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Closer: Portraits of Survival

The survivor and the object: both are witnesses to history and retainers of memory, traumatic pasts captured beyond the lines of a textbook. Through the eyes of survivors, we can begin to understand the enduring and profoundly human impact of the Holocaust.

In these photographs, history and memory fuse seamlessly together. A blanket of human hair recalls the horror of Nazi crimes and also speaks to the resilience of the individual it covered at the moment of liberation. A satirical newsletter written in secret recalls the terror of ghettoization, while simultaneously revealing the wit and determination of the young woman who wrote it.

As the events of the Holocaust recede ever further into the past, the human stories that the survivors and their objects convey will emblazon their searing memories into the hearts and minds of generations to come. The stories of these individuals, in tandem with the often humble, yet deeply significant objects they hold, bring the past to bear in the present, compelling us to grapple with its meaning now and into the future.

 

Closer: Portraits of Survival was funded by the JCA Szlamek and Ester Lipman Memorial Endowment Fund.

Photography by Katherine Griffiths

Curated by Roslyn Sugarman and Natalia Thomas

Closer: Portraits of Survival

The survivor and the object: both are witnesses to history and retainers of memory, traumatic pasts captured beyond the lines of a textbook. Through the eyes of survivors, we can begin to understand the enduring and profoundly human impact of the Holocaust.

In these photographs, history and memory fuse seamlessly together. A blanket of human hair recalls the horror of Nazi crimes and also speaks to the resilience of the individual it covered at the moment of liberation. A satirical newsletter written in secret recalls the terror of ghettoization, while simultaneously revealing the wit and determination of the young woman who wrote it.

As the events of the Holocaust recede ever further into the past, the human stories that the survivors and their objects convey will emblazon their searing memories into the hearts and minds of generations to come. The stories of these individuals, in tandem with the often humble, yet deeply significant objects they hold, bring the past to bear in the present, compelling us to grapple with its meaning now and into the future.

 

Closer: Portraits of Survival was funded by the JCA Szlamek and Ester Lipman Memorial Endowment Fund.

Photography by Katherine Griffiths

Curated by Roslyn Sugarman and Natalia Thomas

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Oscar David Benedikt

I survived two ghettos, three concentration camps, and a 10-day death march at the end. These are my credentials.

I was a spoiled only child. I mention this because of the tragic contrast with what lay ahead.

In 1939, Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis. Jewish students were thrown out of schools and universities; trainloads of Jews were later deported to Theresienstadt. In 1942, 1,000 Jews were sent by train to Riga, Latvia, without food or water for five days; 80 young males were selected, and the rest of the Jews killed by engine fumes from exhaust pipes fed into the vans. This was how my parents, both aged 49, perished.

In Riga, ghetto food rations were miserable but community life was organized. Young people could be educated. I took courses in Jewish and Zionist history. I was sent to the harbour, offloading 12 hours a day, carrying 80kg bags of grain on my shoulders. In 1944, with the Russian advance coming closer, the ghetto was liquidated. We were taken to Kaiserwald and then Stutthof concentration camp. We could hear the Russian artillery.

In February 1945, I went with the non-Jewish Poles on a death march, with only a loaf of bread to eat. Stragglers were shot in the ditches. I lost consciousness. Two days later I woke to see our liberation. People roamed the countryside collecting survivors and treating them for whatever ailed them. One third of those liberated didn’t make it.

In 1946, my wife and I arrived in Australia thanks to Mr Arthur Calwell, the Immigration Minister who let many survivors into the country. I have never been back to Europe… it is the graveyard of my people.

I speak because when we are all gone, the deniers will still be around.”

David had no objects, but he shared an insight into the inevitable process of ageing: “There are so many horrible Holocaust memories I try not to remember, and so many good things I now can’t recall.”

David passed away in May 2019.

 

Oscar David Benedikt

I survived two ghettos, three concentration camps, and a 10-day death march at the end. These are my credentials.

I was a spoiled only child. I mention this because of the tragic contrast with what lay ahead.

In 1939, Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Nazis. Jewish students were thrown out of schools and universities; trainloads of Jews were later deported to Theresienstadt. In 1942, 1,000 Jews were sent by train to Riga, Latvia, without food or water for five days; 80 young males were selected, and the rest of the Jews killed by engine fumes from exhaust pipes fed into the vans. This was how my parents, both aged 49, perished.

In Riga, ghetto food rations were miserable but community life was organized. Young people could be educated. I took courses in Jewish and Zionist history. I was sent to the harbour, offloading 12 hours a day, carrying 80kg bags of grain on my shoulders. In 1944, with the Russian advance coming closer, the ghetto was liquidated. We were taken to Kaiserwald and then Stutthof concentration camp. We could hear the Russian artillery.

In February 1945, I went with the non-Jewish Poles on a death march, with only a loaf of bread to eat. Stragglers were shot in the ditches. I lost consciousness. Two days later I woke to see our liberation. People roamed the countryside collecting survivors and treating them for whatever ailed them. One third of those liberated didn’t make it.

In 1946, my wife and I arrived in Australia thanks to Mr Arthur Calwell, the Immigration Minister who let many survivors into the country. I have never been back to Europe… it is the graveyard of my people.

I speak because when we are all gone, the deniers will still be around.”

David had no objects, but he shared an insight into the inevitable process of ageing: “There are so many horrible Holocaust memories I try not to remember, and so many good things I now can’t recall.”

David passed away in May 2019.

 

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Dasia Black-Gutman

A shifting identity and the search for self is at the heart of Dasia’s story. Left by her parents with a Polish Catholic woman for safety at the age of four, Stasia – as she was known at the time – hid her distress, ate unfamiliar food, prayed to a God she did not know, and, over time, grew further removed from her true self.

“I was nobody’s child.”

With both parents murdered in the Holocaust, fear of abandonment pervaded her post-war life. Adopted by her aunt and uncle at the end of the war, Dasia worked to prove her worthiness through academic pursuits and by being a dutiful daughter. In her early years, Zionism reconnected her to her Jewish identity, but grappling with her feelings of displacement and her ceaseless pursuit of self-reliance would be a longer journey.

Dasia’s Australian life began in 1951. Her first marriage produced two sons and five grandchildren. She forged a career as an academic and lecturer in child development, all the while exploring the source of her limitations and anxieties:

“In my research, I delved into the area of prejudice and racism, and came to understand that what was holding me back was within me: a type of internalized oppression.”

Despite her hardships, Dasia takes pleasure in the time spent with her family and those whom she has accepted as such. Ever mindful of her history, she channels her experiences into her work with traumatised children and into a deep, cathartic self-reflection. Integral to this is the memory of her parents, Chana and Szulem, and the significance of their sacrifice.

Extract from her father’s letter to his American family

30 November 1942
“I am compelled to hide my precious infant branch, my little daughter, may she live, until the storm passes. It is difficult for me to describe the sorrow and the pain that gnaw at my heart when I see that my bright little daughter cannot understand why she is being taken away from the arms of her parents.”

Dasia holds a photo of her parents close to her heart. She was four years old and living as an Aryan child at the time they were taken from Zbaraz ghetto and murdered. To this day, she is unaware of how or when they were murdered.

 

Dasia Black-Gutman

A shifting identity and the search for self is at the heart of Dasia’s story. Left by her parents with a Polish Catholic woman for safety at the age of four, Stasia – as she was known at the time – hid her distress, ate unfamiliar food, prayed to a God she did not know, and, over time, grew further removed from her true self.

“I was nobody’s child.”

With both parents murdered in the Holocaust, fear of abandonment pervaded her post-war life. Adopted by her aunt and uncle at the end of the war, Dasia worked to prove her worthiness through academic pursuits and by being a dutiful daughter. In her early years, Zionism reconnected her to her Jewish identity, but grappling with her feelings of displacement and her ceaseless pursuit of self-reliance would be a longer journey.

Dasia’s Australian life began in 1951. Her first marriage produced two sons and five grandchildren. She forged a career as an academic and lecturer in child development, all the while exploring the source of her limitations and anxieties:

“In my research, I delved into the area of prejudice and racism, and came to understand that what was holding me back was within me: a type of internalized oppression.”

Despite her hardships, Dasia takes pleasure in the time spent with her family and those whom she has accepted as such. Ever mindful of her history, she channels her experiences into her work with traumatised children and into a deep, cathartic self-reflection. Integral to this is the memory of her parents, Chana and Szulem, and the significance of their sacrifice.

Extract from her father’s letter to his American family

30 November 1942
“I am compelled to hide my precious infant branch, my little daughter, may she live, until the storm passes. It is difficult for me to describe the sorrow and the pain that gnaw at my heart when I see that my bright little daughter cannot understand why she is being taken away from the arms of her parents.”

Dasia holds a photo of her parents close to her heart. She was four years old and living as an Aryan child at the time they were taken from Zbaraz ghetto and murdered. To this day, she is unaware of how or when they were murdered.

 

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Ilse Charny

Ilse Charny was born in Vienna to a comfortable middle-class family. Her father, Salm Zilbersain, was a prominent dentist and after the Anschluss, his practice was confiscated for use by a Nazi dentist. With no visa to a safe haven, “The only place to go was Shanghai, where all you needed was a passport, a taxation clearance, and enough money to buy tickets for a ship.

I was 10 when we arrived in Shanghai. A vivid memory I have is of a cattle truck which met all these Europeans. The ladies climbed on the back of the truck dressed in their fur coats, hats and gloves – a sight I cannot forget. In all their glory, they were taken in by the local Jewish community and placed in a refugee camp with primitive facilities. We were able to find a place to live in a poor Chinese area after a short time.

Eventually, after the Japanese invaded, the Jewish ghetto was set up and we were crammed into it. My family luckily already lived in that area. My father had the foresight to bring his dental equipment with him, enabling him to continue his work throughout the war years. In addition to his immigrant patients he was forced to treat Japanese soldiers. Space was at a premium and my bedroom at night was my father’s dental surgery by day. Each evening the roll-out bed came out!”

For Ilse, as a child, “Life went on.” Shanghai proved to be a culturally diverse safe haven. The Khadoori family were so generous in their philanthropic protection and, despite the deprivations of the ghetto, the family was saved from the terrible fate of so many of her fellow Austrian Jews.

“Our Chinese neighbours seemed unperturbed by our arrival and we never suffered any racism from them. Life was less pleasant once the Japanese arrived. Eventually I found my way to Australia, and it was indeed the lucky country where my husband Abe and I had a blessed life for 64 years.”

Ilse holds documents issued to her family by the Committee for the Assistance of European Jewish Refugees in Shanghai, April 1940.

 

Ilse Charny

Ilse Charny was born in Vienna to a comfortable middle-class family. Her father, Salm Zilbersain, was a prominent dentist and after the Anschluss, his practice was confiscated for use by a Nazi dentist. With no visa to a safe haven, “The only place to go was Shanghai, where all you needed was a passport, a taxation clearance, and enough money to buy tickets for a ship.

I was 10 when we arrived in Shanghai. A vivid memory I have is of a cattle truck which met all these Europeans. The ladies climbed on the back of the truck dressed in their fur coats, hats and gloves – a sight I cannot forget. In all their glory, they were taken in by the local Jewish community and placed in a refugee camp with primitive facilities. We were able to find a place to live in a poor Chinese area after a short time.

Eventually, after the Japanese invaded, the Jewish ghetto was set up and we were crammed into it. My family luckily already lived in that area. My father had the foresight to bring his dental equipment with him, enabling him to continue his work throughout the war years. In addition to his immigrant patients he was forced to treat Japanese soldiers. Space was at a premium and my bedroom at night was my father’s dental surgery by day. Each evening the roll-out bed came out!”

For Ilse, as a child, “Life went on.” Shanghai proved to be a culturally diverse safe haven. The Khadoori family were so generous in their philanthropic protection and, despite the deprivations of the ghetto, the family was saved from the terrible fate of so many of her fellow Austrian Jews.

“Our Chinese neighbours seemed unperturbed by our arrival and we never suffered any racism from them. Life was less pleasant once the Japanese arrived. Eventually I found my way to Australia, and it was indeed the lucky country where my husband Abe and I had a blessed life for 64 years.”

Ilse holds documents issued to her family by the Committee for the Assistance of European Jewish Refugees in Shanghai, April 1940.

 

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Jacqueline Dale

Jacqueline Dale's wooden passenger ship

“I felt that my story wasn’t important so I didn’t continue to talk. Some close friends said, ‘You never told me’; I told them, ‘You never asked.’

In 1985, Sarah Moskovitz started the Child Survivor group. She spoke in Sydney and I realized I was a child survivor. Being in the group has reinforced the feeling of being; it is a group worth taking notice of. Some friends could never understand why we needed our own group. Just like French people of the same age get together and sing songs from their childhood, child survivors want to be able to remember their stories when they were children during the Holocaust.

Living in Paris, my father thought that having fought for France they wouldn’t take him, but he was deported to a camp in 1941 nonetheless, then to Auschwitz in 1942. My life as a child survivor started. I was 11 years old and my brother was five. One day we had to leave – they were coming for us. We went to a Catholic orphanage on the Spanish border. We didn’t tell anyone we were Jewish; only the Principal knew. My brother and I went to church and behaved like Catholics. I stayed in the orphanage until the end of the war in 1945.

When I hear people say they had such a wonderful youth, I think, ‘How lucky.’ I always associate my youth with the war.

1995 was the year of my Spielberg interview for the Shoah Foundation, when I first publicly described my life. I hadn’t really spoken about it until this time. Now I volunteer at the Sydney Jewish Museum. I feel useful, and I treat it as a memorial to my father, my grandparents, and aunts and uncles who were murdered.”

Jacqueline holds one of two wooden passenger ships carved by her father Icek, while he was being held in the Pithiviers internment camp in France, 1941/42. Jacqueline’s boat was lost to her, but her brother Charles’s was retained.

 

Jacqueline Dale

Jacqueline Dale's wooden passenger ship

“I felt that my story wasn’t important so I didn’t continue to talk. Some close friends said, ‘You never told me’; I told them, ‘You never asked.’

In 1985, Sarah Moskovitz started the Child Survivor group. She spoke in Sydney and I realized I was a child survivor. Being in the group has reinforced the feeling of being; it is a group worth taking notice of. Some friends could never understand why we needed our own group. Just like French people of the same age get together and sing songs from their childhood, child survivors want to be able to remember their stories when they were children during the Holocaust.

Living in Paris, my father thought that having fought for France they wouldn’t take him, but he was deported to a camp in 1941 nonetheless, then to Auschwitz in 1942. My life as a child survivor started. I was 11 years old and my brother was five. One day we had to leave – they were coming for us. We went to a Catholic orphanage on the Spanish border. We didn’t tell anyone we were Jewish; only the Principal knew. My brother and I went to church and behaved like Catholics. I stayed in the orphanage until the end of the war in 1945.

When I hear people say they had such a wonderful youth, I think, ‘How lucky.’ I always associate my youth with the war.

1995 was the year of my Spielberg interview for the Shoah Foundation, when I first publicly described my life. I hadn’t really spoken about it until this time. Now I volunteer at the Sydney Jewish Museum. I feel useful, and I treat it as a memorial to my father, my grandparents, and aunts and uncles who were murdered.”

Jacqueline holds one of two wooden passenger ships carved by her father Icek, while he was being held in the Pithiviers internment camp in France, 1941/42. Jacqueline’s boat was lost to her, but her brother Charles’s was retained.

 

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Ana de Leon

Ana de Leon

In 1941, the Hungarian Army occupied my town, Subotica. In 1944 I was eight years old, and Camilla was my best friend. We played together often. One day when I knocked on her door I was told, ‘Camilla is not allowed to play with a Jewish girl and she won’t come to you again.’ At school the nuns told my mum that I couldn’t attend anymore.

In June 1944, after three months in the ghetto, we were pushed into cattle cars with nothing but one bucket for physiological needs in one corner and one bucket with drinking water in another. We ended up in a transit camp. As we walked, I remember the people along the road, spitting at us and yelling, ‘Smelly Jew, you deserve it.’

In December 1944 we were sent to Bergen-Belsen. In six months we had two warm showers and very little rations. People dropped like flies. Attempts were made to evacuate some prisoners from the camp before Allied troops arrived. On 6 April 1945, our train left Bergen-Belsen. The commandant was told not to let us be liberated by the Allies but to destroy us. We travelled for seven days. One morning we found the door unlocked. The guards had fled. The commandant thought the Allies would spare his life if he saved the 2,500 Jews on the train instead of drowning us in the Elbe River. The Americans forced the villagers of Farsleben to give us food and shelter. I was nine years old and weighed only 14 kilos.

After the Shoah Foundation interview, I got the video and put it in my wardrobe without watching it. One day I saw my son crying and asked him why. He said, ‘I saw your story.’”

 

Ana de Leon

Ana de Leon

In 1941, the Hungarian Army occupied my town, Subotica. In 1944 I was eight years old, and Camilla was my best friend. We played together often. One day when I knocked on her door I was told, ‘Camilla is not allowed to play with a Jewish girl and she won’t come to you again.’ At school the nuns told my mum that I couldn’t attend anymore.

