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Diary of Susi Hilsenrath

Hilsenrath, Susi Diary 1941
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Susi Hilsenrath was barely ten years old when her parents decided to send her and her younger brother to France from their native Bad Kreuznach in Germany. It was months after the Kristallnacht, a landmark, state-sponsored nationwide outburst of physical violence against Jews that occurred in the days after November 9, 1938, in which more than a hundred Jews were murdered across Germany, countless synagogues, Jewish-owned businesses, and houses were vandalized or destroyed, and over 30,000 Jews dragged off to concentration camps where an estimated 1,000 of them died. The Hilsenraths' house was damaged in the pogrom as well, and the family took Kristallnacht, as many German Jews did, as the final proof that Jewish life in Nazi Germany had become impossible, and that emigration was the order of the day. Prior to the countrywide pogrom, many Jews had found ways to accommodate their lives to the antisemitic Nazi society; after the November pogrom, most thought that this was no longer possible.1

As the Germans invaded and defeated France in the summer of 1940, the guardian hired by Susi's father evacuated Susi and her brother from Paris to Broût-Vernet, a small town in Vichy France close to its government headquarters in Auvergne. There, they were helped by the Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants, a French Jewish organization that was helping Jewish refugee children. The organization housed them, along with a number of other Jewish children in similar situations, in a local château, where they awaited emigration. With the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the American humanitarian organization which helped European Jewish refugees to emigrate to the United States, Susi and her brother soon received immigrant visas. Traveling via Spain and Portugal, they arrived in New York City in the fall of 1941.2 There they were reunited with their parents and their youngest brother, who had separately managed to emigrate to the United States.

While housed at the château—from sometime in the summer of 1940, until the late summer of 1941—Susi kept a diary. She described her life as part of the larger group of children amidst their uncertainty about the future. The diary captures a range of the author's moods and emotions, from childish musings to profound anxiety and sadness. Like other children authors of Holocaust diaries, Susi channeled her awareness of the extraordinary and perilous situation without understanding the specific threats that she was facing.3

For an account of Jewish life in Nazi Germany, see Marion Kaplan, Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (New York, Oxford University Press, 1998). For a detailed account of the antecedents and history of the Kristallnacht, see Alan Steinweis, Kristallnacht 1938 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).

The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) continues its work with refugees today. Since 2000, it has expanded its mission to aid non-Jewish refugees.

For a discussion of young writers' diaries of the Holocaust, see Alexandra Zapruder, ed., Salvaged Pages: Young Writers' Diaries of the Holocaust (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002).

Jewish fast day, commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

Uncle Hermann's card is written in French.

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[...]

 

Sunday, August 3, 1941

Oh, how happy I was, and now how many tears I've shed. I am not leaving. The others left an hour ago. Weichselbaum, Feuer, and Fellman aren't leaving either. Oh, now I can’t stand it anymore, the day seems twice as long. Strange, everything is all turned around. Edith is leaving and Adolf and Alexander are leaving. Oh yes, Helga is also staying. With whom shall I go now? With Helga, impossible. In the end, she would drive me crazy. I don't want to go with Sabine, and with Susi W., I don't know whether we get along. The house will be empty, but I think 40 new children are going to come. [...] I don't know how long I can stand it here. I want so much to travel after them in a bus, to eat the good things, and travel so long on the train, through a whole country. Then by ship across the big ocean and then, best of all, to see my dear parents again. My dear, dear parents. But often I get quite a strange feeling, I think that my parents have separated and don't want to be together anymore, but I don't know why, the thought just comes to me on its own.

Today is Tisha b'Av.1 We fasted until 2:30, and I was terribly hungry. I thought I would be in Ganal by this time, and where am I now—in this miserable house. But one thing you can say, if we had gone with this transport, then we would have to thank the Directress for almost everything. Because she is on the telephone all day, she says, Hilsenrath and Feuer have to leave; she repeats it every time. One can certainly say that since Herr Weichselbaum left, she has become much nicer and more decent. She doesn't shout as much anymore, and when she does shout, there's a reason for it. She is much more engaged with us, too. I am extremely angry with Herr Cogan. If he had not phoned today, and the Directress had phoned instead, she would have accomplished more. It was like this: he spoke to Frau Salomon about the children who left (Flora and Gustel almost wouldn't have gone, if the Directress hadn't been there). He talked about Flora and someone asked him her age, and he said she was 15, and Gustel 12. The children who were over 12 couldn't go, for the most part. I think Frau Salomon was about to say they couldn't go, but the Directress spoke insistently [...] After a lot of mulling it over, he got the words out. Then she told him [to say] a lot of other things, but he just would not say them. She spoke about us, too, she said, ask about Hilsenrath and Feuer. Not a word came out. "About Hilsenrath and Feuer," the Directress said. Not a word. Finally, it came out. Madame Salomon said it was impossible, he said "Fine, fine," and once again, "fine." He doesn't care whether we go or not. I'm sure that if the Directress had had the telephone in her hand, she would have accomplished something. But he, the dumb fool, or even better, idiot, can't do anything. Then the Directress took the phone in her hand for a minute and asked about Hilde and Otto, because they couldn't go either, and she accomplished it. Oh, if you only knew how angry I am at Cogan.

I'm not at all sorry about the children who left, only Edith. How we came together, I really don't know. How happy I would be if I had gone with her. I would have enjoyed the trip twice as much. Oh, that would have been so nice, and now everything is over, all over. Never, I think, will I feel really good here again after this.

[...]

 

Monday, August 4, 1941

Now I've calmed down, but I think about it often, it really is not that bad.

Today we received a card from Uncle Hermann, which said, "it’s over with my fiancée, I didn't really know her character."2 Oh, how terrible it is, to have a woman like that. He is also a bit carried away by Paris, too. Oh, Paris, so chic and so smutty. How many people have been carried away by enthusiasm for it.

Both of Fernande's little sisters have come. They are quite sweet. Quite different from her. Not at all so chubby.

Now I'm sitting with Anna W., Leia H., and Fernande O. at the table in the refectory. Good company at the table again. She (Anna) always waits until she can get the biggest piece. I really dislike that kind of thing, although, to tell the truth, sometimes I do it too. But it is really bad, and I keep resolving not to do it. But if I have to do it, then I can't complain when the others do it.

[...]

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 1995.A.0470.2
Date Created
August 3, 1941 to August 4, 1941
Page(s) 7
Author / Creator
Hilsenrath, Susi
Language(s)
German
Location
Broût-Vernet, France
Document Type Diary
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