect this material. My father was in Persia from 1936 to 1941 setting up Technical Colleges in Shiraz, Isfahan and Tabriz, as a foreign aid project by the then German government. He was assisted by his friend Willi Cremer, with whom he had studied Engineering at the University of Cologne.
Reza Shah made a speech at the opening of the college in Shiraz, pointing out that Persia had been the high technology country 1000 years ago under Shah Abbas with a tradition of craftsmanship maintained over the centuries. He realized that modern technology from the west would soon overtake the traditional crafts and he wanted those crafts taught at the new colleges in parallel with dealing with cars and motors. To make this possible he instructed Hans Wulff to go into the villages and bazaars and record as much as he could of the traditional crafts. There was one major problem of which the Shah was also aware. The various crafts were still organized in guilds who had medieval rules of secrecy – like the Freemasons in the west. Every apprentice had to swear by his life, that he would never divulge the methods he learned to a non-member of the guild – this is what my father told me. To overcome this problem Reza Shah drew up a Royal Decree, spelling out the likelihood of craft methods being lost with the advances of technology and naming the foreigner Hans Wulff as his emissary to collect the methods of the craft guilds to save them for posterity.
With this Royal Decree and the fact that by this time Hans was fluent in speaking Persian, the craftsmen were more than happy to show him how they made things. Hans Wulff used a Leica camera to take thousands of photographs and made notes of what the tools and materials were called in the Persian language. Hans Wulff also understood the way of the craftsmen because his father had been a goldsmith who had learned his trade in Paris and was employed to make the most complicated silver dishes, tea pots and other silver ware. His hand made originals were used in Paris to copy in modern mass production. My father instilled in me the value of craftsmanship and being able to do and make something professionally as opposed to doing the same thing as an amateur.
I grew up in Persia until I was five years old in 1941, when the Russians invaded Persia from the north and the British from the south. At the time the family was in Tabriz, close to the Russian border. Father heard about the invasion on the radio and gave my mother 5 minutes to pack the most essential things. My first memories are the hectic trip to Tehran and passing an intersection, where we could see Russian tanks coming over the mountains from Azerbaijan. In Tehran we stayed for 9 weeks in the gardens of the German Embassy. In the end the British decided to intern all able bodied German men and send the women and children home to Germany. The men were first collected in Basra in Iraq, from where they were to be moved for internment in India. Having arrived in India it was decided to ship them to Australia, where they spent the war years first in Loveday in South Australia and later in Camp 1 in Tatura in Victoria.
The men were released in 1946 and over 50% of them, including my father, decided to stay in Australia. I survived the war well in a country town in Germany and my mother, my two sisters and I re-joined my father in September 1949. In May 1950 my father bought a block of land in Wahroonga, a northern suburb of Sydney and I was his apprentice for 3 years learning the craft of bricklaying and roof construction with him from a German builder friend from Palestine. He named the house “Gorgabad”, which is Persian for “Home of the Wolves”, which is where Monica grew up, which prompted her to write her paper, which started the relationship with Pedram.
Pedram was not only interested in the “Traditional Crafts of Persia” but also as an anthropologist he was interested in the history of the large German community in Persia before the war, and what happened to them and their children later. Since a large contingent had been shipped to Australia and many had settled there, he started looking for contacts here. I was able to give him some names in Melbourne, including Ingrid Stevens, the daughter of Hans Barth, a good friend of my fathers from the camp. Pedram independently found Helga Griffin, who lives in Canberra.
In November 2019 Pedram, Helga and I travelled to Tatura to speak with the founder of the Internment Museum and his wife. We spent some days at the museum with the current curators and were able to locate and copy many relevant documents. On the way home we stopped over at the Australian War memorial, where we made contact with the head of the WWII history section. Others have joined our group since and because of COVID and being scattered in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, we meet fortnightly in a Zoom meeting.
My sisters and I decided that Pedram was a keen researcher who was willing and able to make something for posterity with the materials our parents left us, which we could never do. To ratify this I set out the following contract with Pedram:
Dear Dr. Khosronejad,
We, the heirs of the late Dr. Hans E. Wulff’s estate, are happy to let you know that, based on our family decision, we have decided to give you our trust to work with our father’s – Dr. Hans E. Wulff’s – entire collection for the purpose of making it accessible to academia and the public.
The collection contains our father’s material comprising “photographs, negatives, colour slides, field notes, field diaries, field objects, and the manuscripts of published works, in particular the manuscript of book The Traditional Crafts of Persia”.
As we discussed, in the project you will find a good academic host institution for this collection, where you will perform the following actions:
1. Restoration and preservation of the entire collection.
2. Professional scanning and digitization of the entire collection for the use of academics and the public.
3. Preparation of an online, free, open access internet platform of the materials of the Hans E. Wulff collection for the use of academics and the public.
4. Work on the original manuscript of Dr Wulff’s book “The Traditional Crafts of Persia” and prepare it for new publication.
We, the family, wish you every success for this project,
John E. Wulff Hildegard McLaughlin
As you can see, we, the family are really grateful that Dr. Khosronejad is active in following up our fathers book, but also the interesting history we are uncovering among other members of our group with his professional help.