In June 1944, after three months in the ghetto, we were pushed into cattle cars with nothing but one bucket for physiological needs in one corner and one bucket with drinking water in another. We ended up in a transit camp. As we walked, I remember the people along the road, spitting at us and yelling, ‘Smelly Jew, you deserve it.’

In December 1944 we were sent to Bergen-Belsen. In six months we had two warm showers and very little rations. People dropped like flies. Attempts were made to evacuate some prisoners from the camp before Allied troops arrived. On 6 April 1945, our train left Bergen-Belsen. The commandant was told not to let us be liberated by the Allies but to destroy us. We travelled for seven days. One morning we found the door unlocked. The guards had fled. The commandant thought the Allies would spare his life if he saved the 2,500 Jews on the train instead of drowning us in the Elbe River. The Americans forced the villagers of Farsleben to give us food and shelter. I was nine years old and weighed only 14 kilos.

After the Shoah Foundation interview, I got the video and put it in my wardrobe without watching it. One day I saw my son crying and asked him why. He said, ‘I saw your story.’”

 

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Gaby de Leon

“To explain to her class what bullying is all about, a teacher started with an exercise: Each student got a piece of paper and was told to crush it. Then she asked them to smooth it and say sorry. She asked the class, ‘What do you see?’ One student said, ‘Nothing, only some creases and some scars.’ ‘That’s it,’ she replied, ‘that’s what remains visible – sometimes very faintly – but indelible marks.’

Those indelible marks are what remain in my soul.”

In April 1941, Yugoslavia was invaded by four Axis armies. They each established their own occupation zone with separate administration. Gaby de Leon and his family were caught in the German zone. Conditions were extremely hostile. Hearing the situation was more favourable for Jews in the Italian-occupied zone, Gaby’s father, a highly respected businessman and president of a Jewish humanitarian organization, attempted to secure safe passage for the family. He was rounded up on the streets of Belgrade and was later shot. After near fatal encounters with Croatian police, Gaby’s mother organized false papers and they escaped to the Italian zone. Following interrogation, they were sent to Italy by boat. Reunited with his two brothers, the four remained in Italy as internees until the Armistice in 1943.

No longer classified as interned prisoners, and provided with identity documents, Gaby’s family decided to travel as far south as possible. As their train arrived in Rome, so did a German convoy of tanks. With Allied troops at the city walls, the front stabilized and the family were trapped for 10 months. In order to avoid the exposure of the refugee community, Gaby clandestinely delivered food to addresses across the city. The Allies entered Rome in June 1944. Gaby’s brothers joined the Yugoslav Army, whilst he and his mother remained in Italy until the war ended.

After the war, Gaby and his mother returned to Belgrade – to a city destroyed and a Jewish population decimated. The country embraced the task of its own reconstruction and development, and it was in this atmosphere that Gaby finished his schooling and met his wife, Ana.

Gaby holds a scrunched piece of paper, a visual tool he uses to demonstrate the indelible scars left by history.

 

Gaby de Leon

“To explain to her class what bullying is all about, a teacher started with an exercise: Each student got a piece of paper and was told to crush it. Then she asked them to smooth it and say sorry. She asked the class, ‘What do you see?’ One student said, ‘Nothing, only some creases and some scars.’ ‘That’s it,’ she replied, ‘that’s what remains visible – sometimes very faintly – but indelible marks.’

Those indelible marks are what remain in my soul.”

In April 1941, Yugoslavia was invaded by four Axis armies. They each established their own occupation zone with separate administration. Gaby de Leon and his family were caught in the German zone. Conditions were extremely hostile. Hearing the situation was more favourable for Jews in the Italian-occupied zone, Gaby’s father, a highly respected businessman and president of a Jewish humanitarian organization, attempted to secure safe passage for the family. He was rounded up on the streets of Belgrade and was later shot. After near fatal encounters with Croatian police, Gaby’s mother organized false papers and they escaped to the Italian zone. Following interrogation, they were sent to Italy by boat. Reunited with his two brothers, the four remained in Italy as internees until the Armistice in 1943.

No longer classified as interned prisoners, and provided with identity documents, Gaby’s family decided to travel as far south as possible. As their train arrived in Rome, so did a German convoy of tanks. With Allied troops at the city walls, the front stabilized and the family were trapped for 10 months. In order to avoid the exposure of the refugee community, Gaby clandestinely delivered food to addresses across the city. The Allies entered Rome in June 1944. Gaby’s brothers joined the Yugoslav Army, whilst he and his mother remained in Italy until the war ended.

After the war, Gaby and his mother returned to Belgrade – to a city destroyed and a Jewish population decimated. The country embraced the task of its own reconstruction and development, and it was in this atmosphere that Gaby finished his schooling and met his wife, Ana.

Gaby holds a scrunched piece of paper, a visual tool he uses to demonstrate the indelible scars left by history.

 

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Paul Drexler

Paul Drexler's blanket

“When I was three years old, my father bought me two small blankets for my bed. They were cashmere, very soft, and had an interesting frieze going from side to side that featured a man leading a camel in the desert. In September 1944, during the final round-up of Slovak Jews, our family was ordered by the Nazis to report to the authorities for resettlement. Even as a young boy, I could feel the tension, and that my parents were really afraid.

In order to borrow time, we went into hiding in a farmhouse outside the village, paying a large sum of money for the privilege. We were there for two and a half months until our names were read on the local radio. It was said that anyone harbouring us would be executed. We were forced to go back home. Twenty-four hours later, the Gestapo came and arrested us. My mother hastily tied my blankets to the suitcase that she was allowed to take with her. We were taken to a transit camp in Slovakia called Sered. It was here in December 1944 that I saw my father for the last time.

Two weeks later, my mother and I were pushed into a cattle train crammed with other women and children. My blankets kept me warm whilst I sat cramped on the floor of the carriage for five days. Our transport, headed for Auschwitz, was diverted to Theresienstadt. We were issued with coarse thin blankets, but the feel of the soft wool of my own blankets and their familiar fragrance gave me a sense of security. When I missed my father and the home life we had in Spacince, I played a game of make-believe with the figures on the frieze of the blankets.

We were liberated on 8 May 1945. My mother and I immigrated to Australia in 1948, and we made a new life in Sydney.”

Paul cradles the cashmere blanket purchased for him by his father, Eugene. The blanket comforted him when he was deported and interned.

 

Paul Drexler

Paul Drexler's blanket

“When I was three years old, my father bought me two small blankets for my bed. They were cashmere, very soft, and had an interesting frieze going from side to side that featured a man leading a camel in the desert. In September 1944, during the final round-up of Slovak Jews, our family was ordered by the Nazis to report to the authorities for resettlement. Even as a young boy, I could feel the tension, and that my parents were really afraid.

In order to borrow time, we went into hiding in a farmhouse outside the village, paying a large sum of money for the privilege. We were there for two and a half months until our names were read on the local radio. It was said that anyone harbouring us would be executed. We were forced to go back home. Twenty-four hours later, the Gestapo came and arrested us. My mother hastily tied my blankets to the suitcase that she was allowed to take with her. We were taken to a transit camp in Slovakia called Sered. It was here in December 1944 that I saw my father for the last time.

Two weeks later, my mother and I were pushed into a cattle train crammed with other women and children. My blankets kept me warm whilst I sat cramped on the floor of the carriage for five days. Our transport, headed for Auschwitz, was diverted to Theresienstadt. We were issued with coarse thin blankets, but the feel of the soft wool of my own blankets and their familiar fragrance gave me a sense of security. When I missed my father and the home life we had in Spacince, I played a game of make-believe with the figures on the frieze of the blankets.

We were liberated on 8 May 1945. My mother and I immigrated to Australia in 1948, and we made a new life in Sydney.”

Paul cradles the cashmere blanket purchased for him by his father, Eugene. The blanket comforted him when he was deported and interned.

 

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Eva Engel

“My father, an emancipated Jew from Vienna, was involved in the Social Democrat Party, as were many of his family. We lived in a beautiful apartment. As a child, my bedroom was the family meeting room, with its radio a constant source of news, and a warm spot for our little dog, Rollie.

Rollie hated the sound of the hundreds of patriotic boot-clad Nazis marching in the streets after the Anschluss. The instruction throughout the Jewish community was to remain inconspicuous, but at one point we could not stop him barking at a group of Nazis. Terrified, we picked him up, ran for our lives, and never took him out in the day again.

When I was six years old, we left Vienna for Zurich, where people anxiously discussed the Evian Conference. Very few countries would accept Jews as refugees. We left for Australia just in time.

We only mixed with German-speaking Jews. We thought we were far from the Nazi horror but a New Zealand man who was a key organizer of the clandestine Nazi party in Auckland came into our lives because he was terrorizing his housekeeper. My feisty mother came to her rescue and went to report what was happening to the Lord Mayor of Auckland. Two days later, the offender committed suicide.

Being an only child, I was fearful of separation from my parents. In New Zealand life became more normal. I joined the Zionist Youth League, sang in the school choir, and looked after some displaced youths who arrived from Europe and came to the Zionist Youth holiday camp. I became aware of my strengths and abilities. My personal identity grew during this period, giving me the confidence to start my work in outreach, counselling, migrant integration, and interviewing, which formed the basis of the support groups I created.”

Eva holds a promotional brochure for the T.S.S. Strathaird, the P&O liner that carried her family to New Zealand. She remembers that her mother was seasick for four weeks during the voyage. Eva clung to her regardless.

 

Eva Engel

“My father, an emancipated Jew from Vienna, was involved in the Social Democrat Party, as were many of his family. We lived in a beautiful apartment. As a child, my bedroom was the family meeting room, with its radio a constant source of news, and a warm spot for our little dog, Rollie.

Rollie hated the sound of the hundreds of patriotic boot-clad Nazis marching in the streets after the Anschluss. The instruction throughout the Jewish community was to remain inconspicuous, but at one point we could not stop him barking at a group of Nazis. Terrified, we picked him up, ran for our lives, and never took him out in the day again.

When I was six years old, we left Vienna for Zurich, where people anxiously discussed the Evian Conference. Very few countries would accept Jews as refugees. We left for Australia just in time.

We only mixed with German-speaking Jews. We thought we were far from the Nazi horror but a New Zealand man who was a key organizer of the clandestine Nazi party in Auckland came into our lives because he was terrorizing his housekeeper. My feisty mother came to her rescue and went to report what was happening to the Lord Mayor of Auckland. Two days later, the offender committed suicide.

Being an only child, I was fearful of separation from my parents. In New Zealand life became more normal. I joined the Zionist Youth League, sang in the school choir, and looked after some displaced youths who arrived from Europe and came to the Zionist Youth holiday camp. I became aware of my strengths and abilities. My personal identity grew during this period, giving me the confidence to start my work in outreach, counselling, migrant integration, and interviewing, which formed the basis of the support groups I created.”

Eva holds a promotional brochure for the T.S.S. Strathaird, the P&O liner that carried her family to New Zealand. She remembers that her mother was seasick for four weeks during the voyage. Eva clung to her regardless.

 

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Yvonne Engelman

“I come from a beautiful place in Czechoslovakia where my family lived for many generations. I was an only child and only grandchild. When the war started, my schoolmates who had sat next to me a week before, did not acknowledge who I was. My father, taken to the police station, came back with his two front teeth knocked out. The Nazis came to our house, took whatever they wished, and we could not say a single word.

Taken to the ghetto, we lived in fear in crowded circumstances with little food and poor hygiene. Selections took place. We were marched into cattle wagons like sardines in a can and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. A doctor, Dr Mengele, directed my parents to the left and I never saw them again. I was later sent to be gassed, but the killing facilities didn’t work on that day – that’s why I am here today.

My job was to search all garments that the prisoners had been forced to discard, in case valuable items were sewn into them by their owners. Surrounded by barbed wire and dogs, I was starving, lice-infected and had scurvy. I could not believe this was happening to me. As the Allies came closer, we were sent on death marches. On 8 May 1945 we were liberated by the Russian Army. I travelled to Prague where a Jewish organization sponsored orphans to Australia.

We arrived in 1948. I was penniless, but happy to walk the street as a free person where no one abuses you. I learned English and met my husband who was also a survivor. Together we worked hard, bringing up our family without relatives, cousins or grandparents.”

Yvonne received a set of glass plates from Woolworths as a wedding gift. It is a point of pride that she never broke a plate.

 

Yvonne Engelman

“I come from a beautiful place in Czechoslovakia where my family lived for many generations. I was an only child and only grandchild. When the war started, my schoolmates who had sat next to me a week before, did not acknowledge who I was. My father, taken to the police station, came back with his two front teeth knocked out. The Nazis came to our house, took whatever they wished, and we could not say a single word.

Taken to the ghetto, we lived in fear in crowded circumstances with little food and poor hygiene. Selections took place. We were marched into cattle wagons like sardines in a can and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. A doctor, Dr Mengele, directed my parents to the left and I never saw them again. I was later sent to be gassed, but the killing facilities didn’t work on that day – that’s why I am here today.

My job was to search all garments that the prisoners had been forced to discard, in case valuable items were sewn into them by their owners. Surrounded by barbed wire and dogs, I was starving, lice-infected and had scurvy. I could not believe this was happening to me. As the Allies came closer, we were sent on death marches. On 8 May 1945 we were liberated by the Russian Army. I travelled to Prague where a Jewish organization sponsored orphans to Australia.

We arrived in 1948. I was penniless, but happy to walk the street as a free person where no one abuses you. I learned English and met my husband who was also a survivor. Together we worked hard, bringing up our family without relatives, cousins or grandparents.”

Yvonne received a set of glass plates from Woolworths as a wedding gift. It is a point of pride that she never broke a plate.

 

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Kuba Enoch

Kuba Enoch was 13 years old when he began sneaking out of the Jewish district and walking to Krakow markets to trade his family’s belongings and purchase food from nearby farms. Capitalising on his ‘Aryan’ looks and carrying a false identity document, he continued this risky undertaking following the round-up of Jewish families into Krakow ghetto. Throughout this period, his family remained together; despite the hunger and labour, they took solace in the fact that they were united.

When the ghetto was liquidated in 1943, Kuba’s younger brother, Ziggy, was taken from his mother; it destroyed her will to live. Kuba and his parents were transported to Plaszow concentration camp. Soon after, his mother was relocated to another labour camp and Kuba volunteered to go on the next transport, hoping they would be reunited. Sent first to Ostrowiec, he eventually arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He did not find his mother. To increase his odds of survival, he volunteered as a mechanic and was sent to Buna camp, where he stayed until it was evacuated.

Kuba was sent by the Red Cross to recover in Switzerland. In 1948 he arrived in Australia to begin his new life. Reflecting on the past has not dulled his optimism, or his humanity. With four children and eleven grandchildren, he asks only that life is well lived, in remembrance of those who were denied such a privilege:

“They tried to eradicate all the Jewish people in Europe…We stand here today as proud Jews. Hitler did not win. We will continue to flourish.”

Kuba’s last personal belonging of his pre-war life was a watch, gifted to him by his parents for his Bar Mitzvah. It was taken away from him on arrival in Auschwitz. In one fleeting moment, he was stripped of the tangible link to his family and his faith.

Kuba passed away in July 2021.

 

Kuba Enoch

Kuba Enoch was 13 years old when he began sneaking out of the Jewish district and walking to Krakow markets to trade his family’s belongings and purchase food from nearby farms. Capitalising on his ‘Aryan’ looks and carrying a false identity document, he continued this risky undertaking following the round-up of Jewish families into Krakow ghetto. Throughout this period, his family remained together; despite the hunger and labour, they took solace in the fact that they were united.

When the ghetto was liquidated in 1943, Kuba’s younger brother, Ziggy, was taken from his mother; it destroyed her will to live. Kuba and his parents were transported to Plaszow concentration camp. Soon after, his mother was relocated to another labour camp and Kuba volunteered to go on the next transport, hoping they would be reunited. Sent first to Ostrowiec, he eventually arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He did not find his mother. To increase his odds of survival, he volunteered as a mechanic and was sent to Buna camp, where he stayed until it was evacuated.

Kuba was sent by the Red Cross to recover in Switzerland. In 1948 he arrived in Australia to begin his new life. Reflecting on the past has not dulled his optimism, or his humanity. With four children and eleven grandchildren, he asks only that life is well lived, in remembrance of those who were denied such a privilege:

“They tried to eradicate all the Jewish people in Europe…We stand here today as proud Jews. Hitler did not win. We will continue to flourish.”

Kuba’s last personal belonging of his pre-war life was a watch, gifted to him by his parents for his Bar Mitzvah. It was taken away from him on arrival in Auschwitz. In one fleeting moment, he was stripped of the tangible link to his family and his faith.

Kuba passed away in July 2021.

 

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Vera Faludi

“In Sofia I attended an Italian pre-school, a Hungarian school, and then a German school with my brother Teddy. By the end of 1939, Jewish children were no longer allowed at German schools, and I moved to a French school run by nuns. Languages were important to my father. He thought they could open doors, give you advantages, and you never knew when they could come in handy. This was a partial reason for our family’s survival.

In 1942 a friend of my father at the Hungarian Embassy offered to move, via diplomatic courier, our most valuable belongings from Sofia to Budapest – Persian carpets, paintings, porcelain. Our belongings never arrived, most likely stolen by the diplomat.

