Driftwood: the true story of an extraordinary woman

by | Apr 27, 2023


Driftwood The Musical is an inspirational story about renowned artists Karl and Slawa Duldig, the invention of the foldable umbrella and their miraculous escape from the Holocaust. 


When Slawa Horowitz-Duldig passed away in the mid 1970s she left behind a vast collection of beautiful furniture and artwork, with instructions that nothing was to be moved.


Slawa Horowitz-Duldig also left a collection of notebooks and journals, detailing her extraordinary life, including the family’s escape from the Holocaust. Slawa’s daughter, Eva de Jong-Duldig, used the journals to write her memoir ‘Driftwood – escape and survival through art’.


“When I read the book I was just transfixed. It was mesmerizing and I thought how can it be I don’t know so much about my own past?” reflected Tania de Jong AM.


Tania de Jong is the daughter of Eva de Jong-Duldig, and granddaughter of Slawa Horowitz-Duldig. Tania de Jong is also an acclaimed soprano and musician, and upon reading her family’s story she immediately knew this would make a beautiful musical. Anthony Barnhill was commissioned to compose the music and Jane Bodie was commissioned as playwright to adapt the book to stage.


“He’s composed the most extraordinary music! The music is just haunting and beautiful. He’s just a genius,” exclaimed Tania de Jong.


Driftwood The Musical had its world premiere season at Chapel Off Chapel last year. The sold out season saw standing ovations every single performance.


The musical has since been reworked, with more songs, more music, and a few changes to the scenes.


“We’ve gone back to the drawing board and reworked the piece further, because there’s interest from New York in the work, so we want to make it as good as we possibly can – and like all theatre works, you can always make it better,” explained Tania de Jong.


Tania de Jong said audience members have said watching this musical feels like they’re getting on a boat with the family and going on an amazing journey.


“They just get swept up in this incredible, epic journey across three generations and three continents: Europe Asia and Australia.”


Growing up, Tania De Jong knew the stories about her grandmother inventing the foldable umbrella in 1929. Her grandmother also designed incredible Viennese furniture, which remains, as instructed, in the Duldig Studio in Malvern.


“She was just an extraordinary woman, well ahead of her time,” Tania de Jong said of her grandmother.


“When Hitler did come into Vienna in 1938 her strategic foresight and her intuition was also extraordinary … I don’t want to give away the plot line, but she did manage to work out a way for my grandfather and my mother, who was only a month or two old at the time, to escape from Vienna, from the Nazis.”


Driftwood The Musical  tells the story of Karl Duldig and Slawa Horowitz-Duldig in pre-war Vienna, the family’s narrow escape from Nazi Austria, Slawa’s ingenious invention of the foldable umbrella, and the incredible chain of events that took place after escaping the Holocaust and rebuilding their careers as artists in Melbourne.



Tania de Jong AM


At age 12, Tania de Jong learnt that most of her relatives had been killed in the Holocaust.


“The irony is that my Dad could have written his own book. He and his brother were hidden as little boys by Catholic families in the Netherlands, who risked their lives to save these little boys lives. My Mum and Dad met in 1961 in Vienna – they met on a Monday at the Maccabiah Games which is the Jewish equivalent of the Olympic Games. My dad was playing hockey for Poland and my mum was playing tennis for Australia and they met and they were engaged by the Friday! They were married 58 years. Sadly, my father passed away before Driftwood opened. He only spoke about that period of his life in the last couple of years of his life.”


The accuracy of these real-life accounts from the Holocaust is very important for educating future generations about what really took place. The world premiere season of Driftwood The Musical saw many secondary school students attend as part of their history studies of the Holocaust.


Her family’s story is just as relevant now – and not simply as a history lesson.


“We must never forget that what happened to the Jewish people can happen to anyone and we all need to look at these periods in history. We need to learn about them and we need to ensure that we never, ever make those same mistakes again.”


As Tania de Jong explains, Driftwood The Musical is an inspiring and uplifting story that shows the power of human beings to survive and overcome the most huge adversities, and their resilience in the face of life threatening circumstances. It’s about the power of good over evil, the importance of family and community, the importance of ingenuity, innovation and creativity.


“It also gives people a lens into that period of history, when so many people went through this extraordinary challenge. So many people who reached out and did their best, risked their own loves to save so many Jewish people.and their families.”


One of the songs in the musical suggests we all carry both light and dark within us. With the world teetering on the brink of further worldwide conflict, this story is just as relevant as ever.


“What we have to do at this point in history is we have to see the light overcome the dark. Humanity is going through an enormous amount of challenges now; I would say that human civilization is severely under threat at the moment and we need to look back at periods in history and make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes. I think that’s probably the most important message of all.”


“As Australians we need to be careful. At the end of the day I don’t think any of us want there to be wars. We need to celebrate diversity. And this piece really emphasizes that.”


Driftwood The Musical opens at Chapel Off Chapel On May 3rd for a limited season before heading to Sydney.



Cast: Tania de Jong AM as Slawa, Anton Berezin as Karl, Bridget Costello as Eva, Michaela Burger as Rella and Nelson Gardner as Ignaz.

This epic story traverses three continents and three generations and is based on an original stage play by award-winning playwright Jane Bodie developed from the original memoir Driftwood – Escape and Survival Through Art by Eva de Jong-Duldig. The show features music and lyrics by Anthony Barnhill with additional lyrics by Jane Bodie and Tania de Jong AM. A stellar cast is directed by Gary Abrahams.


UMBRELLA FOUNDATION presents Driftwood The Musical

VENUE:      Chapel Off Chapel, 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran
SEASON:   Wednesday 3 – Saturday 20 May
BOOKINGS: https://chapeloffchapel.com.au/show/driftwood-the-musical-2/

VENUE:      Glen Street Theatre, Cnr Glen St & Blackbutts Rd, Belrose
SEASON:    Wednesday 24-Sunday 28 May
BOOKINGS: https://glenstreet.com.au/whats-on/driftwood-musical

VENUE:      Riverside Theatres, Cnr Church & Market Sts, Parramatta
SEASON:   Wednesday 31 May – Sunday 4 June
BOOKINGS: https://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/driftwood-the-musical/

VENUE:      Eternity Playhouse, 39 Burton Street, Darlinghurst
SEASON:   Wednesday 7 June – Sunday 18 June
BOOKINGS: darlinghursttheatre.com/driftwood


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