The Centenarian Witness

- Renee Stranszky

Renee Stranszky was born October 19th 1896 in the Slovak town of Nytra.

She married Julius Engel in April 1920 who was one of ten brothers and sisters with a big perfumery business in Vienna. Their daughter Alice (Lizzi) was born in January 1925. With the Anschluss in 1938, their shop was confiscated by the Nazis and Julius was taken away in May. He was first sent to a prison in Vienna, and later moved to Dachau and then Buchenwald over the course of one year.


Renee managed to put 13-year-old Alice on the Kindertransport train to London in Dec 1938, perhaps never to see her again. Renee bravely went to the Kultusgemeinde, an organization who had to arrange the emigration and later the deportation of Vienna’s Jews. There she managed to obtain two first-class ship tickets to Shanghai, which secured Julius’s release. They made their way to Trieste via Slovakia where they said their fond farewells to Renee’s parents, before joining the last shipload of refugees on their onward journey to Shanghai departing on the Lloyd Triestino’s Conte Rosso in June 1939.

Several members of the family were already there, together with a few acquaintances from Vienna. The International Quarter was teeming with Jewish refugees from all over Europe. Each person had only been allowed to take out 10 marks each. Renee and Julius were housed in a school at first but had to find somewhere else to live. The little money they had went nowhere, but Renee had the foresight to smuggle out a few things of value such as perfumes and damasks. They initially survived by selling what they had smuggled out and rented a room with a living room downstairs facing the street, which they converted into an eatery selling ‘Gulaschsuppe’. Renee sold 1 litre in the first week, increasing to 50 litres in the following weeks! After a year they moved into larger premises at 673 Szechuen Road, naming their new restaurant ‘Hungaria’.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Japanese moved them out of the International Quarter on the Bund and into rooms at 12/445 Kungping Road. Here they had to start up their ‘Hungaria’ restaurant again, but unfortunately, just when the war was about to end, the Americans decided to bomb Shanghai, completely destroying their house and restaurant yet again. For a time they had to exist in a communal shed, eking out their savings. Julius’s health had deteriorated meanwhile having been diagnosed as having bowel cancer. He was operated on twice in the International Hospital, but his days were numbered.

Renee and Julius returned to Vienna in the spring of 1946 to pick up the pieces. Fortunately for the Engel family, their perfumery business had only been requisitioned by the Nazis and so the family were soon able to repossess it. In Julius and Renee’s case, their home and drugstore came under a different category. It had been confiscated and ‘sold’ to a ‘good’ Viennese and recovery would mean years of expensive litigation. However, Julius was naturally taken into the family business and they found a small flat in the Kauergasse, off the Mariahilferstrasse. Julius Engel passed away in August 1948.

Renee Stranszky Engel Weisz moved to London at the age of 98 to be near to Alice and died in London in January 1998 at the celebratory age of 101.