Teddy and my father were sent for forced labour; my mother and I had to move into the ghetto. One day Arrow Cross soldiers came and took all of the women aged 16 to 60; my mother, grandmother, and I hid in the attic. It was so small that we had to lie down or be half-seated. We stayed for a week. We got papers to move into a protected house of the Swedish consulate.

One day, after the war, a dirty, skinny man approached me and I started to run away. I heard a voice, ‘Vera, don’t you recognize me?’ It was my brother!

Shortly after liberation, I met again an old friend, George Faludi. I was 16 years old. We were married in early 1946. We left Hungary in 1947 for Brussels, where we stayed for eight months waiting for visas. We went to Paris, and by 1948, with false visas for Paraguay, left for Uruguay. We had to be resourceful to get where we wanted to go.”

Vera and her husband George took few belongings when they escaped from communist Hungary. This dessert plate is one of six, which Vera took to remind her husband of the smells of his mother’s baking and the desserts they enjoyed.

 

Vera Faludi

“In Sofia I attended an Italian pre-school, a Hungarian school, and then a German school with my brother Teddy. By the end of 1939, Jewish children were no longer allowed at German schools, and I moved to a French school run by nuns. Languages were important to my father. He thought they could open doors, give you advantages, and you never knew when they could come in handy. This was a partial reason for our family’s survival.

In 1942 a friend of my father at the Hungarian Embassy offered to move, via diplomatic courier, our most valuable belongings from Sofia to Budapest – Persian carpets, paintings, porcelain. Our belongings never arrived, most likely stolen by the diplomat.

Teddy and my father were sent for forced labour; my mother and I had to move into the ghetto. One day Arrow Cross soldiers came and took all of the women aged 16 to 60; my mother, grandmother, and I hid in the attic. It was so small that we had to lie down or be half-seated. We stayed for a week. We got papers to move into a protected house of the Swedish consulate.

One day, after the war, a dirty, skinny man approached me and I started to run away. I heard a voice, ‘Vera, don’t you recognize me?’ It was my brother!

Shortly after liberation, I met again an old friend, George Faludi. I was 16 years old. We were married in early 1946. We left Hungary in 1947 for Brussels, where we stayed for eight months waiting for visas. We went to Paris, and by 1948, with false visas for Paraguay, left for Uruguay. We had to be resourceful to get where we wanted to go.”

Vera and her husband George took few belongings when they escaped from communist Hungary. This dessert plate is one of six, which Vera took to remind her husband of the smells of his mother’s baking and the desserts they enjoyed.

 

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Tom Fleming

Tom Fleming's toy soldier

With a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous grin on his face, you can still see the six-year-old boy that Tom once was. Tommi was independent, confident, and a little naughty. These characteristics became more pronounced once he was imprisoned in Theresienstadt. He took up a dare to pin a ‘tail’ on an SS officer, played tricks on other child inmates and often suffered profound consequences after such misdemeanours.

Tom remembers the oppressive rules, the changing cast of prisoners, the brutality of the camp guards, and most vividly, the time when he was forced into a burial pit and ordered to spread lime over corpses. Despite the daily terror, he knows the exact day of his most distressing moment in Theresienstadt: 16 February 1945. This day is seared into his memory because when he awoke on that day, his mother Lolli, who had been a source of comfort and protection, had vanished. He knew what disappearance meant, but he was too young to know that his mother was pregnant and had been taken to the hospital to deliver another son, Peter. Of the 350 children born in Theresienstadt, his brother would be one of 25 to survive.

Towards the end of May 1945, a few weeks after liberation, Tom returned to Bratislava with his mother and brother to wait for the return of his father. It would take months before news would reach them confirming that his father, along with many other family members, was murdered in Auschwitz.

Etched into Tom’s personality is a spirit of adventure and playfulness, despite the pain and sadness he bears from the past. He learned at a tender age about the precariousness of life, and he intends to make the most of it.

Tom holds a silver serving platter containing the family crest, salvaged from the family castle in Slovakia.

 

Tom Fleming

Tom Fleming's toy soldier

With a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous grin on his face, you can still see the six-year-old boy that Tom once was. Tommi was independent, confident, and a little naughty. These characteristics became more pronounced once he was imprisoned in Theresienstadt. He took up a dare to pin a ‘tail’ on an SS officer, played tricks on other child inmates and often suffered profound consequences after such misdemeanours.

Tom remembers the oppressive rules, the changing cast of prisoners, the brutality of the camp guards, and most vividly, the time when he was forced into a burial pit and ordered to spread lime over corpses. Despite the daily terror, he knows the exact day of his most distressing moment in Theresienstadt: 16 February 1945. This day is seared into his memory because when he awoke on that day, his mother Lolli, who had been a source of comfort and protection, had vanished. He knew what disappearance meant, but he was too young to know that his mother was pregnant and had been taken to the hospital to deliver another son, Peter. Of the 350 children born in Theresienstadt, his brother would be one of 25 to survive.

Towards the end of May 1945, a few weeks after liberation, Tom returned to Bratislava with his mother and brother to wait for the return of his father. It would take months before news would reach them confirming that his father, along with many other family members, was murdered in Auschwitz.

Etched into Tom’s personality is a spirit of adventure and playfulness, despite the pain and sadness he bears from the past. He learned at a tender age about the precariousness of life, and he intends to make the most of it.

Tom holds a silver serving platter containing the family crest, salvaged from the family castle in Slovakia.

 

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Magda Forbath

When I was six months old the Germans marched into Hungary. My father was already in a Hungarian forced labour battalion. Then the Germans took him to Mauthausen concentration camp. Luckily when the Americans liberated the camp they had facilities to rehabilitate these barely alive skeletons. My father was restored enough to walk home from Austria to Hungary.

I was two when he turned up. My mother, grand-mother and I had lived in the ghetto; we spent most of the time in the bunker because of the bombings. Apparently I was in a very bad state, having been deprived of fresh food during the war.

In 1949 the communists nationalized and took everything my parents had built up. So they lost everything a second time. My family’s hardship continued throughout the Hungarian Revolution. After all of this, my parents decided it was best to move us to Australia. I was 15 and started as a hairdresser’s apprentice.

I’ve been volunteering at the Sydney Jewish Museum for over 15 years; it is very uplifting. I knew I wanted to volunteer with a Jewish organization. The Museum is important, not only for our community, but for all races and religions. Every day I work here is a pleasure and I help in whatever way I can, thankful to be able to contribute to the Jewish community that opened its arms to my family all those years ago.”

Magda received this Star of David necklace from her mother after the family immigrated to Australia. She has nothing from pre-war Hungary, noting: “Whatever the Nazis left, the communists took.”

 

Magda Forbath

When I was six months old the Germans marched into Hungary. My father was already in a Hungarian forced labour battalion. Then the Germans took him to Mauthausen concentration camp. Luckily when the Americans liberated the camp they had facilities to rehabilitate these barely alive skeletons. My father was restored enough to walk home from Austria to Hungary.

I was two when he turned up. My mother, grand-mother and I had lived in the ghetto; we spent most of the time in the bunker because of the bombings. Apparently I was in a very bad state, having been deprived of fresh food during the war.

In 1949 the communists nationalized and took everything my parents had built up. So they lost everything a second time. My family’s hardship continued throughout the Hungarian Revolution. After all of this, my parents decided it was best to move us to Australia. I was 15 and started as a hairdresser’s apprentice.

I’ve been volunteering at the Sydney Jewish Museum for over 15 years; it is very uplifting. I knew I wanted to volunteer with a Jewish organization. The Museum is important, not only for our community, but for all races and religions. Every day I work here is a pleasure and I help in whatever way I can, thankful to be able to contribute to the Jewish community that opened its arms to my family all those years ago.”

Magda received this Star of David necklace from her mother after the family immigrated to Australia. She has nothing from pre-war Hungary, noting: “Whatever the Nazis left, the communists took.”

 

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Helena Goldstein

Lena fought against the Germans any way she could and assisted fellow Jews in the struggle to survive. Recruited by the resistance in the Warsaw ghetto, she stole uniforms and light bulbs, which were filled with kerosene and used as Molotov cocktails against German troops.

Following her escape from the ghetto, Lena was hidden by a Polish caretaker for 18 months. Later, her hiding spot was a tiny underground bunker, cramped together with eight others in a space that allowed no privacy. The psychological struggle of this experience was unbearable, and yet, Lena penned a satirical newsletter to bolster the morale of her bunker companions, who threatened to leave as conditions were so deplorable. This outward humour masked the true nature of her anxieties – her ongoing battle for body and mind. Her personal diary entries from this time reflect the gravity of her struggle.

Thursday, 16 November 1944

“I long for the splatter of autumn rain. I long for the monotonous music of raindrops beating with fine drizzle against a window pane, for the grey, melancholy, clouded November sky. And I long for the thoughts: thoughts at a twilight hour, the thoughts which, sad as they might be, never begin with the words ‘If I survive…’, and never carry the burden of doubt that all this thinking is empty and pointless, because…I will not survive anyway…”

“We dream of freedom. Freedom: this word has acquired a magical power and it means much more than it ever did before. Its meaning is quite different from what it used to be. It has ceased to be the cliché invariably linked to its cliché- companions “equality” and “brotherhood”… For us, freedom is a word which has become alive: it is our goal and our dream. It is the sky above us and the sun and the stars and the ground under our feet and the air for our lungs. It is a full stomach and a fearless look. It is the end of a hunted dog’s existence: everything that we are missing and everything for which we strive. That is freedom; because to us freedom means life.”

Lena was liberated after spending six months in the bunker. She married Alexander Goldstein and immigrated to Australia in 1949.

Lena held her German ID card identifying her as a washerwoman in a laundry.

Lena passed away in May 2019.

 

Helena Goldstein

Lena fought against the Germans any way she could and assisted fellow Jews in the struggle to survive. Recruited by the resistance in the Warsaw ghetto, she stole uniforms and light bulbs, which were filled with kerosene and used as Molotov cocktails against German troops.

Following her escape from the ghetto, Lena was hidden by a Polish caretaker for 18 months. Later, her hiding spot was a tiny underground bunker, cramped together with eight others in a space that allowed no privacy. The psychological struggle of this experience was unbearable, and yet, Lena penned a satirical newsletter to bolster the morale of her bunker companions, who threatened to leave as conditions were so deplorable. This outward humour masked the true nature of her anxieties – her ongoing battle for body and mind. Her personal diary entries from this time reflect the gravity of her struggle.

Thursday, 16 November 1944

“I long for the splatter of autumn rain. I long for the monotonous music of raindrops beating with fine drizzle against a window pane, for the grey, melancholy, clouded November sky. And I long for the thoughts: thoughts at a twilight hour, the thoughts which, sad as they might be, never begin with the words ‘If I survive…’, and never carry the burden of doubt that all this thinking is empty and pointless, because…I will not survive anyway…”

“We dream of freedom. Freedom: this word has acquired a magical power and it means much more than it ever did before. Its meaning is quite different from what it used to be. It has ceased to be the cliché invariably linked to its cliché- companions “equality” and “brotherhood”… For us, freedom is a word which has become alive: it is our goal and our dream. It is the sky above us and the sun and the stars and the ground under our feet and the air for our lungs. It is a full stomach and a fearless look. It is the end of a hunted dog’s existence: everything that we are missing and everything for which we strive. That is freedom; because to us freedom means life.”

Lena was liberated after spending six months in the bunker. She married Alexander Goldstein and immigrated to Australia in 1949.

Lena held her German ID card identifying her as a washerwoman in a laundry.

Lena passed away in May 2019.

 

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George Grojnowski

George Gronjowski's concentration camp jacket

“For a long time I didn’t talk about the Holocaust. You feel guilty that you survived and you think, ‘What is the point of being a survivor?’ You’re 18 years old and have no parents, no sister, no aunts and uncles… No one survived. You’re by yourself and don’t know where to go, where to establish yourself again.

I didn’t talk to my children about it. But when people started denying what happened, my wife said to me, ‘If you aren’t going to talk about it, who will?’ So today I tell my story. Talking about it is a good thing: it helps you come to terms with it.

In my story there are two occasions when a Nazi soldier impacted on my survival in some way. The first was when a Nazi guard stopped me from running to my mother and sister – they went directly to their deaths – and the second was when a Nazi guard gave me back to my father. I like to tell these stories because in a situation where most people had no value for human life and no one even thought of a life after the war, there was someone who didn’t want to separate a father and son. When you fight for life every day, you don’t analyze it until later. When you think of what could have happened, you realize that those two soldiers had some element of humanity in them.

My birthday is 23 January 1927 but I regard March 1949 as my true birthday, when I came to Australia and built a normal life.”

George displayed the concentration camp jacket he wore in Buchenwald, on which he changed the yellow triangle to red in gratitude to his Soviet liberators in May 1945.

George passed away in March 2021.

 

George Grojnowski

George Gronjowski's concentration camp jacket

“For a long time I didn’t talk about the Holocaust. You feel guilty that you survived and you think, ‘What is the point of being a survivor?’ You’re 18 years old and have no parents, no sister, no aunts and uncles… No one survived. You’re by yourself and don’t know where to go, where to establish yourself again.

I didn’t talk to my children about it. But when people started denying what happened, my wife said to me, ‘If you aren’t going to talk about it, who will?’ So today I tell my story. Talking about it is a good thing: it helps you come to terms with it.

In my story there are two occasions when a Nazi soldier impacted on my survival in some way. The first was when a Nazi guard stopped me from running to my mother and sister – they went directly to their deaths – and the second was when a Nazi guard gave me back to my father. I like to tell these stories because in a situation where most people had no value for human life and no one even thought of a life after the war, there was someone who didn’t want to separate a father and son. When you fight for life every day, you don’t analyze it until later. When you think of what could have happened, you realize that those two soldiers had some element of humanity in them.

My birthday is 23 January 1927 but I regard March 1949 as my true birthday, when I came to Australia and built a normal life.”

George displayed the concentration camp jacket he wore in Buchenwald, on which he changed the yellow triangle to red in gratitude to his Soviet liberators in May 1945.

George passed away in March 2021.

 

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John Gruschka

John Gruschka's letter

“My family was torn apart, one of thousands of victims of the Nazi ascendancy to power. I grew up in the German-speaking part of the Czechoslovakia. My father was the Medical Officer for Health of the city where we lived. There was a small but significant Jewish population, and local Jewish families quickly perceived the Nazi threat. We made a hurried exit to the Czech capital of Prague in 1938 in the nick of time. As storm clouds gathered over Europe, we searched for escape routes to leave the country. My father and sister went to Palestine and I was sent to the safety of a distant relative in Manchester, England.

My mother, committed to caring for her own frail mother, stayed behind. My last farewell with my mother took place at the Prague railway station in February 1939, when I was just about to turn 15. It never dawned on me that this could be the last good-bye, nor to my mother either. Hoping for a family reunion in Palestine, she took up language studies in Hebrew during the Nazi occupation.

While I was sheltered in England, many letters arrived from my mother in Prague. She encouraged me to practise violin; she took an interest in my progress at school. She mothered me from afar. The Red Cross message service facilitated our communication.

Then, on 8 September 1942, my mother was transported to Theresienstadt, and on 1 February 1943, she was sent in a transport to Auschwitz, where she was murdered at the age of 53.

The letters she wrote to me are now preserved in the Sydney Jewish Museum where I have been involved in volunteer work as a translator and witness of the Nazi era in Europe.”

John holds one of the many letters from his mother, Helene, in Prague.

 

John Gruschka

John Gruschka's letter

“My family was torn apart, one of thousands of victims of the Nazi ascendancy to power. I grew up in the German-speaking part of the Czechoslovakia. My father was the Medical Officer for Health of the city where we lived. There was a small but significant Jewish population, and local Jewish families quickly perceived the Nazi threat. We made a hurried exit to the Czech capital of Prague in 1938 in the nick of time. As storm clouds gathered over Europe, we searched for escape routes to leave the country. My father and sister went to Palestine and I was sent to the safety of a distant relative in Manchester, England.

My mother, committed to caring for her own frail mother, stayed behind. My last farewell with my mother took place at the Prague railway station in February 1939, when I was just about to turn 15. It never dawned on me that this could be the last good-bye, nor to my mother either. Hoping for a family reunion in Palestine, she took up language studies in Hebrew during the Nazi occupation.

While I was sheltered in England, many letters arrived from my mother in Prague. She encouraged me to practise violin; she took an interest in my progress at school. She mothered me from afar. The Red Cross message service facilitated our communication.

Then, on 8 September 1942, my mother was transported to Theresienstadt, and on 1 February 1943, she was sent in a transport to Auschwitz, where she was murdered at the age of 53.

The letters she wrote to me are now preserved in the Sydney Jewish Museum where I have been involved in volunteer work as a translator and witness of the Nazi era in Europe.”

John holds one of the many letters from his mother, Helene, in Prague.

 

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Peter Halas

“On 19 March 1944, the Germans occupied Hungary and life for the Jews changed. The trains started taking them to Auschwitz. My mother and I went into hiding with an Armenian family friend. My mother’s parents also went into hiding, in a different location. On 15 December, it was my grandfather’s birthday and my mother felt obliged to visit him, even though she knew it was dangerous. She kissed me goodbye, and that was the last time I saw her. While visiting him, the Hungarian SS raided the building and took all the Jews, my mother and grandparents amongst them, to the banks of the Danube and shot them.

