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Hausmann, Edith (1932–2012)

by Malcolm Brown

Edith Hausmann, n.d.

Edith Hausmann, n.d.

Edith Hausmann might be described as a child of Jewish oppression. Her father got the family out of Europe in 1939, just before the war and the Holocaust that followed which threatened the survival of her people. Growing up in Australia, she became almost an international person, fluent in English, German, French and speaking basic Hebrew and Italian. Her greatest contribution was as a librarian, settling in at Moriah College in Sydney's eastern suburbs to establish a library, which had 500 books when she started in 1967 and at the end of her time had 30,000 books, representing so much which in the early years of her life might have been destroyed.

Edith was born in Vienna on May 28, 1932, second child of an industrial cleaning products manufacturer, Leo Ordower, and Rosa (nee Klippel). When she was six months old, her brother Robert died of Hong Kong flu, an event which devastated the parents. Five years later, a sister, Rita, was born. But in 1939, with the Anschluss having transformed Austria into a frightening place, Leo got the family out, smuggling their life savings in the lining of Rita's pram. The family arrived in Australia on Edith's seventh birthday, to be met by members of the extended family. These relatives included an uncle, Alec Klippel, who had migrated, and an Australian-born cousin, Robert Klippel, the latter destined to become a famous artist. Amid the excitement of the family's arrival, almost everyone forgot it was Edith's birthday. The one who did remember, grandmother Devorah, bought Edith a chocolate.

Hausmann quickly picked up English and went to Coogee Public School where she became dux. She was sent to a selective school, Sydney Girls' High, where she excelled at her studies, and she enrolled at Sydney University to do arts and obtain a Diploma of Education. Majoring in French and English, she graduated and went to the Sorbonne in Paris to continue her studies. She stayed several years in France and Italy working as a nanny and teaching English.

Back in Australia, Hausmann met an immigrant, Leo Hausmann, who had escaped from Nazi Germany to Palestine, fought in the Jewish Brigade of the British Army, fought for Israeli independence and served in the fledgling army of Israel. The couple fell in love and married at the Great Synagogue in 1960. The following year, a daughter, Judi, was born, followed 16 months later by Ilana.

When her children were small, Hausmann retrained as a librarian and joined the staff of Moriah College, where she became the first librarian. She was to remain in the position 28 years, selecting the thousands of books the library acquired and, in the age before Google, had the ability to direct any student to any book where they would find the information they wanted.

With her daughters attending Moriah, Hausmann became an institution at the college and a much-loved figure, who kept discipline, sometimes sending students home to get their overdue books and at other times interrupting the headmaster at assembly to read out the ''overdues''. She had to tolerate being sent-up over this at the end-of-year celebrations. Computerisation arrived, and with it new processes for classification of books, and Hausmann decided to retire. She and Leo spent six months travelling in Europe, then rented an apartment in Florence for several months and learnt Italian.

In the 1990s, Leo's health started to fail and eventually he had to go into a nursing home, but Hausmann never left him. When Leo died in 2001, Hausmann took up bridge, knitted for charity and did Herald crosswords. She enjoyed the company of her extended family, which included sons-in-law Dr Howard Studniberg and David Den and grandsons Zac and Elliot.

Hausmann remained a librarian right to the end. Hours before her passing, she told daughter Judi to remember to return the book in her bedside drawer to the hospital library.

Edith Hausmann died on July 25 of lymphoma. She is survived by her children and their families, her sister Rita Kalev and Rita's partner, Barry Hall.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Hausmann, Edith (1932–2012)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 29 October 2020.

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