100 Years

1918 - 2018

Marking the end of World War I

The Haberdashery Store

By Sandra Stirling

Schneider’s Haberdashery was well known in the region. Otto and his wife, Hannah, had come to the area from Germany at the beginning of the new century. Australia was now their home, and the bell above the shop door to their store jangled a welcome to all who entered.

Ladies and gentlemen were greeted with a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of buttons, bows and buckles of all colour, size and shape. Bolts of materials were stacked on wooden slats behind the counter, across which was often spread ribbons, silks and satins which appeared to have a very life of their own. Hannah delighted in displaying and assisting ladies in their choices, and Otto’s talents lay in the selection of materials for a gentleman’s suit or a working man’s clothes. And it had been his idea to place a jar of boiled sweets on the counter for the children who came into the store.

However, this evening, as Hannah placed the ‘Closed’ sign in the window and lowered the blind on the front door, she was worried. Recent news of the outbreak of war between Germany and Britain had created an air of excitement and adventure amongst the young men of the area which she did not understand. And while Otto assured her that, as naturalized Australians, they had nothing to be concerned about, she had noticed the dwindling customers and the often cool manner in which she was greeted in the store and on the street. She smoothed her long skirt around her slim hips, patting her hair into place before opening the door to their living area behind the store. Otto was seated by the fireplace, reading the morning’s copy of the newspaper. He was concerned at the growing antipathy towards those of German descent and who, the paper advised, could expect to be contacted imminently by the authorities. He stood when Hannah entered the room.

“Come, come, my darling. You look tired this evening.” He gestured towards the chair. “Sit and I shall make us coffee.”

She smiled at him, watching as he moved towards the dresser reaching for their cups and saucers. Although now aged in his fifties, he was still a handsome man, with a fine head of grey hair and clear blue eyes. Of a nervous disposition herself, Otto was her rock, the foundation of their happy life together.

German interns wearing camp uniform, Torrens IslandGerman interns wearing camp uniform, Torrens IslandState Library of South Australia [B 8999] Photograph Interned Germans, 1915Suddenly, there was a loud banging on the shop front door.

“Open up!” shouted an angry voice.

Otto leapt to his feet, startled at the sound.

“Come on, open this door!” it demanded.

“Stay here, Hannah. I will see what is this noise.” Calmly he put on his jacket before opening the door to the store.

“Be careful, Otto. I am afraid.” Hannah stood, holding the mantel.

“Do not worry, Hannah. Once I explain that we are citizens, they will realize their mistake and leave us in peace.” He pulled the door closed behind him.
Hannah felt a coldness penetrate her body even though she was beside the fire. She heard raised voices, followed by banging and shouting.

And then Otto’s loud protest. “You must be mistaken, officer, we are citizens of this country, and have lived here for many years.”

The door was thrown open and three men in police uniform entered the room. The larger of the group spoke roughly to them.

“That might well be, Mr Schneider, but this country is now at war with Germany, and you and your missus must come with us,” he declared, giving a quick glance around the room.

“B-b-but what have we done, officer?” stammered Otto.

“You’re Germans as far as we’re concerned,” he said. “And for all we know, you could have family or friends in Germany trying to do this country harm.”

“We have no such friends, officer,” protested Otto.

“By order of the prime minister, you are now classed as enemy aliens, and you’re to be interned immediately,” gruffly stated the officer.

“Otto! Otto! What have we done?” Hannah was distraught. “Where are we going?”

“Hush, Liebling,” urged Otto. “They have made a mistake.” He pulled his coat and hat from the stand beside the door. “But please, Hannah, now get your coat and we can go together.”

As the couple were led through the front door of their store, a group of once kindly neighbours now shouted vile words at them. “Traitor!” “Rotten Germans!” “Good riddance!” Quickly they were led to the waiting car then driven away.

 

Dust motes, caught in the light from the front window, floated through the empty store, and the cheerful bell that had once welcomed customers, fell silent in the cold night air.

Sandra Stirling, 2018

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