When the people hiding me heard what had happened, they decided to find me a new place to hide. A young couple on the outskirts of the city were prepared to take me in, and I survived the war living with them. Once the war ended, my father’s mother found me, and I went to live with her. My father came back from the camps in June or July of 1945.

Life began again. However, the communist government in Hungary wasn’t much more benevolent than the Nazis. My father was arrested on trumped-up charges so that they could take away our business; food was in short supply and personal freedom ceased.

In 1956, some of my friends and I decided to try and escape to the West. We arrived in Austria, and life in the free world began.

I immigrated to Australia in 1957. I spoke no English, and became a labourer. Once I found my feet, I started to work in the fashion industry, eventually establishing my own business in 1975. It became a successful swimsuit company. We called it Peter’s Folly, changing its name to Seafolly shortly after.”

Peter holds a Jewish prayer book which belonged to his paternal grandmother. The family births, deaths and marriages have been recorded on its pages. Peter has adopted this tradition, recording the births of his own grandchildren in it.

 

Peter Halas

“On 19 March 1944, the Germans occupied Hungary and life for the Jews changed. The trains started taking them to Auschwitz. My mother and I went into hiding with an Armenian family friend. My mother’s parents also went into hiding, in a different location. On 15 December, it was my grandfather’s birthday and my mother felt obliged to visit him, even though she knew it was dangerous. She kissed me goodbye, and that was the last time I saw her. While visiting him, the Hungarian SS raided the building and took all the Jews, my mother and grandparents amongst them, to the banks of the Danube and shot them.

When the people hiding me heard what had happened, they decided to find me a new place to hide. A young couple on the outskirts of the city were prepared to take me in, and I survived the war living with them. Once the war ended, my father’s mother found me, and I went to live with her. My father came back from the camps in June or July of 1945.

Life began again. However, the communist government in Hungary wasn’t much more benevolent than the Nazis. My father was arrested on trumped-up charges so that they could take away our business; food was in short supply and personal freedom ceased.

In 1956, some of my friends and I decided to try and escape to the West. We arrived in Austria, and life in the free world began.

I immigrated to Australia in 1957. I spoke no English, and became a labourer. Once I found my feet, I started to work in the fashion industry, eventually establishing my own business in 1975. It became a successful swimsuit company. We called it Peter’s Folly, changing its name to Seafolly shortly after.”

Peter holds a Jewish prayer book which belonged to his paternal grandmother. The family births, deaths and marriages have been recorded on its pages. Peter has adopted this tradition, recording the births of his own grandchildren in it.

 

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Yvonne Halas

When I was born, Europe was already embroiled in the war. We lived in a small town near to the border with Czechoslovakia. My family were the only Jewish people in a town full of Christian farmers.

Shortly after my birth, my father was sent away to a labour camp where the inmates were forced to work hard for the state and not fed too well. One day in 1944, my father came home. Our joy was short-lived as we were ordered to be at the railway station early the next morning with one small suitcase per person. The train that we were forced to board was a cattle train. As it travelled through the countryside it picked up all the Jewish families from each town. As the carriage filled up, the distressed occupants were shoving and pushing each other, attempting to guard their own areas and to shield their loved ones.

My parents hatched an amazing plot. At the next station, just as another family were trying to position themselves within the carriage, and just before the train doors slid shut, my mother took me in her arms and threw me as far as she could out of the train. She was unsure if she was saving or endangering me. At the next stop, she leapt out and walked back to find me. When she found me, someone had stolen my clothes and my little earrings had been torn out of my ears. We walked along the railway line hoping to find my father, who was also planning to jump out, but we never found him.

We left Hungary in 1948 after it became clear that my father would not return. It was only in 2008 that we finally found out he had spent five months in Bergen-Belsen and had died there.”

This passport belonged to Yvonne’s mother, Valeria. Yvonne discovered it hidden in a drawer after the family had immigrated to Australia. It contains the name of her real father, Frederic, who perished in Bergen-Belsen. Her mother tried to keep secret that her stepfather wasn’t her real father.

 

Yvonne Halas

When I was born, Europe was already embroiled in the war. We lived in a small town near to the border with Czechoslovakia. My family were the only Jewish people in a town full of Christian farmers.

Shortly after my birth, my father was sent away to a labour camp where the inmates were forced to work hard for the state and not fed too well. One day in 1944, my father came home. Our joy was short-lived as we were ordered to be at the railway station early the next morning with one small suitcase per person. The train that we were forced to board was a cattle train. As it travelled through the countryside it picked up all the Jewish families from each town. As the carriage filled up, the distressed occupants were shoving and pushing each other, attempting to guard their own areas and to shield their loved ones.

My parents hatched an amazing plot. At the next station, just as another family were trying to position themselves within the carriage, and just before the train doors slid shut, my mother took me in her arms and threw me as far as she could out of the train. She was unsure if she was saving or endangering me. At the next stop, she leapt out and walked back to find me. When she found me, someone had stolen my clothes and my little earrings had been torn out of my ears. We walked along the railway line hoping to find my father, who was also planning to jump out, but we never found him.

We left Hungary in 1948 after it became clear that my father would not return. It was only in 2008 that we finally found out he had spent five months in Bergen-Belsen and had died there.”

This passport belonged to Yvonne’s mother, Valeria. Yvonne discovered it hidden in a drawer after the family had immigrated to Australia. It contains the name of her real father, Frederic, who perished in Bergen-Belsen. Her mother tried to keep secret that her stepfather wasn’t her real father.

 

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Anne Heilig

Leo and Ida Hoffmann left Germany in 1938 after their business was targeted. One morning they woke to find that someone had scrawled the words ‘Leo Hoffmann is a Jew’ across their window.

“My father spent every night sleeping in a different house because he knew the Germans were looking for him. We were amongst the few fortunate people to receive a visa to Australia. I am glad they chose Australia. My parent’s decision to leave Germany was soon vindicated – our ship, the Eridan, arrived in Australia on the day of Kristallnacht, 10 November 1938. We arrived with £200 and some personal belongings.

My father couldn’t find a job; he was willing to settle for washing cars for a shilling, but couldn’t even get that work. They eventually opened a shop in Mascot selling children’s and men’s wear, using milk crates as the shop counter. Although registered as an ‘Alien’, my father was enlisted into the Australian Army. My mother looked after me and the shop while he was away. It was up to me to teach my parents English. One day my father went to the shops to ask for potatoes and came back with onions instead.”

Anne with her toy pram, a gift for her third birthday. It was a custom-made copy of the same pram that she had used as a baby.

 

Anne Heilig

Leo and Ida Hoffmann left Germany in 1938 after their business was targeted. One morning they woke to find that someone had scrawled the words ‘Leo Hoffmann is a Jew’ across their window.

“My father spent every night sleeping in a different house because he knew the Germans were looking for him. We were amongst the few fortunate people to receive a visa to Australia. I am glad they chose Australia. My parent’s decision to leave Germany was soon vindicated – our ship, the Eridan, arrived in Australia on the day of Kristallnacht, 10 November 1938. We arrived with £200 and some personal belongings.

My father couldn’t find a job; he was willing to settle for washing cars for a shilling, but couldn’t even get that work. They eventually opened a shop in Mascot selling children’s and men’s wear, using milk crates as the shop counter. Although registered as an ‘Alien’, my father was enlisted into the Australian Army. My mother looked after me and the shop while he was away. It was up to me to teach my parents English. One day my father went to the shops to ask for potatoes and came back with onions instead.”

Anne with her toy pram, a gift for her third birthday. It was a custom-made copy of the same pram that she had used as a baby.

 

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Olga Horak

In 1939 Olga’s home country of Czechoslovakia was divided into the German-occupied Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and a fascist Slovak state. Severe laws restricted fundamental freedoms for Jews: no school, no sitting on benches in the park, and curfews after dark. The yellow Star of David identified Jews for open persecution.

In 1942, Olga’s older sister, Judith, was rounded up with other 16-year-old Jewish children and transported to Auschwitz. Olga never saw her again. Fearing for their younger daughter, the family crossed the border illegally into Hungary, but finding the situation there just as precarious, they returned to Bratislava. Soon after, they were hidden, denounced, and transported to Auschwitz. Her father and grandmother were taken directly to the gas chambers.

After selection by Dr Josef Mengele, Olga and her mother were stripped, shaven, and numbered. Conditions in the camps were deplorable. Hunger and disease were rife: “We cooked verbally…and promised ourselves to make the most beautiful cakes if we survived.” In the worst conditions, imaginary cooking kept their spirits up and filled the void in their stomachs.

Later, they were sent on a death march to Bergen-Belsen. Suffering and starving, Olga and her mother survived to see the camp’s liberation by British and Canadian troops in April 1945. Inmates were required to register for an ID card, but for Olga’s mother, it was too late. Waiting in the queue, her body finally succumbed; she collapsed and died. The celebration of freedom quickly turned to devastation.

Olga was taken to a German hospital and left to die. She weighed 29 kilos. An Army Catholic padre came to administer last rites, but Olga told him, “Thank you for your visit, but I am Jewish, and I am not going to die.”

Two years later, Olga met her future husband, John Horak, in Bratislava, and the couple eventually obtained landing permits for Australia. Arriving in September 1949, they established a manufacturing business and had two children.

Olga acquired the blanket woven from the hair of inmates on the day of her liberation in Bergen-Belsen. It covered her skeletal frame, providing warmth at a time when she had lost everything.

 

Olga Horak

In 1939 Olga’s home country of Czechoslovakia was divided into the German-occupied Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and a fascist Slovak state. Severe laws restricted fundamental freedoms for Jews: no school, no sitting on benches in the park, and curfews after dark. The yellow Star of David identified Jews for open persecution.

In 1942, Olga’s older sister, Judith, was rounded up with other 16-year-old Jewish children and transported to Auschwitz. Olga never saw her again. Fearing for their younger daughter, the family crossed the border illegally into Hungary, but finding the situation there just as precarious, they returned to Bratislava. Soon after, they were hidden, denounced, and transported to Auschwitz. Her father and grandmother were taken directly to the gas chambers.

After selection by Dr Josef Mengele, Olga and her mother were stripped, shaven, and numbered. Conditions in the camps were deplorable. Hunger and disease were rife: “We cooked verbally…and promised ourselves to make the most beautiful cakes if we survived.” In the worst conditions, imaginary cooking kept their spirits up and filled the void in their stomachs.

Later, they were sent on a death march to Bergen-Belsen. Suffering and starving, Olga and her mother survived to see the camp’s liberation by British and Canadian troops in April 1945. Inmates were required to register for an ID card, but for Olga’s mother, it was too late. Waiting in the queue, her body finally succumbed; she collapsed and died. The celebration of freedom quickly turned to devastation.

Olga was taken to a German hospital and left to die. She weighed 29 kilos. An Army Catholic padre came to administer last rites, but Olga told him, “Thank you for your visit, but I am Jewish, and I am not going to die.”

Two years later, Olga met her future husband, John Horak, in Bratislava, and the couple eventually obtained landing permits for Australia. Arriving in September 1949, they established a manufacturing business and had two children.

Olga acquired the blanket woven from the hair of inmates on the day of her liberation in Bergen-Belsen. It covered her skeletal frame, providing warmth at a time when she had lost everything.

 

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Eddie Jaku

Eddie Jaku's belt

Eddie Jaku radiates a warmth and a joie de vivre that belie his dark past. He was born in Leipzig to a loving family that “regarded themselves as Germans first and foremost, and Jewish only in their home.”

Eddie was the only Jew in the local school. “Germany was a civilized country. Children from my school came to my house and ate with us. There was no distinction because we were always German first. Everything changed when Hitler came to power. Arriving home from boarding school on 9 November 1938, no one was there. It was Kristallnacht. At 5am the door was smashed in by Nazi soldiers. Beaten and taken to Buchenwald camp, I asked the nurse about escaping. She said, ‘If you do they will find your parents and kill them.’”

Upon release from Buchenwald, Eddie and his father escaped to Belgium and then France, where he was again incarcerated. After 11 months in a camp, Eddie and other prisoners were put on a train to Auschwitz. He led an escape of nine men through the floor boards of the train and returned to Belgium, living illegally in an attic with his parents and sister.

In October 1943, the family was arrested. Eddie endured the gruelling train ride to Auschwitz, where his mother, aged 43, and father, 50, were murdered in a gas chamber. Eddie survived, being marked as an ‘economically indispensable Jew’. He also survived a death march in January 1945, hiding in a cave in the forest and eating slugs and snails. He was rescued by an American tank in June. Eddie married Flore Molho in Belgium, and the couple left for Australia in 1950 with their son, Michael.

“No one can understand what Auschwitz means. I can’t understand it myself. I know if there is a paradise after this life, they will say, ‘You can come here because you have been in hell.’”

The worn leather belt held by Eddie was the sole personal item he was able to retain during years of incarceration. It held up his trousers through four concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

 

Eddie Jaku

Eddie Jaku's belt

Eddie Jaku radiates a warmth and a joie de vivre that belie his dark past. He was born in Leipzig to a loving family that “regarded themselves as Germans first and foremost, and Jewish only in their home.”

Eddie was the only Jew in the local school. “Germany was a civilized country. Children from my school came to my house and ate with us. There was no distinction because we were always German first. Everything changed when Hitler came to power. Arriving home from boarding school on 9 November 1938, no one was there. It was Kristallnacht. At 5am the door was smashed in by Nazi soldiers. Beaten and taken to Buchenwald camp, I asked the nurse about escaping. She said, ‘If you do they will find your parents and kill them.’”

Upon release from Buchenwald, Eddie and his father escaped to Belgium and then France, where he was again incarcerated. After 11 months in a camp, Eddie and other prisoners were put on a train to Auschwitz. He led an escape of nine men through the floor boards of the train and returned to Belgium, living illegally in an attic with his parents and sister.

In October 1943, the family was arrested. Eddie endured the gruelling train ride to Auschwitz, where his mother, aged 43, and father, 50, were murdered in a gas chamber. Eddie survived, being marked as an ‘economically indispensable Jew’. He also survived a death march in January 1945, hiding in a cave in the forest and eating slugs and snails. He was rescued by an American tank in June. Eddie married Flore Molho in Belgium, and the couple left for Australia in 1950 with their son, Michael.

“No one can understand what Auschwitz means. I can’t understand it myself. I know if there is a paradise after this life, they will say, ‘You can come here because you have been in hell.’”

The worn leather belt held by Eddie was the sole personal item he was able to retain during years of incarceration. It held up his trousers through four concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

 

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Gerty Jellinek

“My parents gave me an abundance of love and values: to be tolerant and accept every person.

On 12 March 1938, Hitler’s army annexed Austria. The next day every second house displayed a swastika flag, every other young person wore a Nazi uniform. The Austrians welcomed Hitler with open arms. My parents had rented a room to a nice Christian couple for years. A day later, the man appeared in full Nazi uniform. He was from the Brownshirts. He threw us out of our home. My father lost his job; I was told I could no longer attend school.

In summer I watched Jewish people scrubbing footpaths with toothbrushes. Hitler Youths jeered and laughed, ‘Ha, ha, you Jewish women, your nails won’t look like anything when we are finished with you.’ On 9 November 1938, Kristallnacht, synagogues in Austria were burnt to the ground; Torah scrolls, prayer books, and tallisim (prayer shawls) were thrown into the street and trodden on. Austrians looked on in amazement, not in horror, at these happenings.

My father was taken away for ten days. When he finally returned to us, he was a broken man. His only thought was leaving Austria. The only place visas were not needed was Shanghai. We arrived there on 12 September 1939. Broken buildings were our camps. In time the Hongkew area was built up and became a village of refugees. On 7 December 1941, the Pacific War started, Japan occupied Shanghai, and the village became a ghetto. On 15 August 1945, the Japanese surrendered and American soldiers arrived. They gave us food, clothing, and dignity.

In 1947 I met Willie Jellinek. We married and left for Sydney. I was pregnant with my daughterat the time. She was made in China – because everything is made in China! – and born in Australia.”

Gerty was surrounded by a table of memories. Among the many documents were her husband Wilhelm’s travel documents, her father’s identity card, and her Chinese marriage certificate.

Gerty passed away in February 2017.

 

Gerty Jellinek

“My parents gave me an abundance of love and values: to be tolerant and accept every person.

On 12 March 1938, Hitler’s army annexed Austria. The next day every second house displayed a swastika flag, every other young person wore a Nazi uniform. The Austrians welcomed Hitler with open arms. My parents had rented a room to a nice Christian couple for years. A day later, the man appeared in full Nazi uniform. He was from the Brownshirts. He threw us out of our home. My father lost his job; I was told I could no longer attend school.

In summer I watched Jewish people scrubbing footpaths with toothbrushes. Hitler Youths jeered and laughed, ‘Ha, ha, you Jewish women, your nails won’t look like anything when we are finished with you.’ On 9 November 1938, Kristallnacht, synagogues in Austria were burnt to the ground; Torah scrolls, prayer books, and tallisim (prayer shawls) were thrown into the street and trodden on. Austrians looked on in amazement, not in horror, at these happenings.

