Lily Skall

Title: My story
Author: Lily Skall
Publisher: Makor Jewish Community Library
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 2000
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Austria: ViennaChina: ShanghaiAustralia: Melbourne
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative

Lily Skall’s autobiography records the story of her and her family, from the time of her birth, right up until her 80’s. The first 20 pages outline Lily’s family background and life in Vienna before the German annexation. The next 10 pages address their ordeals under German occupation. Pages 31-74 discuss her life in Shanghai while the remainder of the book deals with her new life in Melbourne. Pages 39-56 contain family photographs and documents. The book was published in 2000, and again in 2004 with alterations, by the Makor Library as part of their “Write Your Story” Collection.

Lily Skall was born in 1918 in Vienna, Austria. Her father ran the second largest wholesale homewares business in Austria, allowing the family to enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle. Lily fondly recalls her many skiing trips and family holidays. Lily also lived a rich Jewish life. She was active in the Makkabi sports club and the Brit Zireinu (Tze’ireinu) Zionist youth movement. Lily warmly remembers celebrating the Jewish festivals with her family and attending synagogue. She was well educated, completing matriculation at school and later studying at a business college.

Lily’s world was turned upside down by the German annexation of Austria in 1938. Anti-Jewish signs appeared on Jewish shopfronts and Jews were made to scrub the streets. Beatings and deportations increased and Lily’s house was raided by the SS. Her father’s business was taken over by an Aryan. The family knew that they had to leave Austria and were eventually able to procure the appropriate papers and tickets to escape to Shanghai. She was married in January 1939 in Genoa and days later boarded a ship bound for China.

In Shanghai Lily was able to find work as a beautician and later in a Jewish owned textile business. Her father died of typhoid in June 1942. Her hardships increased when the Japanese consigned the Jews to a crowded designated area in January 1943. Despite the restrictions and food shortages there were moments of joy in the ‘ghetto’. There was a thriving cultural life, and more importantly, it was where Lily gave birth to her first child in November 1943. In 1945, Shanghai became a target of Allied air raids. There were no shelters in the designated Jewish area and many people were killed. Eventually the Japanese surrendered and the war ceased. Through correspondence Lily was able ascertain the whereabouts, and sadly often learn of the deaths, of many members of her family. Despite the war’s end Lily had no desire to return to Europe, and with disease rampant in Shanghai she was desperate to leave to a new country. In January 1947 she boarded a ferry bound for Australia.

The final chapters discuss her new life in Australia, focusing on the raising of her children. In Melbourne her family enjoyed a peaceful lifestyle, including many holidays by the seaside. In 1999 Lily returned to Vienna to gain a sense of closure for her traumatic experiences. The writing of her story as an elderly woman proved therapeutic in providing some relief from the grief of losing her husband and daughter in the space of two years. Lily Skall’s story is an engaging narrative, told directly and with humour.