In 2006 the State Library of Queensland received an extensive collection of correspondence, personal papers, photographs and scholarly articles of Dr Wilhelm Rechnitz (1899-1979).
Wilhelm Lorenz Rechnitz was a German citizen born in Cottbus, southeast of Berlin, on 24 October 1899. In the mid 1930s he was living in England, working as a teacher and a private tutor.
In 1940 Rechnitz was deported to Australia on HMT Dunera and imprisoned at Tatura Internment Camp in Victoria. After his release, he lived in Melbourne and in the Torres Strait. On 28 March 1954 Rechnitz was ordained as an Anglican priest. Until his retirement in 1973, he worked as a priest for the Diocese of Carpentaria.
A linguist by training, Rechnitz worked for many years on translations of The Church of England services and of sections of the Bible into the Meriam language (a Papuan language spoken by the people on the Torres Strait Islands of Erub, Ugar and Mer). Many letters in this accession are from various publishing houses responding to Rechnitz’s requests to have his articles and books published.
In the early 1970s Wilhelm Rechnitz retired to Brisbane, where he died in 1979.
I have started listing and describing the collection, beginning with Rechnitz’s correspondence. A prolific writer of letters, Rechnitz kept in touch throughout his life with many relatives, friends and acquaintances in England, Germany and The United States.
Several letters are about the loss of Rechnitz’s book collection. Before his forced departure for Australia, Rechnitz left his books in the care of Reverend P. Wilton Vale. The books were stored in Vale’s church in London and were destroyed when the church was hit by a bomb.
A friend, Fred Robinson, writes often from England and Germany. In a letter from 1964, he describes his shock at seeing Berlin again after the war. Some parts of the city had simply disappeared in the bombing raids. In another letter, sent from London, Robinson writes about his visits to the theatre and ballet performances, expressing his lack of enthusiasm for Rudolf Nurejev. In a letter sent in 1966, Robinson writes about being bored by the current theatre productions of plays by Chekhov and Turgenev, despite the fact that Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud and Michael Redgrave had parts in them.
Another friend, John Egles, a teacher, writes from England in 1962 about exhibitions and theatre performances. He mentions an exhibition of Oscar Kokoschka’s paintings and a performance of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.
Series 1 of this accession, Correspondence, contains many letters from publishing houses, German and Australian, discussing manuscripts sent by Rechnitz to be considered for publication.
There are several letters in the collection from a young woman, Gisela, whom Rechintz met through his friend Joseph Moffett in London before World War II. These were sent in 1943 and 1944. Gisela repeatedly asks Rechnitz if he has any plans to travel to Europe. In one letter Gisela asks Rechnitz what makes him believe in God.
John A. Moses and Wilhelm Lorenz Rechnitz, Wilhelm Lorenz Rechnitz: altphilologe und priester: schriften (St Lucia, Qld: Broughton Press, 1992)
“A lost plea (a curiosity from the archives),” Tom Wrobel, accessed on 10 November, 2014, http://dmlbs.wordpress.com/tag/wilhelm-lorenz-rechnitz/
Veronika Farley, Archivist, Queensland Memory, State Library of Queensland