UBC Library’s Rare Books & Special Collections (RBSC) has acquired the personal archive of Hanne Wassermann Walker (1893-1985), a significant figure of pre-WWII Viennese cultural and social life. Her remarkable story has been relatively unknown until now.

Born in Vienna to a Jewish family, Hanne Wassermann Walker left Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938. After living briefly in England, and then in New York, she went on to emigrate to Canada, taking up residence in Vancouver and later North Vancouver with her second husband, George Dickson Walker. She became a resident of British Columbia in 1943.

A well-known figure of Viennese society during the 1920s and 1930s, Wassermann Walker was at the forefront of the Weimar-era body culture movement. Her school of gymnastics and health manuals for women brought her international fame and recognition from reputed medical institutions and clinical specialists. Among her correspondents, friends and students were film stars, artists and members of the European aristocracy, including the Rothschild family, Lady Louis Mountbatten, Helen of Greece and Denmark and actress and wireless communications pioneer Hedy Lamarr.

UBC Library offered right of first refusal

In 1985, Hanne died without heirs, and items from her estate were acquired by a local collector. In the Fall of 2018, Katherine Kalsbeek, Head of Rare Books and Special Collections, and Krisztina Laszlo, RBSC Archivist were offered first refusal on the archive by a local bookseller. With the support of faculty from many UBC departments, Kalsbeek and Laszlo worked to identify the funds required to ensure that the archive would stay in British Columbia. “The response from both UBC and the larger community has been exceptional,” says Kalsbeek, “From numerous individual donors, to foundations, to key departments here at the university, there has been overwhelming support for our effort to ensure that Hanne’s archive stays in British Columbia.” The library saw generous support from the Azrieli Foundation, Reesa Greenberg and the Clematis Foundation, Lorne Greenberg and the Lorne Greenberg Family Partnership, Anthony von Mandl of Mission Hill Family Estate winery, the UBC President’s Office, the Faculty of Arts, the School of Kinesiology, and the Department of Central, Eastern and Northern European Studies (CENES).

Photo of Hanne Wassermann Walker taken by Trude Fleischmann

Hanne Wassermann Walker as photographed by Trude Fleischmann.

The archive itself is extensive, including an impressive number of documents, correspondence, print media coverage, photographs and artifacts that span over a century.

One of the highlights is the collection of documents and photographs tracing Wassermann Walker’s life-long friendship with Trude Fleischmann, ranked among the most significant portrait-photographers of the 20th century. Not unlike Wassermann herself, Fleischmann was forced to leave Vienna during the war, to relaunch her career on the North American continent. The archive contains hundreds of photographs taken by Fleischmann during the height of Wassermann Walker’s successful career in Vienna.

A large part of the archive documents Wasserman Walker’s struggle to obtain compensation for the loss of her family’s property seized by the Nazis. The archive contains letters from lawyer Gustav Rinesch, informing Hanne of the details of her parent’s estate and his work on her and her sister’s behalf with the government of Austria. 

Acquisition keeps collection together

The sheer size and breadth of the archive presents countless unique opportunities for research, teaching and learning in a number of fields from Holocaust studies, and Women’s Studies, to Kinesiology and Fine Art. Krisztina Laszlo, RBSC Archivist, notes that the acquisition of this archive “is an example of RBSC’s effort to increase our documentation of women’s role in history.  Representation of women, and their successes in the life of this province, and the larger world, needs to be celebrated, preserved and recognized.”

Postcards books and photos from the HanneWassermann Walker archive

Personal correspondence from the archive.

Dr. Patricia Vertinsky, Professor in UBC’s School of Kinesiology is particularly interested in parts of the collection that involve Wasserman-Walker’s exercise system, “What interests us in Kinesiology is exploring the provenance of these exercise systems and then understanding the way in which Hanne brought them to Vancouver. She spent forty years teaching them, first in Vienna and later in Vancouver in people’s basements and community centres – two completely different worlds.”

Faculty looking through the archive

Patricia Vertinsky, Ilinca Iuraşcu, Kyle Frackman and Katherine Kalsbeek pore over the archive.

Dr. Ilinca Iuraşcu, Assistant Professor of German at UBC is excited about how the archive will enable young people to understand the importance of women’s history as lived history. “The story that all these material testimonies tell is not merely one about reconstituting a unique biography and exceptional career. This is also a lesson about living cultural networks and building bridges among spaces and histories: Vienna and Vancouver; communities of health and aesthetic practitioners – and the sheer force of connecting the dots between them.”  

Perhaps most heartening is that the Library’s acquisition of the full archive prevents the archive from being broken up, divided and sold, which would have meant that the fulsome picture it presents of Wassermann Walker’s life and work would be lost forever.

Learn more about the Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections.

Experience history at the tip of your pencil crayons with our new 'Mythical Creatures' themed digital colouring book.

To kick off 2019, UBC’s Music Art and Architecture Library and Rare Books and Special Collections are celebrating the year that was with a selection of 2018 new acquisitions.

The Music Art and Architecture Library selections, representing all of its subject areas, includes donation highlights, exhibition catalogues, music scores and manuscript facsimiles, and more. RBSC’s acquisitions highlights include items dating from the 16th century to 2018 and run the gamut from books and ephemera, to photographs, letters, artworks, and more. Make sure to keep an eye out for the “RBSC favourites,” top picks of RBSC’s archivists, librarians, staff, and students especially selected from among many 2018 acquisitions.

The selection of Music Art and Architecture Library and Rare Books and Special Collections 2018 acquisitions is on display in the foyer of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre until February 27, 2019. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

The Kelmscott Chaucer
Have you ever been curious about what we do or what we have at Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC Library (RBSC)? Interested in seeing the famous Kelmscott Chaucer in the flesh or a medieval bible from the 13th Century?
 
