About Andre (Tuvia) Winkler
February 25, 2009
Andre Winkler, 1923-2009
ON THE first sabbath after World War II, Andre Winkler went to synagogue in his home town in Hungary but was shocked to find no one said anything about what had happened.
No one said the mourners' "kaddish" (ritual prayers) and nothing was done to acknowledge the loss of so many people. He felt the survivors did not want to deal with the Holocaust because they had no answers. After this he thought there was little left for him in Hungary. He moved to Australia and was a cantor (leader of prayer singing in a synagogue) in Melbourne and Sydney. Music was perhaps the most important expression of his love for Judaism and Jewish life, and he spent many years creating and leading synagogue choirs and preparing music for them.
Andre Winkler was born Tuvia Winkler in Sarvar, Hungary, the youngest of nine children of Pinches Winkler, a cantor, and his wife Freida Fogel. Growing up, Tuvia was usually called Tubi, and later Andor, to sound more Hungarian.
The family was very poor but Pinches doubled as a shochet (ritual butcher) so there was always meat on the table and Freida was a wonderful cook. Winkler's memories of the time were often of her meals, especially her Friday night dinners, but he also remembered what a struggle it was to feed the family and for the rest of his life could not bear to see food wasted.
One thing Tubi inherited was his father's singing voice and when he was 10 he was sent to study and train in a religious school in Czechoslovakia. By the time he was in his teens he was conducting High Holy Day services around the provinces in Hungary.
He had always assumed he would become a cantor like his father but then the war started. Life was tough and in 1944 it got worse when he was put to work in a labour gang. As the Russians marched through Hungary, his gang was moved to the Austrian border but finally, in April 1945, Winkler was able to return to Sarvar. There he learned that his parents and three of his siblings were dead. The other siblings had survived by moving to Budapest with false papers.
He considered going to Palestine, Australia, Canada or America for his new life and while waiting for permission to leave Europe spent some time in Paris. There Andor became Andre to fit in. He was offered cantorial positions in Paris and in Brussels, but decided to move to Australia and landed in Melbourne. There Andre became, when needed, Andrew. At first he worked in a variety of jobs, including one at a radio parts factory. Gradually he found his way back to his religious work and became cantor at the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation.
Of course, a young, good looking, single cantor must be in want of a wife and there were certainly many possibilities. Then, in 1953, Winkler met Maisie Cohen when he was officiating at a wedding where she was a bridesmaid. Her exotic Singapore/Iraqi/Sephardi looks caught his eye, but he also noticed her because she chatted throughout the blessings. The next year, Andre and Maisie were married in Perth, where Maisie's mother lived.
In 1959, Winkler became cantor at a new synagogue on the North Shore, at Lindfield. He led the services, did the Torah readings, prepared bar mitzvah boys, taught and visited the sick. He established a boys' choir and a separate boys' and men's choir for the High Holy Days, and arranged music for them.
In the early 1970s, Maisie became ill and Winkler cared for her devotedly until her death in 1979, leaving him to raise their two young daughters. He knew sabbath and seder (Passover) songs that had been in his family for generations and loved to pass them on to his daughters and then his grandchildren.
In late 1978, Winkler moved to be cantor at the South Head and District Synagogue, where he stayed until he retired five years later. In retirement he did part-time work with the United Israel Appeal (until the end of 2008) and devoted more time to being a grandfather and golfer.
His daughter Janine and her family moved to Los Angeles in 1990 and Winkler's regular visits led to cantor work on the west coast and a semi-permanent position at Chabad of Beverly Hills.
One of the highlights of his later years was celebrating his 80th birthday with his family in Israel.
In 2006, the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York awarded Winkler an honorary doctorate of music for his contribution to the Jewish people and to the Cantors Assembly.
Andre Winkler is survived by his daughters Charmaine and Janine, sons-in-law Stanley and Peter and seven grandchildren.