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My Mother’s Photo Album

Adele and Yisrael Auerhahn with their young son Jacob in March 1940

At the bottom of a drawer in my mother's bedroom there was an album full of sepia photographs. As a young girl I sometimes took it out and looked at it and wondered who all the people were. But I had learnt over time not to show it to my mother and ask her about it, because her eyes would immediately fill with tears.

My mother grew up in Leipzig. Her own mother died when she was ten, and her elder brother left for Palestine in 1936. Her father remarried and my mother loved her stepmother. I knew she had a young stepbrother, but I knew nothing about him.

Almost seventy-six years ago, in February 1939, my mother left Germany, one month before her eighteenth birthday. She only just made it on to the Kindertransport, the hastily arranged program that rescued some 10,000 children, aged between two and eighteen, from Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia in the months leading up to the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. Like all the other young refugees, she was travelling alone, and was allowed only one small suitcase in which she could put some clothes and special belongings – like her photo album.

She rarely spoke about her childhood in Leipzig, her experience on the Kindertransport, or what it was like living as a refugee in wartime London. I always thought that one day she would tell me more about her life, or perhaps tell my own children as they grew up. It's quite common that people talk more readily to their grandchildren rather than their children about their wartime experiences. But my mother died suddenly in 1996 while they were still young.

So my sister and I have tried to piece together her family story by speaking to surviving relatives, and by tracking down books which document the lives of the Jews who perished. A few years ago, we discovered in a book of memory published in Italy that my grandparents and Jacob were in internment camps in Tuscany and that they were arrested in Lucca on November 30, 1943. They were transported to Auschwitz on train number six on January 30, 1944, and were "alive for the last time on February 6, 1944", when Jacob was five years old.

Now we knew that Jacob was born in December 1938, barely one month after Kristallnacht, the terrifying pogrom of November 9-10, which was one of the very few things about her pre-war life in Germany that my mother ever spoke about. She described the horror of the night the Gestapo pounded on the door of her family's apartment, searching for her father. But we never realized that her young brother was barely two months old when she left.

We recently discovered that one of the photographs in our mother's album that had remained unidentified is in fact of our grandparents and Jacob taken in 1940, when they were being held in an internment camp in Milan. It is the only photo we have of Jacob Auerhahn, our uncle, who would have been 76 had he lived - just 16 years older than me. It doesn't bear thinking about.

Thanks to the Kindertransport, my mother survived. And she was truly grateful every single day. She loved life; she treasured her husband, her children and grandchildren and took nothing for granted. But how traumatic it must have been to leave the people she held most dear, all on her own, and then never to see them again.

I often think of the utter despair my grandfather must have felt as he and his wife and their young son were herded onto train number six. He probably understood the fate that awaited them, and could only hope that by allowing his teenage son to leave for an uncertain future in Palestine in 1936, and by putting his young daughter on another train in 1939, he had at least ensured their safety.

Indeed he did, and between them they gave my grandfather seven grandchildren and many great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. Almost all of them are today living in Israel. How privileged we are to be here.

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This is one of hundreds of stories of children who had to leave their parents for an unknown world that appear in Memories That Won't Go Away: A Tribute to the Children of the Kindertransport , a new book by Michele M. Gold, with artwork by Holocaust survivor and artist Gabriella Y.Karin. Notable people in the book include famed sculptor Frank Meisler; Bertha Leverton, on whose life the play Kindertransport was based; and Rita Berwald, the author's mother. The book highlights some of the courageous rescuers, including Sir Nicholas Winton and Trevor Chadwick, and documents through detailed accounts and photographs the often painful yet inspiring stories of the rescued children.

Published in Israel by Kotarim International Publishing, Memories That Won't Go Away is also available through Amazon (www.amazon.com). For more information relating to the book, please contact Michele Gold at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Marian Lebor at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

 

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Tuesday, 02 March 2021

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