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Australian Women in Nazi Prisons and Hester Burden

I recently watched the movie “The Pianist,” a movie set in Warsaw during WWII (a must see if you haven’t),  so I was interested to read about Australian women interned in Poland during the war. This article is from Janaury 1940-hester burden 1940 

 According to Robert Loeffel in “The Fifth Column in World War II: Suspected Subversives in the Pacific War” Hester Burden fell in love with an Austrian, Wilhelm Sommer, after being released from Gestapo prison –


The Adelaide Mail reported in October 1940 – 

Why Did Hester Burden Go Back to Germany?


In her last letter home, Miss Hester Burden, of Norwood, said it was unlikely that the British Consul at Salonika would let her cross the Mediterranean, and that it would not be safe to make the journey. If she were stranded in Greece it would have been impossible for her to earn money there.

Her mother, Mrs. F. R. Burden said that today that this probably explained Miss Burden’s reported return to voluntary internment in Germany. Hester has no political leanings whatever’ Mrs. Burden added. “We are hoping that Hester is among the Australian women who are to be released. We have heard nothing, and don’t even know what part of Germany she is in.”

The last Adelaidean to make personal contact with Miss Burden was her travelling companions Miss Glen Burton and Mrs. Hector Macdonald. “Hester is not interested in politics” said Mrs. Macdonald today, and she has no political leanings. Of course, from the very moment she refused to take her car to Holland and made for the Yugoslavian frontier, she was under suspicion. I, myself, was under suspicion because I got away and Hester remained. When I returned to Australia I was stripped by the women police and even the hems of my skirts were searched. All my papers were taken, even German text books, and all German print was retained. Hester is an individualist. She likes liberty — and she is very attractive, a brunette, sleek and slim.  We were In Berlin together eight days before war broke out”

‘The tourists’ party that Hester was conducting had proceeded to Russia. She wired to them and they said they would meet her in Belgrade instead of her waiting in Berlin. She had been given petrol to proceed to Holland, but she just went her own way, and with her large Packard made for the Yugoslavian frontier. There were no spare parts for the Packard available, and it would be asimple matter to interfere with her car— and, as you know, it broke down andshe was interned.”

“I was with a party of Americans, whose one desire was to get out of Germany. We left Berlin on the Saturday, motored all night, and reached Paris — a distance of about 200 miles —on the Sunday. I have had no direct word from Hester since, although she has. written to my ‘sister in London.’

On 26 March 1946 ‘The Adelaide Advertiser” ran this piece about Miss Burdens returning home to Australia. This is the last piece of information I have been able to find. I’d love to know the full story, wouldn’t you?


Miss Hester Burden On Way Home

Miss Hester Burden, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. F. R. Burden, of Beulah road, Norwood, is expected back in Adelaide shortly, after four and a half years’ internment in Austria.

She left Adelaide In 1938 to tour England and the Continent. After studying languages at a Paris university, she set off in August to travel by car across Europe on the first stage of her journey home.

War overtook Miss Burden while in Austria, and after several weeks’ imprisonment she was interned In the city of Graz. Here she was allowed to teach at the Institute of Education, and later set up her own college of languages.At the capitulation she enlisted her services with the Allied Military Government, and worked during the occupation in many different capacities with both the British and Russian forces. She dealtwith many displaced persons, and through her knowledge of languages was able to do -valuablework in Interpreting and translation.

Miss Burden left Austria in February, and after visiting Rome and Naples joined the troopship on which, with two other Australian women, she Is travelling back to Australia.


About thewartimewoman

I love history, fashion, art and design, especially of the 1930s to the 1960s. I am also a mother, wife, interior decorator & a treasure hunter who wishes she could drive a 1933 Delage. I studied Architecture at Melbourne university, briefly, and completed a Diploma of Art in Interior Design at the Melbourne College of Decoration in 1991. I have worked on an off as a decorator ever since, in between stints as a florist, balloon artist, having my five children and helping my husband in his law firm. in my spare time I love researching history, blogging and gardening.

2 responses »

  1. Dear Wartime Woman,
    Thank you for mentioning my book. Yes, the Hester Burden case is an interesting one. Towards the end of the war she was involved in helping Allied POWs escape from their camps. When the Russians arrived in Austria she was given a pass by them to enable her to travel through the British/Russian demarcation line. This made her useful to British intelligence who used her in some capacity. Unfortunately, that’s as much information as I could find. Good luck with finding out more!


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