Join our weekly open house/hands-on show-and-tell for an introduction to our space and our unique materials and collections every Wednesday at 11 a.m.
 
The event is free and open to the general public, as well as the UBC community. No need to RSVP, just drop in to learn what RBSC is all about. 
 
Rare Books and Special Collections is located on the 1st floor of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, 1961 East Mall, UBC Vancouver campus.
 
For more information or to book visits for classes or large groups, please contact Rare Books and Special Collections at (604) 822-0645 or rare.books@ubc.ca.
 
All classes should be booked at least a week in advance. No backpacks, overcoats, food, drink or pens are allowed in the seminar room. Lockers are provided.
Rare Book and Special Collections Tour
Join us in looking back at the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre's past 10 years from August 27 through October 30, 2018 in the IKBLC Level 2 foyer and in Rare Books and Special Collections.

Blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. These four humors were once thought to shape a person’s mental and physical health, behavior and even personality. Initially borrowed from Ancient Greek thinkers like Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen, the theory of the four humors was so ingrained into the common wisdom of Shakespeare’s time that references to melancholic displays and choleric outbursts fill his most popular plays. The interplay between medical theory and theatrical language forms the basis of a fascinating exhibition, created by the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health and the Folger Shakespeare Library, now coming soon to UBC Library.

The exhibition, “And there’s the humor of it”: Shakespeare and the four humors, will run from June 4 to July 14, 2018 and feature additional materials from UBC Library’s collections to explore related topics, such as Shakespearean theatre in British Columbia and Shakespeare in children’s literature. Collection highlights will include: the second edition folio of Shakespeare’s complete works (1632), first editions of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590), John Donne’s Poems (1633), and George Herbert’s The Temple (1633), along with medical manuals such as 16th century midwifery book The byrth of mankynde (1540) by Eucharius Rösslin and milestone physiology book, Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus (1628) by William Harvey.

On display at Rare Books and Special Collections on Level 1 of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and in the Memorial Room at Woodward Library, the exhibition is open to the general public as well as UBC students, staff and faculty across campus.

Many thanks to co-curators of the UBC Library collections materials Patricia Badir, Professor of English, Anthony Dawson, Professor Emeritus of English, and Department of English students Karol Pasciano (MA), Aiden Tait (BA Hons.), and Ana Maria Fernandez Grandizo (BA Hons.). Thank you also to John Christopoulos, Assistant Professor of History, for lending his subject matter expertise. UBC Library co-curators for the exhibition included Charlotte Beck, Chelsea Shriver, and Helen Brown.

Take this opportunity to view rare materials that chronicle both medical milestones and Shakespeare’s enduring relevance throughout the ages.

Photos of letter, postcard and photos

From upper left corner: photo of Yosh Nakamura (July 1942); postcard from Setsuko Fuji to Joan Gillis (May 17, 1943); letter from Yosh Nakamura to Joan Gillis (July 25 1942); photo of young woman, Setsuko Fuji; and photo of Yosh Nakamura, Jackie Takahashi and friend on a tractor.

UBC Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections has acquired an extraordinary collection of letters that provide unique insight into the devastating effects of the Japanese Canadian internment during World War II.

The collection of 147 letters, written to donor Joan Gillis in 1942 by a group of young Japanese Canadians she met while attending Queen Elizabeth Secondary School in Surrey, talk of daily life and the challenges faced by these young people after being ordered out of the “Security Zone” on the B.C. coast, and are filled with frequent references to acute homesickness and sadness at being removed from their homes. The writers range in age from 13 to 18. Some were very close friends with Gillis, while others were casual acquaintances.

Laura Ishiguro, an historian of Canada and the British Empire at UBC, said the letters will be an important teaching tool at UBC, contributing to new and better interpretations in classroom discussions about the internment of Japanese Canadians.

“Existing narratives around the internment tend to focus on Japanese Canadian people in isolation from others, or on the ideas and actions of major government figures, with the Japanese Canadian community rendered largely faceless victims of tragedy,” said Ishiguro. “With these letters, my students and I could explore a different war-time history from the perspective of young people.”

Henry Yu, a professor in the UBC history department, said the letters provide a window into the lives of school children going through a traumatic time in B.C.’s history.

“One of the most effective ways for people to understand the devastating effects of the forcible removal of over approximately 23,000 Japanese Canadians in 1942 and their subsequent exile through the sale of their property and possessions is not in the abstract numbers that measure their monetary loss or the numbers of people dispossessed and exiled, but in the rare and raw moments when we can see the effects through the eyes of those who suffered them,” said Yu. “Letters such as those sent to Ms. Gillis from school friends are so powerful precisely because of the authentic reality that they express of school children’s experience of the trauma, shared with a trusted friend.”

Letter from Masao Ujiye to Joan Gillis, 9 October 1943.

UBC Library is pleased to be able to add this unique acquisition to its robust Japanese Canadian Research collection that includes materials on business and commerce, mining, farming, fishing, forestry, religious activities, education, community, reminiscences and biographies in addition to materials on the Japanese Canadian evacuation.

“These letters provide a unique and important perspective on the Japanese-Canadian internment from the voices of youth,” said Krisztina Laszlo, archivist at Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC Library. “We’re thrilled that the letters are coming to RBSC and that UBC faculty, students and the community will be able to use them for research and teaching.  It’s a wonderful resource and we’re proud to act as their caretaker.”

The letters, which make up approximately 300-350 pages, can be viewed in person by visiting Rare Book and Special Collections or by booking a tour.

 

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