My father was taken away for ten days. When he finally returned to us, he was a broken man. His only thought was leaving Austria. The only place visas were not needed was Shanghai. We arrived there on 12 September 1939. Broken buildings were our camps. In time the Hongkew area was built up and became a village of refugees. On 7 December 1941, the Pacific War started, Japan occupied Shanghai, and the village became a ghetto. On 15 August 1945, the Japanese surrendered and American soldiers arrived. They gave us food, clothing, and dignity.

In 1947 I met Willie Jellinek. We married and left for Sydney. I was pregnant with my daughterat the time. She was made in China – because everything is made in China! – and born in Australia.”

Gerty was surrounded by a table of memories. Among the many documents were her husband Wilhelm’s travel documents, her father’s identity card, and her Chinese marriage certificate.

Gerty passed away in February 2017.

 

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Vera Kertesz

Vera was the only child in a happy family. She had many cousins to play with, lived in a beautiful house, and encountered no antisemitism. She was six years old when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. From then on, Vera had to wear the yellow Star of David, and was mocked by other schoolchildren. It was all the more traumatic for her, because they had been her daily playmates before the war.

As a safety measure, her parents converted to Greek Orthodox and put her in a Greek Orthodox orphanage. Though safe, she feared that she would never see her parents again. Many of her family members were deported to concentration camps. When she was ten, her mother took her to Budapest. Still hiding from the Nazis, they moved frequently to avoid the gaze of suspicious neighbours.

Vera’s mother put a patch on Vera’s eye and pretended that her child could not speak. She told everyone that her daughter was “backwards” until Vera had learned Hungarian sufficiently to begin communicating.

“My name and my ‘relationship’ to my parents changed often, depending on what papers we could obtain. Once, my father walked in the door and I said, ‘Father, father, you’re back!’ and my mother interjected loudly, saying, ‘No! It’s uncle, uncle!’”

After liberation, Vera and her parents went back to Slovakia in search of surviving relatives. They soon learned that there were none remaining. Many Slovaks were still pro-Fascist and antisemitic, and Vera remembered a ‘mini-pogrom’ organized by the locals. The year 1948 witnessed the closing of borders – no one was allowed to leave. Vera attended a Russian high school, and afterwards studied medicine at the university in Prague. In 1957, she married. She moved to Australia with her husband and two children in 1969. It was only in Australia that she started talking about her experiences during the war. “I want my children, and their children, to know what we went through, and how fragile freedom is.”

Vera held a framed photo of her parents, taken in 1948/49 when she was 16 years old. If her parents had had more children, Vera believed that the family would not have survived.

Vera passed away in February 2021.

 

Vera Kertesz

Vera was the only child in a happy family. She had many cousins to play with, lived in a beautiful house, and encountered no antisemitism. She was six years old when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. From then on, Vera had to wear the yellow Star of David, and was mocked by other schoolchildren. It was all the more traumatic for her, because they had been her daily playmates before the war.

As a safety measure, her parents converted to Greek Orthodox and put her in a Greek Orthodox orphanage. Though safe, she feared that she would never see her parents again. Many of her family members were deported to concentration camps. When she was ten, her mother took her to Budapest. Still hiding from the Nazis, they moved frequently to avoid the gaze of suspicious neighbours.

Vera’s mother put a patch on Vera’s eye and pretended that her child could not speak. She told everyone that her daughter was “backwards” until Vera had learned Hungarian sufficiently to begin communicating.

“My name and my ‘relationship’ to my parents changed often, depending on what papers we could obtain. Once, my father walked in the door and I said, ‘Father, father, you’re back!’ and my mother interjected loudly, saying, ‘No! It’s uncle, uncle!’”

After liberation, Vera and her parents went back to Slovakia in search of surviving relatives. They soon learned that there were none remaining. Many Slovaks were still pro-Fascist and antisemitic, and Vera remembered a ‘mini-pogrom’ organized by the locals. The year 1948 witnessed the closing of borders – no one was allowed to leave. Vera attended a Russian high school, and afterwards studied medicine at the university in Prague. In 1957, she married. She moved to Australia with her husband and two children in 1969. It was only in Australia that she started talking about her experiences during the war. “I want my children, and their children, to know what we went through, and how fragile freedom is.”

Vera held a framed photo of her parents, taken in 1948/49 when she was 16 years old. If her parents had had more children, Vera believed that the family would not have survived.

Vera passed away in February 2021.

 

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Francine Lazarus

“My memories lay dormant for many years, having been told after the war that nothing happened to me – that I should forget everything. I was lucky because I was alive. Much later in Belgian government archives, I found family files that informed me about my early life.

Horrendous stories of Nazi terror towards Jews filtered through from people fleeing already-occupied countries. Belgium was invaded on 10 May 1940. Nazis enforced the registration of Jews. No registration meant no food coupons, but registration meant it was easy to find and arrest the Jews.

The round-ups of Jews began in earnest in 1942. I was four when my father left me with strangers on a farm and disappeared. Distraught, frightened, and lonely, I cried for days. I was relatively safe. I had enough food. After the farmers were caught by the Gestapo, I returned to Brussels. Walking with my father, hearing the heavy footsteps of boots, we hid in a doorway, me enveloped in my father’s big, black coat; I remember the smell of that coat – it was the smell of fear. I moved from safe house to safe house. My clothes became too small, my shoes too tight. I received the clothes from older children and passed mine on. They were riddled with lice. When visitors came, I had to hide in a dark cupboard and be very still, despite the itch from the lice bites.

My father was caught and sent on the last convoy from Belgium on 31 July 1944; he was murdered in Auschwitz. I have of him only his ring, so precious to me.

After liberation, not able or willing to care for me, my mother sent me to foster care. I was intractable and naughty, and they would throw me out. My needs for love, affection, and care were not met. I only began school when I was eight years old, and finished before I turned 14. My mother remarried in 1948. My sister was born in 1949. I had to care for her. I was eleven. In 1959 I left Belgium. Arriving in Sydney by ship, coming through the Heads, I saw this beautiful place bathed in sunshine. I had found my harbour.”

Francine played with this fragile coffee set in hiding, all the while imagining that she was entertaining other children and eating imaginary biscuits. In reality, Francine never played with other children. To this day, her grandchildren can’t understand why she doesn’t know how to play games with them.

 

Francine Lazarus

“My memories lay dormant for many years, having been told after the war that nothing happened to me – that I should forget everything. I was lucky because I was alive. Much later in Belgian government archives, I found family files that informed me about my early life.

Horrendous stories of Nazi terror towards Jews filtered through from people fleeing already-occupied countries. Belgium was invaded on 10 May 1940. Nazis enforced the registration of Jews. No registration meant no food coupons, but registration meant it was easy to find and arrest the Jews.

The round-ups of Jews began in earnest in 1942. I was four when my father left me with strangers on a farm and disappeared. Distraught, frightened, and lonely, I cried for days. I was relatively safe. I had enough food. After the farmers were caught by the Gestapo, I returned to Brussels. Walking with my father, hearing the heavy footsteps of boots, we hid in a doorway, me enveloped in my father’s big, black coat; I remember the smell of that coat – it was the smell of fear. I moved from safe house to safe house. My clothes became too small, my shoes too tight. I received the clothes from older children and passed mine on. They were riddled with lice. When visitors came, I had to hide in a dark cupboard and be very still, despite the itch from the lice bites.

My father was caught and sent on the last convoy from Belgium on 31 July 1944; he was murdered in Auschwitz. I have of him only his ring, so precious to me.

After liberation, not able or willing to care for me, my mother sent me to foster care. I was intractable and naughty, and they would throw me out. My needs for love, affection, and care were not met. I only began school when I was eight years old, and finished before I turned 14. My mother remarried in 1948. My sister was born in 1949. I had to care for her. I was eleven. In 1959 I left Belgium. Arriving in Sydney by ship, coming through the Heads, I saw this beautiful place bathed in sunshine. I had found my harbour.”

Francine played with this fragile coffee set in hiding, all the while imagining that she was entertaining other children and eating imaginary biscuits. In reality, Francine never played with other children. To this day, her grandchildren can’t understand why she doesn’t know how to play games with them.

 

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Litzi Lemberg

“We were three in the family – mother, father, and myself. At 15 years old, there was already an entrenched pattern of dysfunction. My father, master of the house; my mother, the peacemaker between us. I was lonely but rebelled against my father’s aggressive attitude towards me. At 17, during a turbulent exchange, I screamed, ‘I wish you weren’t my father.’ ‘I’m not,’ he blurted out. ‘Your parents and brother perished in the Holocaust and I found you, the sole survivor, on a Red Cross list from Theresienstadt.’ My ‘father’ was in fact my uncle.

Stunned and shocked, another part of my consciousness now remembered hidden memories of other children, precarious toilets, wooden bunks, shaved heads, travelling in trucks, cobblestones, bare feet… and travelling by plane to England. I found all this too difficult to absorb and didn’t speak about it until years later.

In 1985 I went to hear Sarah Moskovitz talk. Her area of expertise was the Holocaust and the effects of experiences on child survivors. Her interviews were with children under 12 from Theresienstadt who had been sent to a Jewish orphanage, Lingfield House in Surrey, England, after the war. I knew in my mind I had been there but had pushed the knowledge away. As she spoke, I began to realize I was one of the people she was talking about.

Confronted by my silent and hidden past, I felt totally exposed, alone in a room full of people. Sarah interviewed me the next day and there for the first time, with her expert guidance, I was able to vocalize every distinct memory as well as some that had faded. This was the beginning of identifying myself as a ‘child survivor’.

Litzi, pictured 3rd from the left, clutches a photo of the children she was incarcerated with in Theresienstadt. The image anchors her to the past and her long-suppressed identity as a child Holocaust survivor.

 

Litzi Lemberg

“We were three in the family – mother, father, and myself. At 15 years old, there was already an entrenched pattern of dysfunction. My father, master of the house; my mother, the peacemaker between us. I was lonely but rebelled against my father’s aggressive attitude towards me. At 17, during a turbulent exchange, I screamed, ‘I wish you weren’t my father.’ ‘I’m not,’ he blurted out. ‘Your parents and brother perished in the Holocaust and I found you, the sole survivor, on a Red Cross list from Theresienstadt.’ My ‘father’ was in fact my uncle.

Stunned and shocked, another part of my consciousness now remembered hidden memories of other children, precarious toilets, wooden bunks, shaved heads, travelling in trucks, cobblestones, bare feet… and travelling by plane to England. I found all this too difficult to absorb and didn’t speak about it until years later.

In 1985 I went to hear Sarah Moskovitz talk. Her area of expertise was the Holocaust and the effects of experiences on child survivors. Her interviews were with children under 12 from Theresienstadt who had been sent to a Jewish orphanage, Lingfield House in Surrey, England, after the war. I knew in my mind I had been there but had pushed the knowledge away. As she spoke, I began to realize I was one of the people she was talking about.

Confronted by my silent and hidden past, I felt totally exposed, alone in a room full of people. Sarah interviewed me the next day and there for the first time, with her expert guidance, I was able to vocalize every distinct memory as well as some that had faded. This was the beginning of identifying myself as a ‘child survivor’.

Litzi, pictured 3rd from the left, clutches a photo of the children she was incarcerated with in Theresienstadt. The image anchors her to the past and her long-suppressed identity as a child Holocaust survivor.

 

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Maurice Linker

“I cry every time I tell my story,” admits Maurice. “My family, my relatives and friends suffered famine, were subjected to indignities, persecutions, and nearly shot by both Nazi and communist governments.

In 1940, I was only 10 years old. I was living in a town with 120,000 people, of which 55,000 were Jewish. It was a cultured place with its own university. We had a large extended family and I had cousins galore. I enjoyed school; I was good at maths. Life was great. Then Romania allied with Germany. They enacted the Nuremberg laws and my father’s shop was taken away. Rules were strictly enforced; people were stopped in the street. You could only go out for a few hours a day and it was arranged in such a way that it became difficult to buy food from farmers in the market. I was forced to wear a yellow star, was beaten up and bullied by non-Jewish boys who used to play with me, unable to defend myself for fear of being imprisoned or shot by the Nazis.

My family and I were placed in a ghetto. I couldn’t go to school for three and half years. I lost part of my youth. People were being sent from the ghetto to labour camps or packed into nailed-shut cattle cars and sent to other ghettos. The Mayor argued with the Nazi leadership and said, ‘These people built the city; you can’t treat them like this. I need them.’ He was told to prepare a list for stay permits. The Mayor used any excuse he could to issue them. My whole family were allowed to stay.

After the war, the political situation changed and my father decided we should escape illegally across the border.

I’ve now been in Australia for 66 years and I’ve had a challenging and interesting career as an electrical engineer. I want to make sure these stories are passed on.”

Maurice cannot remember why this photograph was taken. He believes he was 17 and living in a DP camp in Linz, Austria. He feels it depicts a sad and serious boy, with little money, no profession and few prospects.

 

Maurice Linker

“I cry every time I tell my story,” admits Maurice. “My family, my relatives and friends suffered famine, were subjected to indignities, persecutions, and nearly shot by both Nazi and communist governments.

In 1940, I was only 10 years old. I was living in a town with 120,000 people, of which 55,000 were Jewish. It was a cultured place with its own university. We had a large extended family and I had cousins galore. I enjoyed school; I was good at maths. Life was great. Then Romania allied with Germany. They enacted the Nuremberg laws and my father’s shop was taken away. Rules were strictly enforced; people were stopped in the street. You could only go out for a few hours a day and it was arranged in such a way that it became difficult to buy food from farmers in the market. I was forced to wear a yellow star, was beaten up and bullied by non-Jewish boys who used to play with me, unable to defend myself for fear of being imprisoned or shot by the Nazis.

My family and I were placed in a ghetto. I couldn’t go to school for three and half years. I lost part of my youth. People were being sent from the ghetto to labour camps or packed into nailed-shut cattle cars and sent to other ghettos. The Mayor argued with the Nazi leadership and said, ‘These people built the city; you can’t treat them like this. I need them.’ He was told to prepare a list for stay permits. The Mayor used any excuse he could to issue them. My whole family were allowed to stay.

After the war, the political situation changed and my father decided we should escape illegally across the border.

I’ve now been in Australia for 66 years and I’ve had a challenging and interesting career as an electrical engineer. I want to make sure these stories are passed on.”

Maurice cannot remember why this photograph was taken. He believes he was 17 and living in a DP camp in Linz, Austria. He feels it depicts a sad and serious boy, with little money, no profession and few prospects.

 

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Lina Lipton

“I had a brother, Norbert, who was eight years younger then me, and we had a vibrant family life with lots of love. I remember spending school holidays in the mountains. I was protected from experiencing antisemitism. These were good years. The start of the war in 1939 came as a shock. My father lost his business. German soldiers came in 1941 and our family was forced out of our apartment and into the ghetto. There was hunger in the ghetto and a great need of necessities. My father risked his life to smuggle in food for us. The treatment of Jews by the Nazi soldiers and Ukrainian police inside the ghetto was frightening. We were less than an animal or an insect. We were something to be gotten rid of. We lived with fear; we woke up with fear, and went to bed with it.

I decided to escape from the ghetto, hoping that I may have a better chance to survive. Nobody wanted to say goodbye. My mother stood on the staircase of the cellar just looking at me. It was devastating. I never saw my family again. From Christmas 1942 until liberation I found refuge with an elderly couple. To this day I struggle with the guilt of leaving my family in the ghetto. That is how it will be until the end of my days.

Soon after the war I met my future husband, William Lipschütz and we were married within three months. We definitely wanted out. We got a landing permit for Australia and came with our son, Norbert, who was born in 1948. We had absolutely no relatives, no friends, and no language. Things were hard for many years. It was a struggle but we made a great effort. My parents would be proud of me; my grandparents would be proud of me. My life with a son and three grandsons is fulfilling. He [Hitler] did not kill me.”

Lina holds a photograph of her family at her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. Having survived the Holocaust and struggled to re-build her life, everything seemed unreal, but having a baby helped. “We were strong enough to start again.”

 

Lina Lipton

“I had a brother, Norbert, who was eight years younger then me, and we had a vibrant family life with lots of love. I remember spending school holidays in the mountains. I was protected from experiencing antisemitism. These were good years. The start of the war in 1939 came as a shock. My father lost his business. German soldiers came in 1941 and our family was forced out of our apartment and into the ghetto. There was hunger in the ghetto and a great need of necessities. My father risked his life to smuggle in food for us. The treatment of Jews by the Nazi soldiers and Ukrainian police inside the ghetto was frightening. We were less than an animal or an insect. We were something to be gotten rid of. We lived with fear; we woke up with fear, and went to bed with it.

I decided to escape from the ghetto, hoping that I may have a better chance to survive. Nobody wanted to say goodbye. My mother stood on the staircase of the cellar just looking at me. It was devastating. I never saw my family again. From Christmas 1942 until liberation I found refuge with an elderly couple. To this day I struggle with the guilt of leaving my family in the ghetto. That is how it will be until the end of my days.

