Topic: Joseph Burstein (1901-1987)

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Doctor Joe was a much loved Katikati identity for over 40 years. His early years were scarred by his experiences in the concentration camps of NAZI Germany after the German takeover of Austria in 1938. Much of this article was compiled by Val Baker and appeared in the Katikati Advertiser on 24 October 2013.

Joseph Burstein was born in Vienna, Austria, on 30 October 1901. He trained and worked as a doctor in Austria where he specialised in heart diseases.

In 1938 he was imprisoned and for ten months and suffered the brutal treatment meted out to so many of his fellow Jews at the Dachau concentration camp. The well kept hands which had healed and brought magic to the piano became torn and unkempt as he was forced to labour in a quarry. 

Dr  Joe Burstein (1901-1987)

Dr Joe Burstein, M.B. Ch.B. M.D. Vienna O.St.J OBE.

A friend in New Zealand was determined to see him freed and used every ploy that he could. He was successful and Dr Joe was released and granted an entry permit into New Zealand, arriving in 1939.  His philosophy was clear; he would serve his adopted land to the best of his ability and no work would be too menial. He worked as a Porter in a Christchurch Hotel, carrying bags, shining shoes and attending to all his allotted tasks. Motivating him was the knowledge that he was “out of hell into paradise”. Later, he attended Otago University and gained a New Zealand Medical qualification.

Whilst in Dunedin Dr Joe married another war refugee, Hildegard. Three years later he qualified for a second time as a doctor and then placed himself at the services of the Ministry of Health, still feeling that he owed a moral obligation to New Zealand.

Dr Joe along with Hildegard and son Ulric arrived in Katikati on 15 August 1942 when the maternity hospital opened. Later Donald and Timothy and daughter Winifred were born. All the children were educated at the Katikati District High School.

The children of Joseph and Hildegard Burstein:

  1. Ulric Donald Burstein (1942-1989). Educated at the University of Auckland where he studied piano. Continued his studies in London. Conducted the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Founding director of the Newcastle University Choir and former director of the Hunter Orchestra. He died in Newcastle, Australia, on 28 December 1989.
  2. Donald Burstein.
  3. Timothy Burstein.
  4. Winifred Burstein.

As Katikati's sole doctor he travelled long distances to patients, sometimes on horseback. In the early days Tauranga only had two Doctors. The people of Matakana Island had difficulty in getting medical attention and the island was placed under Dr Joe’s care. Once a month he would drive his 1936 Plymouth, a former taxi with enormous mileage, to a farm at Aongatete.  An old horse would be waiting and at low tide the doctor would cross the channel at Matahui and ride across the four-mile stretch of sand. 

He was a member of the Masonic Lodge Master in 1966, plus an honorary surgeon of the Katikati A & P Society. 

A skilled and talented Musician, he was a foundation member and moving spirit of the Katikati Musical and Dramatic Society which flourished in the 1950’s. Although he naturally preferred classical music he provided the background music for many concerts. There was an outlet for the more serious music when he helped found an orchestra as well as a choir.  A fine pianist, he was conductor of the Katikati Choral Group from 1947.

In 1972 he was made a Serving Brother by the St John Ambulance, which was approved by the Queen. The investiture was in Wellington that year and Dr Joe was visiting his sons in London; Ulric and Timothy at Richmond. Ulric had become famous as the conductor of the New Symphonic of London Orchestra.

The Geriatric Hospital in Katikati was named after Dr Joe in 1972  to recognise his work in the community in which he was greatly loved.

In 1974 Dr Joe who delivered two children of Prime Minister Norman Kirk. At the time (late 1940s) Kirk was the engineer at the Dairy Company. Dr Joe received the Order of the British Empire. Delivering these babies was not the reason he received this award, it was for the 32 years of service to the Katikati community. 

Until 1979 he was the sole doctor of Katikati and was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He lived behind the surgery in Park Road.

Katkati Cemetery restoration project leader and captain of the legion of Frontiersmen, J Troop Val Baker explains how Dr Joe meant so much to so many people in Katikati; 'Dr Joe was a real character. When you had a sore he would bathe it. When it started to heal and the scab came he told me, do not rip it off in Baker fashion.'

Dr Joe was Katikati's local family doctor for more than 40 years. He practiced medicine until he was over 80 and died at the age of 85 on 31 January 1987.

A white wooden cross marked his gravesite until recently when a headstone was fitted which has musical notes on it. His headstone reads; 'Motionless stands the past' and also 'A rich cultural legacy. Long dedication to the community health. Abiding treasure of his family and the people of Katikati'. 'Our echoes grow forever……'

by Val Baker (2013).

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Joseph Burstein (1901-1987)


Year:1942
First Names:Joe
Last Name:Burstein
Date of Birth:30 October 1901
Place of Birth:Vienna
Country of birth:Austria
Date of death:31 January 1987
Place of death:Katikati, New Zealand
Place of burial:Katikati Cemetery
Occupation:doctor
Date of Arrival:15 August 1942
Place of settlement in Bay of Plenty:Katikati, New Zealand
Spouses name:Hildegard
Spouses date of birth:25 May 1909
Spouses date of death:1996
Name of the children:Ulric Donald Burstein, Donald Burstein, Timothy Burstein, and Winifred Burstein

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