Sydney loses one of its finest

April 22, 2010 by Henry Benjamin
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The Australian Jewish community is in mourning with the passing of one of its matriarchs, Rebbetzin Jana Gottshall, who died yesterday at the of 89.

Jana Gottshall with NSW Opposition leader Barry O'Farrell

She was foundation vice-president of the Australian Holocaust Survivors Association, and honorary rebbetzin of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia and of B’nai B’rith.

Rebbetzin Gottshall was the wife of the late Rabbi Dr Benjamin Gottshall, who served as spiritual leader in several congregations since they arrived in Australia as Holocaust survivors from Czechoslovakia in 1949. They met and married after the war in Prague where Rabbi Gottshall was one of the spiritual leaders of the famous Altnu Synagogue.

Forcibly kept in Auschwitz concentration camp she was tattooed on her forearm with the number A 25604. Her faith and belief in G-d always remained strong even in the darkest days of her incarceration in Auschwitz, where she saved and swapped several pieces of her meagre  bread ration for a prayer book that had somehow been smuggled into the infamous camp. She always said she did this to give her strength from perishing.

Having previously trained as a high school teacher in the Czechoslovakian cities of Bratislava and Topolcany, immediately after the Second World War she was responsible for linking the remnants of European Jewish families who survived the Holocaust as the Prague-based presenter of the popular “Missing Persons” program on Czech radio.

Rebbetzin Gottshall worked alongside her husband in congregations in Newcastle(NSW), Wellington (New Zealand) and Brisbane (Queensland),before moving with him and their children, Eva & Alex, to Maroubra Synagogue (Sydney) in 1967.

After his death in 1978, she continued to be active in community and charitable organisations, and was a respected and wise counsellor especially to younger generations. She also provided comfort and compassion visiting sick members of the community both at home and in hospital,  just as she had done when she and her husband were ministering to their congregations.

From her earliest days in Newcastle until a few months before she became terminally ill with cancer, she was invited to address different organisations about her experiences during the Holocaust.While it was very upsetting as the sole survivor of her family for her to recall the horrors she had witnessed and endured, she believed that relating what occurred may help prevent genocide ever happening again.

Rebbetzin Gottshall leaves behind her two children, Eva and Alex, son-in-law John, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Her son Alex told J-Wire: “She had been battling cancer for almost a year but remained active almost to the end. She went into hospital shortly before Pesach.”

Head of the Sydney Yeshiva Centre, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman shared his recollections of Jana Gottshall with J-Wire. He said: “She had a very special presence in the community. Always positive, her memory will always serve as an example to others. She was one of the most inspiring people I have ever met.”

The president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry,Robert Goot, told J-Wire he had known Rabbi and Rebbetzin Gottshall almost all his life. He said: “I remember them clearly when I was growing up in New Zealand. They were the perfect role models =. I have never heard a bad word spoken about either of them. To do what they did…survive the camps, travel to the other end of the world and knuckle down to establish and build communities should serve as a perfect example of giving and getting the most of what could not have been the easiest of lives.”

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence of the Great Synagogue said: “She was a phenomenally sweet lady. She was extremely sympathetic to young rabbis and their families. But what I will always remember is the story of she and her husband, yet to meet, exchanged food for tiny siddurs in Auschwitz and Theriesenstadt respectively. She told me that people had said they had been crazy but she replies ‘but that was the type of people we were’.”

The Immediate Past President of the Zionist Federation of Australia Ron Weiser has fond memories of Jana’s favourite story. He told J-wire: “She used to love telling the story of when she and her husband were invited to a function by the Mayor of Newcastle who had told the day before he would honored if she made the toast. So the ever-thoughful Rebbetzin still trying to come to terms with her new English language turned up at the function with bags of toast.” Weiser added: “She told me at that time she thought the Aussies were an odd bunch to expect someone to bring toast to a function…but the ever-helpful Rebbetzin Gottshall obliged!”

The funeral service will be on Friday 23 April 2010 at 11am am at the Chevra Kadisha, corner Oxford and Ocean Streets, Woollahra followed by burial alongside her late husband Rabbi Dr Benjamin Gottshall, at Rookwood Cemetery.

Rebbetzin Jana Gottshall was born in Topalcany, Czechoslovakia, on February 10, 1921. She passed away in Sydney, Australia on April 21, 2010.

Jana Gottshall’s children Alex Gottshall and Eva Wittenberg contributed to this article.


7 Responses to “Sydney loses one of its finest”
  1. Lily Kestecher says:

    I will never forget the kindness of both Rabbi and Rebbitzen Gottschall –
    My mother became a widow in l964 – before the Rabbi and Rebbitzen came to serve at Maroubra. Although my father had been a member of Maroubra Synagogue, my mother was not a member purely for the reason that the
    Shule was too far away for her to walk on Shabbat or on Yom Tovim and yet the Rabbi and Rebbitzen made it their business to call on her every now and again. Even after the Rabbi passed away, the Rebbitzen continued to call on my mother, who had become house-bound owing to ill health. These visits were
    so appreciated by her…My family and I extend our deepest sympathy to the family of Yana Gottschall – a truly wonderful “lady”…May she rest in peace. (

  2. Sandra Epstein says:

    We all loved Jana in the Bnei Brith Singers. She was always full of joy and ageless. She had a great sense of humour and her stories about the Newcastle days were great. Sydney Jewry will miss her a lot.

  3. Shari Schwartzshtein-Wittenberg says:

    On our first date, my husband David told me of his Booba’s Minhag…. Booba’s Minhag was to light an extra candle every single Shabbos or yom Tov for any Jewess out there who wasn’t able to. I have been married to Booba’s Grandson for 12 years now and have adopted this Minhag from day 1! Rest in Peace Booba; our home has extra ‘light’ in it every single Shabbos and Yom Tov thanks to you!

  4. Rosalind Fischl says:

    Jana Gottshall was ever smiling and always highly supportive, especially with regard to our efforts at The Great Synagogue to encourage increased participation of women in orthodoxy. Whenever we met at functions she instilled in me a spirit of determination to continue the work, to find ways to enhance the lives of women within our traditions. Her memory will be a blessing for all of us.

  5. Greg Seligman says:

    I not have the pleasure of meeting Rebbitzin Gottshall, I can say is that her wisdom was passed on to her family.

  6. Rita Newell says:

    A wonderful sprightly lady, who was a member of the B’nai B’rith Singers for many years,full of fun always and was also a prominent member of Sydney/Masada unit. She will be well rmembered and sadly missed by many’

  7. Emes says:

    “Matriarch” is definitely the term to use in relation to this much loved tzaddekes who was part and parcel of Jewish life in Sydney for so many years.

    She will be missed.

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