Soon after the war I met my future husband, William Lipschütz and we were married within three months. We definitely wanted out. We got a landing permit for Australia and came with our son, Norbert, who was born in 1948. We had absolutely no relatives, no friends, and no language. Things were hard for many years. It was a struggle but we made a great effort. My parents would be proud of me; my grandparents would be proud of me. My life with a son and three grandsons is fulfilling. He [Hitler] did not kill me.”

Lina holds a photograph of her family at her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. Having survived the Holocaust and struggled to re-build her life, everything seemed unreal, but having a baby helped. “We were strong enough to start again.”

 

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Kitty Lowinger

“I was three when Germany invaded Hungary. Growing up we never spoke about the war so I wasn’t sure if my memory flashes were real. Years later, my granddaughter asked what happened to me in the war. My mother was still alive so I learned the story from her.

In 1944 it was my third birthday. As I blew out the candles, instead of a cheer, there was a banging on the door. Two Nazi soldiers burst in to take my grandfather, who was the Chief Doctor in the Budapest hospital. Before my grandfather was taken away, he gave my mother cyanide and said, ‘If they come for you and Kitty, take this.’ Mother said, ‘No, we will survive.’ His last words to my mother were: ‘Never spank the child.’ My mother was taken four months later. She was bound for a death camp, but managed to escape, boldly returning to Budapest to find me.

The very old as well as the children were lined up on the banks of the Danube and shot; their bodies fell into the river. When the ice melted, the bloated bodies floated up. My mother always remembered the smell.

She found a place for us to hide. We were starving. When a horse died, we swarmed onto the street to get some horsemeat. The war ended. Russia invaded Hungary. Soldiers had three days to rape, ravage, steal or destroy anything they wanted… but no children could be harmed as they were future communists. Under communism all are equal, but not quite the Jews.

Mother and I escaped through the Iron Curtain to Vienna, and then made our way to Paris via Switzerland. We lived in Paris for six months, waiting and negotiating to come to Australia. Two weeks after we arrived, on Christmas Day, I woke to hear a noise in the kitchen where the milkman put the milk bottles through a trapdoor, and out poured presents from people on our street, saying, ‘Welcome to Australia, to your new home.’”

Kitty remembers posing for this photograph on her third birthday. By this time, her father had been deported to a forced labour camp. Kitty’s mother wished to document the important milestones in her daughter’s life for her husband upon his return, but he was murdered by German soldiers.

 

Kitty Lowinger

“I was three when Germany invaded Hungary. Growing up we never spoke about the war so I wasn’t sure if my memory flashes were real. Years later, my granddaughter asked what happened to me in the war. My mother was still alive so I learned the story from her.

In 1944 it was my third birthday. As I blew out the candles, instead of a cheer, there was a banging on the door. Two Nazi soldiers burst in to take my grandfather, who was the Chief Doctor in the Budapest hospital. Before my grandfather was taken away, he gave my mother cyanide and said, ‘If they come for you and Kitty, take this.’ Mother said, ‘No, we will survive.’ His last words to my mother were: ‘Never spank the child.’ My mother was taken four months later. She was bound for a death camp, but managed to escape, boldly returning to Budapest to find me.

The very old as well as the children were lined up on the banks of the Danube and shot; their bodies fell into the river. When the ice melted, the bloated bodies floated up. My mother always remembered the smell.

She found a place for us to hide. We were starving. When a horse died, we swarmed onto the street to get some horsemeat. The war ended. Russia invaded Hungary. Soldiers had three days to rape, ravage, steal or destroy anything they wanted… but no children could be harmed as they were future communists. Under communism all are equal, but not quite the Jews.

Mother and I escaped through the Iron Curtain to Vienna, and then made our way to Paris via Switzerland. We lived in Paris for six months, waiting and negotiating to come to Australia. Two weeks after we arrived, on Christmas Day, I woke to hear a noise in the kitchen where the milkman put the milk bottles through a trapdoor, and out poured presents from people on our street, saying, ‘Welcome to Australia, to your new home.’”

Kitty remembers posing for this photograph on her third birthday. By this time, her father had been deported to a forced labour camp. Kitty’s mother wished to document the important milestones in her daughter’s life for her husband upon his return, but he was murdered by German soldiers.

 

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Jack Meister

Jack Meister's photograph

Jack Meister grew up in Kielce, Poland. “We lived a simple, happy life with traditional Jewish values. I was 11 years old when the Nazis came, and that was the end of my childhood and my education.

In March 1941, my family was sent to the Kielce ghetto. I was ordered to do the menial and dirty jobs because I was a strong young boy, a good worker. Some of these jobs included helping on building sites, cleaning out sewers, cleaning streets, and taking headstones off Jewish graves and using them in the footpaths.

In August 1942, the ghetto was liquidated and when I came back from forced labour the next day my family was gone, without any word of their fate. To this day I do not know what happened to them.

I was transported to Radom labour camp and worked in a factory for a year before being transported to Auschwitz, where I was tattooed with the number B488 on my forearm. I was then transferred to Buna concentration camp, which was part of the Auschwitz complex.

At the end of 1944, we began a long march to Buchenwald. Many did not survive. German soldiers made us carry their backpacks and sometimes their guns, but we never thought of escape.

In April 1945, I was finally liberated by American soldiers. They came into the camps and gave us lots of food and drink. An American soldier gave me some chocolate, and a change of clothes. He took my picture, then came back the next day and gave it to me. I still have the picture to this day.”

Jack holds a photo of himself, taken at the liberation of Buchenwald in April 1945.

 

Jack Meister

Jack Meister's photograph

Jack Meister grew up in Kielce, Poland. “We lived a simple, happy life with traditional Jewish values. I was 11 years old when the Nazis came, and that was the end of my childhood and my education.

In March 1941, my family was sent to the Kielce ghetto. I was ordered to do the menial and dirty jobs because I was a strong young boy, a good worker. Some of these jobs included helping on building sites, cleaning out sewers, cleaning streets, and taking headstones off Jewish graves and using them in the footpaths.

In August 1942, the ghetto was liquidated and when I came back from forced labour the next day my family was gone, without any word of their fate. To this day I do not know what happened to them.

I was transported to Radom labour camp and worked in a factory for a year before being transported to Auschwitz, where I was tattooed with the number B488 on my forearm. I was then transferred to Buna concentration camp, which was part of the Auschwitz complex.

At the end of 1944, we began a long march to Buchenwald. Many did not survive. German soldiers made us carry their backpacks and sometimes their guns, but we never thought of escape.

In April 1945, I was finally liberated by American soldiers. They came into the camps and gave us lots of food and drink. An American soldier gave me some chocolate, and a change of clothes. He took my picture, then came back the next day and gave it to me. I still have the picture to this day.”

Jack holds a photo of himself, taken at the liberation of Buchenwald in April 1945.

 

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Leon Milch

“I was born in Podhajce, Poland, a vibrant town of 6,000 people, of which half were Jewish. We lived a magical life. I was very close to my brother Barry. My parents and uncle Buzio worked in their general store in town. In 1939 the war started. We were occupied by the Soviet Union. The Polish Army was destroyed, our home and property confiscated. We were thrown out. We moved to another town. German troops invaded in June 1941. My father was grabbed in the street. My mother, whilst searching for him, was taken by Ukrainian police with other Jewish women and hacked to death after digging their own graves.

Back in Podhajce, the first pogrom took place on Yom Kippur, 1942. The Gestapo went around saying in Yiddish, ‘Come out Jews, the Messiah has come.’ We survived in a hiding place in my grandparents’ house. Soon after, my father was murdered.

Uncle Buzio, who was only 29 years old, carried the burden of the whole family. We climbed the ghetto wall and went into hiding. We lived like zombies: no change of clothes, no showers, no leaving the cellar for one year. There was little light. The only air supply came from a small cut-out which backed onto a dog’s kennel.

The Soviet Army liberated us in April 1944. An officer advised us to join a convoy of trucks going to Russia. In Kiev, uncle Buzio sent us to a good orphanage. We were being ‘Russianized’, but then aunty Kola came and took us back to Poland in May 1945.

Uncle Buzio was living well now. He bought new clothes for us, employed a teacher and said, ‘Don’t worry about algebra. Teach them what they need to know.’

I went into a jewellery workshop and eventually got my Master Jeweller’s Certificate, and in Australia started Leon Milch Jewellers.”

Leon held a Channukiah, one of the few objects he had that belonged to his father. He restored it as a gift for his son’s Bar Mitzvah. When he looked at it, the memories were good instead of sad.

Leon passed away in May 2018.

 

Leon Milch

“I was born in Podhajce, Poland, a vibrant town of 6,000 people, of which half were Jewish. We lived a magical life. I was very close to my brother Barry. My parents and uncle Buzio worked in their general store in town. In 1939 the war started. We were occupied by the Soviet Union. The Polish Army was destroyed, our home and property confiscated. We were thrown out. We moved to another town. German troops invaded in June 1941. My father was grabbed in the street. My mother, whilst searching for him, was taken by Ukrainian police with other Jewish women and hacked to death after digging their own graves.

Back in Podhajce, the first pogrom took place on Yom Kippur, 1942. The Gestapo went around saying in Yiddish, ‘Come out Jews, the Messiah has come.’ We survived in a hiding place in my grandparents’ house. Soon after, my father was murdered.

Uncle Buzio, who was only 29 years old, carried the burden of the whole family. We climbed the ghetto wall and went into hiding. We lived like zombies: no change of clothes, no showers, no leaving the cellar for one year. There was little light. The only air supply came from a small cut-out which backed onto a dog’s kennel.

The Soviet Army liberated us in April 1944. An officer advised us to join a convoy of trucks going to Russia. In Kiev, uncle Buzio sent us to a good orphanage. We were being ‘Russianized’, but then aunty Kola came and took us back to Poland in May 1945.

Uncle Buzio was living well now. He bought new clothes for us, employed a teacher and said, ‘Don’t worry about algebra. Teach them what they need to know.’

I went into a jewellery workshop and eventually got my Master Jeweller’s Certificate, and in Australia started Leon Milch Jewellers.”

Leon held a Channukiah, one of the few objects he had that belonged to his father. He restored it as a gift for his son’s Bar Mitzvah. When he looked at it, the memories were good instead of sad.

Leon passed away in May 2018.

 

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Shmulek Moses

Shmulek Moses was born in 1923 in Balassagyarmat, in the Hungarian countryside. He went to an Orthodox Jewish school. In high school he was taught about the Crusades but was angry that he never learned Jewish history.

Shmulek left for Budapest in 1943. He learned Hebrew and became a religious Zionist and Bnei Akiva leader. In illegal clandestine groups he taught young people they should believe in Zionism and that they had no future in Hungary.

On 19 March 1944 the Germans invaded Hungary. Shmulek was taken to the ghetto, where Jews were subjected to curfews, forced to relinquish radios and valuables, interrogated and beaten.

One month later he was called up for forced labour. His company was sent to Poland to build roads in the mountains. By October the army started to retreat as the Russians advanced. Shmulek found himself marching across Hungary in torn shoes, his company charged with digging a new defence against the Russians. Half the company had typhoid. The Germans killed these and other sick people with a shot to the head. “I had to bury comrades who were murdered in this way.”

When liberation came in April 1945, Shmulek went back to Budapest. Bnei Akiva was arranging to take young people to Israel. He made contact with the Jewish Brigade in Italy. A year later, as leader of Hachsharah, a Zionist organization, he selected refugees from DP camps and placed them on buses and then ships from Italy and France, thus facilitating their escape to Palestine.

After the creation of the State of Israel, no more clandestine operations were necessary. Shmulek married Rachel; they had a daughter, Gilla, born in Italy, and came to Australia in 1954.

During the photoshoot, Shmulek cradled a photograph of Rachel, his recently deceased wife. He did not wish to be photographed without her by his side.

 

Shmulek Moses

Shmulek Moses was born in 1923 in Balassagyarmat, in the Hungarian countryside. He went to an Orthodox Jewish school. In high school he was taught about the Crusades but was angry that he never learned Jewish history.

Shmulek left for Budapest in 1943. He learned Hebrew and became a religious Zionist and Bnei Akiva leader. In illegal clandestine groups he taught young people they should believe in Zionism and that they had no future in Hungary.

On 19 March 1944 the Germans invaded Hungary. Shmulek was taken to the ghetto, where Jews were subjected to curfews, forced to relinquish radios and valuables, interrogated and beaten.

One month later he was called up for forced labour. His company was sent to Poland to build roads in the mountains. By October the army started to retreat as the Russians advanced. Shmulek found himself marching across Hungary in torn shoes, his company charged with digging a new defence against the Russians. Half the company had typhoid. The Germans killed these and other sick people with a shot to the head. “I had to bury comrades who were murdered in this way.”

When liberation came in April 1945, Shmulek went back to Budapest. Bnei Akiva was arranging to take young people to Israel. He made contact with the Jewish Brigade in Italy. A year later, as leader of Hachsharah, a Zionist organization, he selected refugees from DP camps and placed them on buses and then ships from Italy and France, thus facilitating their escape to Palestine.

After the creation of the State of Israel, no more clandestine operations were necessary. Shmulek married Rachel; they had a daughter, Gilla, born in Italy, and came to Australia in 1954.

During the photoshoot, Shmulek cradled a photograph of Rachel, his recently deceased wife. He did not wish to be photographed without her by his side.

 

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Peter Nash

“My maternal grandfather steadfastly refused to leave Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power. As a World War I veteran who had fought for the former Kaiser, he firmly believed that the Nazis would never harm him. He also thought that Hitler would not last. Shortly after Kristallnacht, in November 1938 my parents received an eviction notice from the owners of our apartment in Berlin. It stated, ‘Under the principles of the Nazis it is not acceptable for Aryan tenants to live under the same roof with Jews. We therefore demand that you vacate the premises.’

We did not vacate immediately because we were unable to obtain entry to another country. We heard that Shanghai did not require an entry visa. So my parents and I, my mother’s parents, and her brother decided to leave Berlin. In April 1939, we went by train to Genoa, Italy, where we boarded a German steamship. My grandfather was devastated to leave Germany. Unlike dozens of our family members, our lives were saved. Sadly, my grandfather died one month after reaching Shanghai, suffering complications from a heart attack prior to the journey.

My father’s parents in Poland did not want to leave. Once again pride stood in the way. Soon after Germany occupied Poland, my grandparents were among over 300 Jews who were sent to Piotrkow Trybunalski ghetto. We exchanged letters with them throughout 1940 until April 1941, after which we never heard from them again. In late 1942, all the remaining inmates of Piotrkow Trybunalski were transported to Treblinka and murdered.

In 1991 I visited Berlin with an older cousin and he showed me the spot where he stood on the morning of 10 November 1938 and watched the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue still in flames.”

Peter holds the eviction notice which was issued to the Nachemstein family at their apartment in Berlin on 25 November 1938.

 

Peter Nash

“My maternal grandfather steadfastly refused to leave Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power. As a World War I veteran who had fought for the former Kaiser, he firmly believed that the Nazis would never harm him. He also thought that Hitler would not last. Shortly after Kristallnacht, in November 1938 my parents received an eviction notice from the owners of our apartment in Berlin. It stated, ‘Under the principles of the Nazis it is not acceptable for Aryan tenants to live under the same roof with Jews. We therefore demand that you vacate the premises.’

We did not vacate immediately because we were unable to obtain entry to another country. We heard that Shanghai did not require an entry visa. So my parents and I, my mother’s parents, and her brother decided to leave Berlin. In April 1939, we went by train to Genoa, Italy, where we boarded a German steamship. My grandfather was devastated to leave Germany. Unlike dozens of our family members, our lives were saved. Sadly, my grandfather died one month after reaching Shanghai, suffering complications from a heart attack prior to the journey.

My father’s parents in Poland did not want to leave. Once again pride stood in the way. Soon after Germany occupied Poland, my grandparents were among over 300 Jews who were sent to Piotrkow Trybunalski ghetto. We exchanged letters with them throughout 1940 until April 1941, after which we never heard from them again. In late 1942, all the remaining inmates of Piotrkow Trybunalski were transported to Treblinka and murdered.

In 1991 I visited Berlin with an older cousin and he showed me the spot where he stood on the morning of 10 November 1938 and watched the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue still in flames.”

Peter holds the eviction notice which was issued to the Nachemstein family at their apartment in Berlin on 25 November 1938.

 

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Peter Reisman

Peter Reisman

At four years old, Peter Reismann remembers a hurried departure into a dark and small bunker. After the Germans occupied Budapest and persecution intensified, Peter’s father was taken away into forced labour. His mother made plans with a Christian friend to seek refuge in a bunker on their property. Peter’s memories of this year in confinement are shaped by darkness. During this time they did not have sunlight or electricity, and had minimal contact with the outside world.

Life in confinement was particularly burdensome for a rambunctious boy like Peter. “For 12 months we stayed hidden in a dark bunker, forbidden from making a sound. This was particularly difficult for me. My mother had to bribe me to be good by promising a spoonful of apricot jam at the end of each day.”

There was no way of knowing that, while they were in hiding, their family was being killed in the German death camps. And yet, in that bunker, two days before liberation on 23 January 1945, Peter’s mother gave birth to his sister, and two weeks later his father would return. Despite their harrowing experiences and the heartbreaking truth of being among the few Reismanns alive, Peter’s family emerged from the darkness and began to rebuild.

