Paul Engel was born into a middle-class Jewish family on May 4, 1922 in Vienna, Austria. He had a younger brother, Robert. When World War I broke out in 1914, his father, Eduard, was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army. Captured as a prisoner of war, he spent six years in Siberia working in a coal mine, finally reuniting with his family in 1920. In Vienna, Eduard owned a perfume wholesale business. Before the war, Paul attended a primary school and was accepted to a Gymnasium in the 14th district of Vienna. He attended a synagogue and was a member of the Betar youth movement associated with Revisionist Zionism.
On March 13, 1938, the day after Vienna fell to Anschluss with Nazi Germany, Eduard lost his family business. Paul, along with other Jewish students, was expelled from the Gymnasium. His brother, Robert, fled to Palestine. During Kristallnacht, on November 10, 1938, Nazi officials ransacked the Engels’ home and arrested Eduard. Having obtained an immigration visa to China, he was soon released and the family left Austria in January 1939.
Upon arrival in China, the Engels settled in Shanghai and made a living manufacturing candles and perfumes. After the Japanese invasion of China in 1943, the family was incarcerated in the Hongkew ghetto established for stateless refugees in Shanghai by the occupying authorities. The ghetto was liberated with the arrival of an
American goodwill mission on September 3, 1945.
After liberation, Eduard’s parents returned to Vienna, whereas Paul, affected by the Holocaust, decided to pursue immigration to Australia. After a short trip to see his parents in Vienna, Paul arrived in Sydney on September 15, 1949 and established himself in menswear retail. He married Eva Stern in 1952; the couple had two children and three grandchildren.
The interview was conducted on June 2, 1995 in Sydney, Australia; interviewer: Scott Williams; videographer: Rafael Corday.