Annemaria Eleanor Goldberg

This page reviews the life of Annemaria / Anne Marie Goldberg during her time as an internee (1942 – 1945) at Palembang, Muntok, and Belalau. Her life before and after has been recounted elsewhere and readers are referred to those other sources. A PDF on the life of her first husband (Erich Goldberg) has been prepared by Patrizia Guarnieri for her website Intellectuals Displaced From Fascist Italy and can be viewed HERE. Much of what follows is based on the work of Judy Balcombe, as is much of the text found elsewhere on this website.

On Friday February 13, 1942, Dr Annemaria Goldberg boarded the SS Vyner Brooke, one of over 40 ships carrying evacuees from Singapore in advance of the Japanese Army. This was 2 days before the Fall of Singapore to the Japanese and all European civilians were told they must try to leave for their own safety. Her husband Erich Goldberg stayed behind and is assumed to have died during the invasion of the island, although the exact circumstances surrounding his death are not known.

There had been 65 Australia Army Nurses on the Vyner Brooke. 12 drowned in the bombing of the boat and 21 were killed by Japanese soldiers after they had reached shore on Radji Beach, on 16/2/1942.

Prior to leaving Singapore, Annemaria had deposited some funds with the Swiss consulate and during her internment the consulate remitted those funds to her.

Much of the work listing the names of the survivors of the Vyner Brooke’s sinking and those held in the internment camps has depended on Goldberg’s report held in National Archives of Australia, 472 WO 30744, pp 104-06.

Goldberg managed to reach shore near the town of Muntok on Bangka Island, which had already been taken by the Japanese. She was held with 1000 captives in the Muntok Jail or coolie lines for some weeks before all the prisoners were taken in barges up the Moesi river to Palembang in Sumatra. Here, the prisoners were held in the jail (Men) and in a collection of houses surrounded by barbed wire (Women and children) in an area known as Irene Laan.

Dr Goldberg claimed her German status and was permitted by the Japanese to live outside the prison camp and work in the Catholic Charitas Hospital starting in April 1942, until the hospital was forcibly closed by the Japanese in September 1943. When this happened, a Eurasian doctor and others were beheaded. Other doctors, 40 Nuns, and the Bishop of Palembang and Catholic Brothers were interned.  There are a few anecdotes left by those who were treated in Charitas hospital by Dr Goldberg and who spoke highly of her care. One was a young boy who was hit in the eye with a stone and felt that Dr Goldberg saved his sight. Another, Neal Hobbs, was 17 in 1942, and interned with his father. He developed dysentery and was taken to Charitas Hospital where Dr Goldberg cared for him and kept him there for several weeks to build up his strength. Neal considers that Dr Goldberg saved his life.

Dr Goldberg lived with the women and children prisoners on Irene Laan after Charitas Hospital was closed. Also, in the camp were 32 Australian Army Nurses, with 4 later dying in Muntok and 4 in Lubuk Linggau camps.

After the war, the Australian Army Nurses made formal complaints about Dr Goldberg to the Australian government, stating she had favoured wealthy patients and had refused care to patients who were not able to provide her with jewellery or money. They also stated she had not issued them with extra rations to help them with their hospital work, although she was always well-fed and well groomed, sleeping on a mattress while they slept on bags of straw. The Nurses stated that Dr Goldberg had fed milk to a cat while prisoners were starving. The Australian film Paradise Road, which tells the true story of the Palembang Women’s Prison Camp Vocal Orchestra Choir, was made after consultation with many of the camp survivors and depicts a German doctor quite harshly. This film can be watched online.

At the National Archives of Australia (NAA) there are a number of records relating to Dr Goldberg’s time during internment and can be accessed following the links below:

After the war she was again refused residence in Australia which she had originally applied for with her husband Erich before the War. So, instead, she returned to Singapore where she married Sir Lord Charles Murray-Aynsley, the Singapore Chief Justice.

Annemarie died on 13th April 1997 at Cox Hill Manor Nursing Home, 1 Station Road, Chobham, Surrey, England. She was buried at the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori, Città Metropolitana di Firenze, Toscana, Italy, PLOT 2PPsSA VIII 9Bs.

Below are three articles from local Malay newspapers from 1940 that refer to Erich Goldberg. The middle article ‘Woman with Child …’ is a case that was brought before justice Murray-Aynlsey during which Erich Goldberg gave evidence.

An article appeared in The West Australian on Wednesday 12 December 1945 in the Woman’s Realm section:

WORK AMONG INTERNEES.
Medical Service in Sumatra.

Twice forced to flee from home in the face of aggression, Dr A E. Goldberg-Curth is at present in Perth after three years in Japanese internment camps of Sumatra. Her husband, a prominent psychiatrist formerly with the British Government service, is still missing in Malaya.

Dr Goldberg, who trained in Germany and Italy, accompanied her husband to Malaya in 1939. When the Japanese struck, they remained until almost the last, and left in separate ships which needed medical personnel aboard. Dr Goldberg was on the ill-fated Vyner Brooke with nurses of the A.I.F, which was sunk by Japanese bombs.

After 16 hours in the water, she was rescued by an R.A.F. launch and landed at Muntok, Banka Island, unaware that the place was in Japanese hands. Throughout her years of internment Dr Goldberg, with other medical personnel, including a number of Dutch nuns, worked among the sick, fighting the Japanese for everything that was needed for the patients but obtaining few concessions.

At first the hospital at Palembang was not interned; supplies were adequate and medical personnel were able to obtain extra food and clothing for internees. But from September, 1943, the whole hospital was interned. Conditions deteriorated when later they were moved back to Muntok and from there to a jungle camp. Supplies of vital drugs were exhausted and the death rate mounted. At Muntok the hospital consisted of wooden huts with cement floors and thatched roofs. There were no stretchers, only long, plant-like affairs running the length of the huts, about two feet off the ground, on which patients were placed. The doctor paid tribute to the excellent work done by the A.I.F. nurses, with some of whom she worked.

When the Japanese surrendered, the doctor was suffering from severe malaria, but remained at camp until September 21; caring for patients until they were moved out.

On arrival in Perth, Dr Goldberg-Curth found that her books and instruments, which she managed to ship out of Malaya, had arrived safely at Fremantle and were waiting for her to claim them. They had been there since February, 1942. The doctor understands that the Dutch authorities have recommended her for a high award in recognition of her work for their people in the camps.