 

Peter Reisman

Peter Reisman

At four years old, Peter Reismann remembers a hurried departure into a dark and small bunker. After the Germans occupied Budapest and persecution intensified, Peter’s father was taken away into forced labour. His mother made plans with a Christian friend to seek refuge in a bunker on their property. Peter’s memories of this year in confinement are shaped by darkness. During this time they did not have sunlight or electricity, and had minimal contact with the outside world.

Life in confinement was particularly burdensome for a rambunctious boy like Peter. “For 12 months we stayed hidden in a dark bunker, forbidden from making a sound. This was particularly difficult for me. My mother had to bribe me to be good by promising a spoonful of apricot jam at the end of each day.”

There was no way of knowing that, while they were in hiding, their family was being killed in the German death camps. And yet, in that bunker, two days before liberation on 23 January 1945, Peter’s mother gave birth to his sister, and two weeks later his father would return. Despite their harrowing experiences and the heartbreaking truth of being among the few Reismanns alive, Peter’s family emerged from the darkness and began to rebuild.

 

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Peter Rössler

Peter Rossler's yellow Star of David

Peter Rössler was nine years old when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Anti-Jewish decrees became law and his world began to shrink with the steady removal of everything he knew and loved. Deportations began.

“I believe my parents knew little of the full horrors that lay ahead. Our transport was an ordinary passenger train, and we were permitted 50 kilos of luggage each. No one knew the truth. The Nazis kept things vague, referring euphemistically to the deportation process of ‘resettlement’.”

They arrived at Lodz ghetto. Hitler’s depraved vision meant that death was a constant. Appalling conditions and lack of nutrition killed Peter’s father, aunt and uncle within six months. His mother, Lilly, died some time after. Peter and his brother Honza were sent to an orphanage in the ghetto. On Peter’s 13th birthday, they traded a pair of winter boots for a bowl of soup. Peter remembers, “It was the best meal we had had in a long time, and a truly memorable birthday treat.”

Chaim Rumkowski, head of the Jewish Council of Elders in Lodz, convinced the Germans to keep ghetto factories functioning to produce goods for the Reich. Peter and Honza worked in numerous factories until August 1944, when the ghetto was liquidated and they were sent to Auschwitz. “We were no longer humans: not names, but numbers. I didn’t think too much about the future…just to survive another day.”

On 30 April 1945, the two brothers were liberated by the American Army. They returned to Czechoslovakia, but because of the communist takeover, the future looked bleak. They decided to leave for Australia.

Peter loves his life in Australia and shares his story at the Sydney Jewish Museum. “I am not a victim; I am a survivor.”

Peter holds a yellow Star of David which belonged to his late aunt. Anny Rössler wore the star in Prague in 1941 and later in Theresienstadt, where she survived with her husband Joseph, Peter’s father’s identical twin brother.

 

Peter Rössler

Peter Rossler's yellow Star of David

Peter Rössler was nine years old when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Anti-Jewish decrees became law and his world began to shrink with the steady removal of everything he knew and loved. Deportations began.

“I believe my parents knew little of the full horrors that lay ahead. Our transport was an ordinary passenger train, and we were permitted 50 kilos of luggage each. No one knew the truth. The Nazis kept things vague, referring euphemistically to the deportation process of ‘resettlement’.”

They arrived at Lodz ghetto. Hitler’s depraved vision meant that death was a constant. Appalling conditions and lack of nutrition killed Peter’s father, aunt and uncle within six months. His mother, Lilly, died some time after. Peter and his brother Honza were sent to an orphanage in the ghetto. On Peter’s 13th birthday, they traded a pair of winter boots for a bowl of soup. Peter remembers, “It was the best meal we had had in a long time, and a truly memorable birthday treat.”

Chaim Rumkowski, head of the Jewish Council of Elders in Lodz, convinced the Germans to keep ghetto factories functioning to produce goods for the Reich. Peter and Honza worked in numerous factories until August 1944, when the ghetto was liquidated and they were sent to Auschwitz. “We were no longer humans: not names, but numbers. I didn’t think too much about the future…just to survive another day.”

On 30 April 1945, the two brothers were liberated by the American Army. They returned to Czechoslovakia, but because of the communist takeover, the future looked bleak. They decided to leave for Australia.

Peter loves his life in Australia and shares his story at the Sydney Jewish Museum. “I am not a victim; I am a survivor.”

Peter holds a yellow Star of David which belonged to his late aunt. Anny Rössler wore the star in Prague in 1941 and later in Theresienstadt, where she survived with her husband Joseph, Peter’s father’s identical twin brother.

 

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Egon Sonnenschein

Egon Sonnenschein came of age as a fugitive. The softly spoken individual was a child of 10 when Germany attacked Yugoslavia in April 1941 and his life on the run began.

The family fled to his grandparents in Croatia, a puppet Nazi State run by the brutal Ustashi, whose cruelty was on par with the most abominable regimes of the past. Victims of the Ustashi’s sadistic rule were impaled, burned alive, and tied together and then drowned. The brutality and murders Egon witnessed remain ingrained in his memory to this day.

The Sonnenscheins survived thanks to the generosity of the town Mayor, a former student of Egon’s grandfather, who saved over 300 Jews and Serbs from death.

Desperate to leave Croatia for Italian-occupied Slovenia, the family purchased false identity papers from a Slovenian man who offered to take their household goods to his country, issuing a false contact address to aid their border crossing.

The family arrived, weary and fearful. Despite paying a large sum for help, they had no permits to enter the country and were imprisoned for five weeks. Upon his release, Egon’s father went to collect their household goods and exchanged Italian liras with the “helpful Slovenian man”. During the exchange, Egon’s father noticed his own beautiful carpet laid out on the floor, realizing that the plan had been to have the Sonnenscheins killed, and steal their belongings.

In 1943, the family moved again. Crossing Lake Como and struggling up mountains, they finally made it to Switzerland, where they discovered friendship and people willing to help. Egon was entrusted to the care of a foster family. To this day, he remains in touch with the children and grandchildren of the family who, he reflects, “treated me better than their own children.”

After the war the Sonnenscheins left communist Yugoslavia, living in Israel for seven years, and after that in South Africa for 26 years. In 1983 Egon, his wife Miriam and their four children immigrated to Australia.

Egon exhibits a postcard intended for his aunt Regina Grunfeld. Dated 11 April 1943, it is stamped ‘Otputovao Parti’ (Departed – Return to Sender). For many families torn apart during the Holocaust, letters were the only link that tethered them to loved ones.

 

Egon Sonnenschein

Egon Sonnenschein came of age as a fugitive. The softly spoken individual was a child of 10 when Germany attacked Yugoslavia in April 1941 and his life on the run began.

The family fled to his grandparents in Croatia, a puppet Nazi State run by the brutal Ustashi, whose cruelty was on par with the most abominable regimes of the past. Victims of the Ustashi’s sadistic rule were impaled, burned alive, and tied together and then drowned. The brutality and murders Egon witnessed remain ingrained in his memory to this day.

The Sonnenscheins survived thanks to the generosity of the town Mayor, a former student of Egon’s grandfather, who saved over 300 Jews and Serbs from death.

Desperate to leave Croatia for Italian-occupied Slovenia, the family purchased false identity papers from a Slovenian man who offered to take their household goods to his country, issuing a false contact address to aid their border crossing.

The family arrived, weary and fearful. Despite paying a large sum for help, they had no permits to enter the country and were imprisoned for five weeks. Upon his release, Egon’s father went to collect their household goods and exchanged Italian liras with the “helpful Slovenian man”. During the exchange, Egon’s father noticed his own beautiful carpet laid out on the floor, realizing that the plan had been to have the Sonnenscheins killed, and steal their belongings.

In 1943, the family moved again. Crossing Lake Como and struggling up mountains, they finally made it to Switzerland, where they discovered friendship and people willing to help. Egon was entrusted to the care of a foster family. To this day, he remains in touch with the children and grandchildren of the family who, he reflects, “treated me better than their own children.”

After the war the Sonnenscheins left communist Yugoslavia, living in Israel for seven years, and after that in South Africa for 26 years. In 1983 Egon, his wife Miriam and their four children immigrated to Australia.

Egon exhibits a postcard intended for his aunt Regina Grunfeld. Dated 11 April 1943, it is stamped ‘Otputovao Parti’ (Departed – Return to Sender). For many families torn apart during the Holocaust, letters were the only link that tethered them to loved ones.

 

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George Sternfeld

“The missed Bar Mitzvah at 13 symbolized the Holocaust and its legacy, while the belated Bar Mitzvah at 66 symbolized my recovery from trauma and my re-entry into the communal fold.”

In 2005, George Sternfeld celebrated his coming of age in the forecourt of the Kotel, Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. It was a rite of passage denied to him in his adolescent years, in a life interrupted by the Nazi threat and subsequent flight of his family from Warsaw to the southern edge of Siberia.

Aside from the biting weather and remoteness from news of Europe, this exiled life afforded some semblance of security. At the war’s end, the Sternfelds returned to Poland; to the realization of devastation and loss. “Subsequent enquiries have never given us hope that we would find a single relative alive. Nor were there graves to go to. The air above Europe is their cemetery.”

As a proud, young, Jewish man growing up in post-war Poland, early encounters with antisemitism affected George profoundly. Seeking empowerment and the discipline to set his life on a chosen course, he took up boxing and reinvigorated his lust for life. In 1960, the family immigrated to Australia. Embracing his new country, George found a natural affinity for the Australian way of life: the people, the culture, the personal freedom.

“Australia is my adopted home: I adopted it and it adopted me. I have a soul that is Jewish co-existing with a mentality that is Australian.”

George has two sons, Bernard and Dan. He married Liz, his second wife, in 1974 and together, they have built a life on a foundation of deep affection and understanding. Reflecting on his life, George acknowledges his journey in comprehending his history, in reconciling his identity as a Pole and as an Australian, but above all, in resolving his relationship with his Jewish identity.

George holds a photo of himself as a child in Siberia. It evokes strong memories of his childhood in the vast and remote area, where the temperatures could drop to minus 50 degrees.

 

George Sternfeld

“The missed Bar Mitzvah at 13 symbolized the Holocaust and its legacy, while the belated Bar Mitzvah at 66 symbolized my recovery from trauma and my re-entry into the communal fold.”

In 2005, George Sternfeld celebrated his coming of age in the forecourt of the Kotel, Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. It was a rite of passage denied to him in his adolescent years, in a life interrupted by the Nazi threat and subsequent flight of his family from Warsaw to the southern edge of Siberia.

Aside from the biting weather and remoteness from news of Europe, this exiled life afforded some semblance of security. At the war’s end, the Sternfelds returned to Poland; to the realization of devastation and loss. “Subsequent enquiries have never given us hope that we would find a single relative alive. Nor were there graves to go to. The air above Europe is their cemetery.”

As a proud, young, Jewish man growing up in post-war Poland, early encounters with antisemitism affected George profoundly. Seeking empowerment and the discipline to set his life on a chosen course, he took up boxing and reinvigorated his lust for life. In 1960, the family immigrated to Australia. Embracing his new country, George found a natural affinity for the Australian way of life: the people, the culture, the personal freedom.

“Australia is my adopted home: I adopted it and it adopted me. I have a soul that is Jewish co-existing with a mentality that is Australian.”

George has two sons, Bernard and Dan. He married Liz, his second wife, in 1974 and together, they have built a life on a foundation of deep affection and understanding. Reflecting on his life, George acknowledges his journey in comprehending his history, in reconciling his identity as a Pole and as an Australian, but above all, in resolving his relationship with his Jewish identity.

George holds a photo of himself as a child in Siberia. It evokes strong memories of his childhood in the vast and remote area, where the temperatures could drop to minus 50 degrees.

 

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Beate Stricker

“I was born in Berlin into an observant family. My parents and I lived with my grandparents until I was five. I loved my grandparents very much, and received a lot of attention from uncles, aunts, and cousins.

I was not really aware of the threatening dark clouds that were gathering… and then came Kristallnacht. My father did not stay at home that terrible night. When he returned the next morning, to his horror, he saw my mother, with my baby sister in her arms, facing an SS man. My father was able to prove that he had the necessary papers for us to leave immediately. Our destination was Australia. When we arrived we were surprised that there were no kangaroos hopping around the streets.

My parents felt insecure – how would they make a living and what did their future hold? A few more worrying months passed before they took over a run-down general store in Kogarah. While they were learning how to run it, my sister and I were taken care of at the Isabella Lazarus Home in Hunters Hill. My parents didn’t visit because they didn’t have a car and were tied up with the business.

Now they had the opportunity to learn English, make a living, and our family could live together in the attached residence. In time, several Jewish families moved near us. My father initiated a regular Friday night service at the local school of arts, which became the Southern Sydney Synagogue in Allawah. The Synagogue has been active in the community since 1943.

At the age of 19, I married Henry Stricker, a Kindertransport child from Vienna.”

Beate does not believe she is a Holocaust survivor, and yet she lives in its shadow.

 

Beate Stricker

“I was born in Berlin into an observant family. My parents and I lived with my grandparents until I was five. I loved my grandparents very much, and received a lot of attention from uncles, aunts, and cousins.

I was not really aware of the threatening dark clouds that were gathering… and then came Kristallnacht. My father did not stay at home that terrible night. When he returned the next morning, to his horror, he saw my mother, with my baby sister in her arms, facing an SS man. My father was able to prove that he had the necessary papers for us to leave immediately. Our destination was Australia. When we arrived we were surprised that there were no kangaroos hopping around the streets.

My parents felt insecure – how would they make a living and what did their future hold? A few more worrying months passed before they took over a run-down general store in Kogarah. While they were learning how to run it, my sister and I were taken care of at the Isabella Lazarus Home in Hunters Hill. My parents didn’t visit because they didn’t have a car and were tied up with the business.

Now they had the opportunity to learn English, make a living, and our family could live together in the attached residence. In time, several Jewish families moved near us. My father initiated a regular Friday night service at the local school of arts, which became the Southern Sydney Synagogue in Allawah. The Synagogue has been active in the community since 1943.

At the age of 19, I married Henry Stricker, a Kindertransport child from Vienna.”

Beate does not believe she is a Holocaust survivor, and yet she lives in its shadow.

 

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Helen Studencki

“My parents, Solomon and Amalia Freifeld, were both from middle-class families with traditional Jewish values, which they tried very hard to instil in me and my older sister Sally.

We survived the war in Radymno, in the eastern part of Poland, initially in the ghetto and then in hiding. I have no memories of this time, since I was a baby.

My post-war recollections, when we emerged from our shelter with a Polish family, are muddy; difficult to tell today whether they are actual memories or things my mother told me.

One lesson I was determined to never forget was to be proudly Jewish, since anything else would have given victory to Hitler and the forces of evil, and desecrated the memory of all the members of our family and the millions of other innocent Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust.

Growing up in communist, post-war Poland, I had experienced many episodes of antisemitism, which was one of many reasons for emigrating. At this point, our small family fractured, with my mother and sister going to the US and me going to Australia.

My father is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. He gave me the Megillah that I have donated to the Museum in memory of my parents, who – despite the greatest odds – succeeded in making my sister and myself fiercely proud to be Jewish, and committed to the principles they lived by. It is from them that I have learned compassion and tolerance, and the understanding that no man is an island, and we need to be open minded and accepting, and never take anything for granted.”

Helen peers at a filigree silver Megillah, which holds sacred Jewish texts – a family heirloom given to her when she left Poland in 1959.

 

Helen Studencki

“My parents, Solomon and Amalia Freifeld, were both from middle-class families with traditional Jewish values, which they tried very hard to instil in me and my older sister Sally.

We survived the war in Radymno, in the eastern part of Poland, initially in the ghetto and then in hiding. I have no memories of this time, since I was a baby.

My post-war recollections, when we emerged from our shelter with a Polish family, are muddy; difficult to tell today whether they are actual memories or things my mother told me.

One lesson I was determined to never forget was to be proudly Jewish, since anything else would have given victory to Hitler and the forces of evil, and desecrated the memory of all the members of our family and the millions of other innocent Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust.

Growing up in communist, post-war Poland, I had experienced many episodes of antisemitism, which was one of many reasons for emigrating. At this point, our small family fractured, with my mother and sister going to the US and me going to Australia.

My father is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. He gave me the Megillah that I have donated to the Museum in memory of my parents, who – despite the greatest odds – succeeded in making my sister and myself fiercely proud to be Jewish, and committed to the principles they lived by. It is from them that I have learned compassion and tolerance, and the understanding that no man is an island, and we need to be open minded and accepting, and never take anything for granted.”

Helen peers at a filigree silver Megillah, which holds sacred Jewish texts – a family heirloom given to her when she left Poland in 1959.

 

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Joe Symon

Joe Symon

Joe Symon is 92 years old and is always “on top of the world”. The vitality of his former 19-year-old self is palpable when he recounts his experiences of the war years in occupied Hungary. He was fighting fit and headstrong in every way, rebelling against antisemitic restrictions. When he was called up for forced labour, he did not go immediately. He was later forced to go, under threat of punishment.

