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RUDOLF GIRSCHIK (R36358)

1910-1989

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Rudolf Franz Girschik was born in Vienna, son of Karl Girschik, leather worker, and his wife Maria, born Bresnitzer, the daughter of leather workers in Bad Ischl near Salzburg. Karl’s father came from Czechoslovakia with his Czech wife and set up the leatherwork business which flourished into the third generation at least. Rudolf’s mother was a classical singer and repertory actress before marriage. Her three daughters carried on the tradition of classical music.

The eldest son, Karl, was apprenticed into his father’s trade while the daughters sold the manufacture of bags, belts, satchels and tourist memorabilia in the family’s retail outlet in central Vienna. The youngest son, Rudolf, profited by education. He trained as a civil engineer at the Bundesgewerbe Schule from which he graduated in 1929 with associated field work at the Technisches Museum. During his holidays Rudolf formed a close relationship with the family of Dr Milthers, a rural Danish medical practitioner who participated in a Scandinavian charity to nourish the health of Central European children affected by post war shortages. Rudolf learnt to speak Danish and Swedish.

Working on buildings in Vienna until the industry dried up, on 2 June 1933 Rudolf and a friend departed on bicycles in search of work in Asia Minor. They rode and camped along the Danube. In July of the same year, Rudolf was in Istanbul and secured a position with Kampsax Consortium to supervise the construction of the Swedish Embassy in Ankara. At the celebration of its completion, in late 1934, the King of Sweden in person bestowed on Rudolf  the Knights’ Cross of the Swedish Order of Vasa, purely a ceremonial tribute. Kampsax then employed Rudolf in railway work in Turkey and then in Iran.

Able to present a wife with a living, on 2 February 1935 at the Austrian Secondary Boy’s College in Istanbul Rudolf married Elfriede Bittnar, a German woman from Silesia whom he had met on the staff of the German Legation. Of stocky build with a glass eye, Rudolf had entranced Elfriede with his boyish innocence, his poetic verses to her, and his lively sense of adventure. She was taller than he and more worldly-wise. After their simple wedding , he took her by train to Çankiri, a snow-bound Anatolian village. There he built a connecting railway line and there Helga-Maria Christine was born on 27 June.

Subsequently assigned to work on the central Tehran Railway Station, in early 1936 Rudolf settled his family in Tehran. He worked on the large station complex, oversaw the completion of the station itself and laid the first railway line to Arak. Reza Shah Pahlavi and the crown prince graced the inauguration and its first train on 25 August 1938. Peter Michael Reza had been born in Tehran on 23 June that year.

Now employed from November 1939 by Ara Karamian, an Armenian company, Rudolf settled his family south of Kashan at Khaladabad, to lay the railway line between Qom and Yazd. From 1 September 1940 he laid the line between Garmsar and Mashhad and in mid-July 1941 he began work in Kerend in the north-west of Iran. All his railway work included the construction of roads and tunnels, viaducts and bridges. Rudolf became a specialist in bridge construction. He adored his challenging work, took numerous photographs and began collecting stamps, a life-long hobby. Elfriede had begun to regard Persia as her “spiritual home”. The couple collected much Persian craftsmanship.    

On 30 August 1941 the family was captured at home by the British invading army and sent by sea to a secret destination: Tatura, Camp3, Victoria, Australia. The five pressured years in camp blighted the Girschik parents. A most loving father had become over-strict and angry. Nazism was also a problem to be dealt with. Das Kriegskind (the war child) Herbert Friedrich was born on 16 January 1945 at Waranga Hospital in Camp No.1, Tatura internment camp.

Post-war the Girschiks decided to stay in Melbourne although the family was now displaced. Iran was not an option then. Rudolf’s engineering qualifications were not acknowledged in Australia. For over three years he worked as a draftsman designing gas cylinders for Woodall-Duckham company. His older children became boarders on charity in religious establishments. Having resolved shocking problems with accommodation through the ex-Persian network of friendships, Rudolf undertook three more terms of work in Iran in the company of ex-internee, Wilhelm Zapf (R36859). They worked with Societé Sivand, constructing a railway between Miyaneh and Tabriz. After employment with Clements Langford on building constructions in Melbourne in 1951-7, “Rudy” and “Willy” acquired work with Khaneh Construciton to build US-sponsored military bases in Iran in 1957-9. 

Rudolf and Elfriede were naturalised as Australians in October 1957. From March 1960, Rudolf and Wilhelm returned to work in Iran with Etco-Tehran for four years. 

From 1965 Rudolf worked in Western Australia for Maunsell Partners. He laid the second railway line between Perth and Kalgoorlie, supervised the construction of the Art Gallery of Western Australia and the Perth Concert Hall, the Hospital in Esperance and the gaols in Albany and Canning Vale.

Settled in Perth, in sandy soil, he and Elfriede made an impressive vegetable garden with citrus trees, roses and natives. They joined German-speaking associations, attended classical music concerts and travelled widely in the State.

Rudolf was rule-bound but lacked racial prejudice. His Austrian humour was irrepressibly robust, earthy and situational. Less tolerant than he, Elfriede engaged in repartée and irony and had a batch of stories and wise sayings for their convivial hospitality. They were devoted grandparents. Still constructing urban buildings in Western Australia in his seventies, Rudolf had a stroke in late 1988 and died on 15 April next year in Perth Rehabilitation Hospital.

Cremated in Karrakatta Cemetery, his (and Elfriede’s) ashes were privately buried by the Swan River in Guildford. Rudolf was survived by Elfriede (until 8 August 1993) and by his three children.

"Written by Helga Girschik (R36356), R. Girschik's daughter, 13/07/2020"

 Iran, 1941.

© 2020-2023 Designed by P. KHOSRONEJAD

                     Dr. Pedram Khosronejad | Adjunct Professor

     Religion and Society Research Cluster | Western Sydney University

Fellow | Department of Anthropology | Harvard University

                      P.Khosronejad(at)westernsydney(.)edu(.)au