Listening to forbidden radio stations such as the Voice of America, he heard details about the concentration camps and gas chambers, and became determined to evade the Germans and sabotage their actions at all costs. If he was going to face death, he would die with dignity. For Joe, this fight for life meant that he would escape forced labour and join the Hungarian underground resistance.

His purpose in the underground was to save lives: help people, slow down the German war machine as much as possible, and if it came to it, fight. Joe sabotaged German roundups, smuggled Jews out of the ghetto, and even organized food for starving children in hiding, despite food shortages and restrictions. Details of this time are scarce. Joe’s missions were shrouded in secrecy under the oath that he took to protect the organization, his commander, and missions he was involved in.

When he recalls these daring actions, he never fails to mention that he didn’t always like everything that he was involved in, but he knew that he had to do it. The only way for him to defend his future was to fight for it.

Joseph holds a photograph of himself, aged 15, leading a Shabbat service in a Jewish scout camp in Hungary in 1940.

 

Joe Symon

Joe Symon

Joe Symon is 92 years old and is always “on top of the world”. The vitality of his former 19-year-old self is palpable when he recounts his experiences of the war years in occupied Hungary. He was fighting fit and headstrong in every way, rebelling against antisemitic restrictions. When he was called up for forced labour, he did not go immediately. He was later forced to go, under threat of punishment.

Listening to forbidden radio stations such as the Voice of America, he heard details about the concentration camps and gas chambers, and became determined to evade the Germans and sabotage their actions at all costs. If he was going to face death, he would die with dignity. For Joe, this fight for life meant that he would escape forced labour and join the Hungarian underground resistance.

His purpose in the underground was to save lives: help people, slow down the German war machine as much as possible, and if it came to it, fight. Joe sabotaged German roundups, smuggled Jews out of the ghetto, and even organized food for starving children in hiding, despite food shortages and restrictions. Details of this time are scarce. Joe’s missions were shrouded in secrecy under the oath that he took to protect the organization, his commander, and missions he was involved in.

When he recalls these daring actions, he never fails to mention that he didn’t always like everything that he was involved in, but he knew that he had to do it. The only way for him to defend his future was to fight for it.

Joseph holds a photograph of himself, aged 15, leading a Shabbat service in a Jewish scout camp in Hungary in 1940.

 

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Margot Tischmann

“Things were already bad in Germany when I was born in 1933. It was the year Hitler came to power. My mother didn’t even stay in the hospital. My parents had a menswear business and were paying rent to a German man. He refused to take rent from them anymore, advising them, ‘You have to leave; you have to get out.’

We left on the ship D. Main, arriving in Australia on 6 December 1938. I was four years old at the time. When we arrived, the Sydney Morning Herald took a photo of me and another young Jewish girl. We were featured in the newspaper. Fearing consequences for our relatives in Germany, my mother and father would not give their names.

My father’s family lived in Poland; they all perished. My mother’s parents died before the war, but three of her sisters and a brother were murdered by the Nazis.

When we arrived none of us could speak a word of English. We had no relatives in Australia and there was no one to meet us. I went to pre-school and didn’t even know how to say, ‘I need the toilet.’ My parents had a big manufacturing business in Germany, but in Australia my mother had to clean floors to make a living. Soon, my parents were doing ‘piece work’ in their home in Bondi, making trousers. They changed their name from Fuks to Fox, to fit in.”

The doll held aloft by Margot was the sole treasured item she was allowed to bring with her when the family immigrated to Australia.

 

Margot Tischmann

“Things were already bad in Germany when I was born in 1933. It was the year Hitler came to power. My mother didn’t even stay in the hospital. My parents had a menswear business and were paying rent to a German man. He refused to take rent from them anymore, advising them, ‘You have to leave; you have to get out.’

We left on the ship D. Main, arriving in Australia on 6 December 1938. I was four years old at the time. When we arrived, the Sydney Morning Herald took a photo of me and another young Jewish girl. We were featured in the newspaper. Fearing consequences for our relatives in Germany, my mother and father would not give their names.

My father’s family lived in Poland; they all perished. My mother’s parents died before the war, but three of her sisters and a brother were murdered by the Nazis.

When we arrived none of us could speak a word of English. We had no relatives in Australia and there was no one to meet us. I went to pre-school and didn’t even know how to say, ‘I need the toilet.’ My parents had a big manufacturing business in Germany, but in Australia my mother had to clean floors to make a living. Soon, my parents were doing ‘piece work’ in their home in Bondi, making trousers. They changed their name from Fuks to Fox, to fit in.”

The doll held aloft by Margot was the sole treasured item she was allowed to bring with her when the family immigrated to Australia.

 

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Susanne Warhaftig

“During the Spanish Inquisition my mother’s family escaped to Hungary; in 1910 they relocated to Vienna. My father was Polish born. I was born in Vienna. Restrictions on Jews meant wearing the yellow Star of David, not being able to go anywhere we wanted, and having two extra families forcefully moved into our apartment. In 1939, my father was taken to Buchenwald where he was murdered.

My brother attended a Jewish school where they hoped to send these children to Palestine. During this time we twice avoided going to a concentration camp. One day two men, paid by my uncle in Budapest, arrived to smuggle us into Hungary where it was safer. These men were only prepared to take two of us. My mother made the decision to take me and leave my brother. I presume she felt he would get to Palestine. I can’t imagine having to make such a decision. My mother rarely spoke about it… I was preoccupied with it.

In 1944 we went into hiding with false papers in a remote village in Hungary. Towards the end of the war Russian soldiers arrived. They were our allies but they caused havoc. They got drunk and molested my mother. At the end of the war antisemitism was still rife. I was still called ‘dirty Jew’ and spat at. It took me a long time to come to terms with being Jewish.

My uncle in Australia found out that we were alive and helped us leave. We arrived in Sydney in December 1947. I imagined kangaroos hopping around but they weren’t. Growing up after many changes of schools and problems at home was difficult. My mother died when I was 20. Information in a diary found by my aunt led me to my father’s family and seven cousins. In 2002 I learned that my brother, taken from school, had been shot and killed in Russia. He was 11.

The doll held by Susan is the first toy she received after the war ended. It was a gift from the non-Jewish child of a neighbour and is precious to her still.

 

Susanne Warhaftig

“During the Spanish Inquisition my mother’s family escaped to Hungary; in 1910 they relocated to Vienna. My father was Polish born. I was born in Vienna. Restrictions on Jews meant wearing the yellow Star of David, not being able to go anywhere we wanted, and having two extra families forcefully moved into our apartment. In 1939, my father was taken to Buchenwald where he was murdered.

My brother attended a Jewish school where they hoped to send these children to Palestine. During this time we twice avoided going to a concentration camp. One day two men, paid by my uncle in Budapest, arrived to smuggle us into Hungary where it was safer. These men were only prepared to take two of us. My mother made the decision to take me and leave my brother. I presume she felt he would get to Palestine. I can’t imagine having to make such a decision. My mother rarely spoke about it… I was preoccupied with it.

In 1944 we went into hiding with false papers in a remote village in Hungary. Towards the end of the war Russian soldiers arrived. They were our allies but they caused havoc. They got drunk and molested my mother. At the end of the war antisemitism was still rife. I was still called ‘dirty Jew’ and spat at. It took me a long time to come to terms with being Jewish.

My uncle in Australia found out that we were alive and helped us leave. We arrived in Sydney in December 1947. I imagined kangaroos hopping around but they weren’t. Growing up after many changes of schools and problems at home was difficult. My mother died when I was 20. Information in a diary found by my aunt led me to my father’s family and seven cousins. In 2002 I learned that my brother, taken from school, had been shot and killed in Russia. He was 11.

The doll held by Susan is the first toy she received after the war ended. It was a gift from the non-Jewish child of a neighbour and is precious to her still.

 

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Lotte Weiss

Lotte Weiss attributed her survival to a series of miracles. Her parents and five siblings all perished in Auschwitz.

In March 1942, Lotte and her two sisters were deported from Bratislava in Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz. She remembered the “strange and terrible smell” of the bodies burning in the crematorium. That was the moment that she lost her faith in God.

In June 1942, Lotte narrowly escaped death when, after being sentenced to a punishment camp, the transport to which she was allocated was already full. She was also lucky to survive a bout of meningitis. In August, she was transferred to Birkenau. A month later came the devastating discovery of uniforms bearing her sisters’ numbers at the clothing collection point for the gas chambers.

Feeling hopeless, Lotte was then transferred from road construction work to the ‘Kanada’ block, sorting the belongings confiscated from prisoners. She was selected for sterilization, but managed to escape. Despite lying about her secretarial skills, she was chosen to work in the office of a German mining company. Whilst conditions at the office were much better than in the rest of the camp, she still suffered frequently from boils and throat infections.

By January 1945, prisoners could hear the Russians advancing; Auschwitz was evacuated. Fortunately, Lotte remained under the custodianship of the mining company, moving from camp to camp. She arrived in Theresienstadt in April 1945, where, after a few days, she was liberated by Russian troops.

Lotte still dreamed of her family. “When I do, it is a wonderful feeling. I thank God that they don’t have to suffer any more.”

Lotte held her concentration camp mug shot, taken in Auschwitz, 20 June 1942. Her prison number, 2065, was tattooed on her arm. She recalled trying to burn the numbers off by holding her skin against a hot pipe. When the skin healed the numbers were even darker than before.

Lotte passed away in February 2021.

 

Lotte Weiss

Lotte Weiss attributed her survival to a series of miracles. Her parents and five siblings all perished in Auschwitz.

In March 1942, Lotte and her two sisters were deported from Bratislava in Czechoslovakia to Auschwitz. She remembered the “strange and terrible smell” of the bodies burning in the crematorium. That was the moment that she lost her faith in God.

In June 1942, Lotte narrowly escaped death when, after being sentenced to a punishment camp, the transport to which she was allocated was already full. She was also lucky to survive a bout of meningitis. In August, she was transferred to Birkenau. A month later came the devastating discovery of uniforms bearing her sisters’ numbers at the clothing collection point for the gas chambers.

Feeling hopeless, Lotte was then transferred from road construction work to the ‘Kanada’ block, sorting the belongings confiscated from prisoners. She was selected for sterilization, but managed to escape. Despite lying about her secretarial skills, she was chosen to work in the office of a German mining company. Whilst conditions at the office were much better than in the rest of the camp, she still suffered frequently from boils and throat infections.

By January 1945, prisoners could hear the Russians advancing; Auschwitz was evacuated. Fortunately, Lotte remained under the custodianship of the mining company, moving from camp to camp. She arrived in Theresienstadt in April 1945, where, after a few days, she was liberated by Russian troops.

Lotte still dreamed of her family. “When I do, it is a wonderful feeling. I thank God that they don’t have to suffer any more.”

Lotte held her concentration camp mug shot, taken in Auschwitz, 20 June 1942. Her prison number, 2065, was tattooed on her arm. She recalled trying to burn the numbers off by holding her skin against a hot pipe. When the skin healed the numbers were even darker than before.

Lotte passed away in February 2021.

 

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Mimi Wise

Mimi Wise's jug

“On 5 November 1943, in Felletin, France, the Chief of Police sent his wife to warn my parents, Lola and Chaim Goldman, that they had to leave immediately. The Vichy police would soon be coming, the family name was on an arrest list. We left immediately, no personal belongings. My parents separated in order to have a better chance of finding a hiding place.

My early recollections are of continuous displacement. After the Nazis came to pick up my family, my brother and I were hidden on a pig farm in Le Mas-d’Artige using false identity papers. It seemed in the middle of nowhere, but I was grateful to have Sam with me. My brother was the most important person in my life. We relied on one another.

When the police began searching for Jews in hiding, they came to the farm. The farmer was afraid for his family’s safety, and sent word that we should be picked up. We were reunited with our parents in Arboureix, a tiny village where we found shelter. My parents told the Mayor that we were Jews looking for safety. He replied, ‘We don’t like the Jews but we hate Germans more,’ and agreed to assist.

I remember sensing the danger and being acutely aware of our surroundings. One morning, Sam and I were playing on a village dirt road when we heard and felt rumbling. We quickly ran home as a convoy of German soldiers traversed the village.

Memories of her stay in Arboureix culminate in a vision of hundreds of planes flying overhead while she was hiding in the fields. Mimi sensed her parents’ apprehension, unsure if “good or bad”. Liberation was only a matter of time.

At age eight, after the war, I was told my real name was Miryam. I was shocked, as I was always Mimi. Miryam, being a biblical name, could have betrayed us as Jews.”

This jug belonged to Mimi’s mother, and is one of the few household items retained from their home in Felletin, France.

 

Mimi Wise

Mimi Wise's jug

“On 5 November 1943, in Felletin, France, the Chief of Police sent his wife to warn my parents, Lola and Chaim Goldman, that they had to leave immediately. The Vichy police would soon be coming, the family name was on an arrest list. We left immediately, no personal belongings. My parents separated in order to have a better chance of finding a hiding place.

My early recollections are of continuous displacement. After the Nazis came to pick up my family, my brother and I were hidden on a pig farm in Le Mas-d’Artige using false identity papers. It seemed in the middle of nowhere, but I was grateful to have Sam with me. My brother was the most important person in my life. We relied on one another.

When the police began searching for Jews in hiding, they came to the farm. The farmer was afraid for his family’s safety, and sent word that we should be picked up. We were reunited with our parents in Arboureix, a tiny village where we found shelter. My parents told the Mayor that we were Jews looking for safety. He replied, ‘We don’t like the Jews but we hate Germans more,’ and agreed to assist.

I remember sensing the danger and being acutely aware of our surroundings. One morning, Sam and I were playing on a village dirt road when we heard and felt rumbling. We quickly ran home as a convoy of German soldiers traversed the village.

Memories of her stay in Arboureix culminate in a vision of hundreds of planes flying overhead while she was hiding in the fields. Mimi sensed her parents’ apprehension, unsure if “good or bad”. Liberation was only a matter of time.

At age eight, after the war, I was told my real name was Miryam. I was shocked, as I was always Mimi. Miryam, being a biblical name, could have betrayed us as Jews.”

This jug belonged to Mimi’s mother, and is one of the few household items retained from their home in Felletin, France.

 

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Sam Young

Sam Young and his book

Between 1941 and 1944, Sam Young lost track of his age. Before the Lodz ghetto, and before Auschwitz-Birkenau, his life was a story of family, plentiful food, holidays, school and childhood. He remembers his father as a man of ingenuity, with a penchant for business and an appreciation for his blessings. His mother, a woman who held the hand of a crying child she’d never met in the line-up at Auschwitz, was a gifted seamstress, with a large extended family, most of whom perished in the Holocaust.

Struggling to survive, smuggling food into the Lodz ghetto for his family, trying to avoid the deportation lists, Sam forgot to count his birthdays. Enduring the beatings, the insufferable work, the never-ending hunger and the pain of loss, liberation eventually came on a railway line in Bavaria, Germany. For Sam and his brother Steve, life had to go on.

Sam met Blanche Nisenbaum, the woman he would marry; she was his inspiration and the pillar of their family. Initially, they lived in Paris, the first place they felt free. Eventually they came to Australia where they had two children, Morri and Rita, and began their own business. Like his father, Sam was focussed and ambitious, so it wasn’t until his retirement that he could finally shift from building a life to living it. His brother passed away in 2002 and Blanche in 2003.

Sam’s birthdays are now celebrated with family and loved ones. Along with his children, grandchildren, and his partner, Margot Tischmann, life is full again.

Sam estimates that he lost 100 relatives during the Holocaust. He postulates that his “are the experiences of one person – just a drop in the ocean. I know that there would be millions more who would tell their stories, but they did not return.”

 

Sam Young

Sam Young and his book

Between 1941 and 1944, Sam Young lost track of his age. Before the Lodz ghetto, and before Auschwitz-Birkenau, his life was a story of family, plentiful food, holidays, school and childhood. He remembers his father as a man of ingenuity, with a penchant for business and an appreciation for his blessings. His mother, a woman who held the hand of a crying child she’d never met in the line-up at Auschwitz, was a gifted seamstress, with a large extended family, most of whom perished in the Holocaust.

Struggling to survive, smuggling food into the Lodz ghetto for his family, trying to avoid the deportation lists, Sam forgot to count his birthdays. Enduring the beatings, the insufferable work, the never-ending hunger and the pain of loss, liberation eventually came on a railway line in Bavaria, Germany. For Sam and his brother Steve, life had to go on.

Sam met Blanche Nisenbaum, the woman he would marry; she was his inspiration and the pillar of their family. Initially, they lived in Paris, the first place they felt free. Eventually they came to Australia where they had two children, Morri and Rita, and began their own business. Like his father, Sam was focussed and ambitious, so it wasn’t until his retirement that he could finally shift from building a life to living it. His brother passed away in 2002 and Blanche in 2003.

Sam’s birthdays are now celebrated with family and loved ones. Along with his children, grandchildren, and his partner, Margot Tischmann, life is full again.

Sam estimates that he lost 100 relatives during the Holocaust. He postulates that his “are the experiences of one person – just a drop in the ocean. I know that there would be millions more who would tell their stories, but they did not return.”

 

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