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Portrait of a German Girl in a Handmade Frame

A portrait of Margaret Hantmans younger sister, Ewa, kept with Hantman during her imprisonment in several camps.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Margaret Simon Hantman was born to a Jewish family in 1926 in Berlin. Before the war, she was given this small black and white photograph of her younger sister, Eva Simon. In October 1942, when Eva was in her early teens, German authorities deported her to Riga.1 Margaret and her parents were deported to Theresienstadt in December of that year. Hantman kept the photograph with her throughout her imprisonment. 

When Hantman and her mother were deported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz in October 1944, they were separated. As camp guards forced her to undress, abandon her belongings, and shower, she made a quick decision to hide the photograph, along with the small Star of David necklace she was wearing, in her mouth—the only place she could.2 The three folds she made to the photograph so that she could hide it are still visible on the image where the surface is broken. Hantman managed to save the photograph and necklace at great risk, hiding it in or beneath mattresses or wherever she found a safe place.

In 2018, Hantman reflected with surprise at this split-second decision, saying this “daring” move seems so unlike her.3 She remembered herself as someone who often stayed in the background and followed the rules. In concealing the photo, she took a great risk: Jews could be beaten and even shot by camp guards for keeping such items. Family photographs were very common among the possessions that Jews in Auschwitz were forced to abandon.4

Soon after her arrival at Auschwitz, Hantman was transferred to a subcamp of Gross Rosen called Sackisch-Kudowa, which was linked to an airplane factory.5 When one of the eight women who shared her barracks learned of Hantman’s photograph of her sister, she made her a frame out of a piece of the burlap sack used for mattresses in their barracks.6 She added black vinyl tape on the corners to form a decorative border, and perhaps to reinforce the frame. This tape would have been available from the airplane factory. The picture, now framed, measures two by three inches—still small enough to hide. Hantman recalled her fellow prisoner’s gift as an act of kindness, and held the frame dear to her, keeping the photo in it even long after the war. With access to only simple and rough materials, the woman in the camp adorned the photograph with what was available. The burlap stitches even echo the pattern on Eva’s shirt. Hantman would also sew this dress when she was in the Deggendorf Displaced Persons camp after the war.7 

Hantman's mother and father both died in Auschwitz. Eva was shot along with everyone in her transport after arrival in Riga. Years later, Hantman and her children donated this photograph to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She completed an oral history in 2018. Hantman explained that they wanted to share this story and the photo with others so that people would know that what happened during the Holocaust “was real” and “realize that the stories that they heard were not stories but were truths."

Photographs like Margaret Hantman’s, kept over years of imprisonment and now preserved in museum collections, convey the difficult choices facing prisoners in Nazi camps. The endurance of this photograph is a testament to the great risk Hantman took to preserve it. Additions to the photograph—namely, the burlap frame—convey the intensity of her relationship to this last trace of her family and the material surroundings in Sackisch-Kudowa. Photographs, and the ways they were saved, also help to connect the general public with prisoners’ experiences of survival and their struggle to keep alive the memory of lost loved ones.8

According to Margaret Hantman, Eva was working in a Jewish orphanage in Berlin and was deported as punishment for "illegally going undercover." Margaret Hantman discusses the events leading to both her and her sister's deportation in this oral history interview.

Other women discuss hiding jewelry with sentimental value in their mouths. See the testimonies of Ruth Reiser and Doris Rauch.

Margaret Hantman, "My Story," 2012, 6, Margaret Hantman Papers, US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

A system of warehouses in the camps held the belongings that prisoners were forced to abandon. It was called "Kanada," adopted from jargon used by the prisoners as the warehouses full of prized possessions evoked a country of wealth. At first Kanada was a system of six warehouses; it was expanded to 30 by December 1943 but even that space quickly ran out. At the highest point in arrivals of deportees, 1,500–2,500 prisoners worked there sorting possessions. W. Długoborski and F. Piper (eds.), Auschwitz 1940–1945, Central Issues in the History of the Camp, Vol. II: "The Prisoners: Their Life and Work," (Oświęcim: Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2000), 150–55. See the testimony of Guta Blass Weintraub, who describes visiting Auschwitz in 1988 and looking in an office devoted to the innumerable photographs that belonged to victims of the camp. She had not been able to save her own photographs upon arrival at the camp.

See The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945, Vol. I, Part A, edited by Geoffrey P. Megargee (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009), 527–31. According to her oral history interview, Margaret went in the place of another woman, Eva Pollacova, so that Eva Pollacova and her sister wouldn't be separated. She went by the name Eva, her own sister's name, for the remainder of the war.

See Agnes Greenfeld, I Came Back: A Holocaust Surival Story (2001), 90–91, for a description of the conditions in the barracks and the ways women helped each other in their rooms and in the camp. She describes conditions at the airplane factory where she, like Margaret, was forced to work. For more on the experiences of women forced to work in these factories, see the related source in Experiencing History, Erzsébet Frank, "The Welders."

For more details, see the related item in Experiencing History, Dress Made by Margaret Hantment in Deggendorf DP Camp.

For more on family photos and memory, see Marianne Hirsch, Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012); Ray Goldfarb, "If Only I Had Pictures," Echoes of Memory, USHMM (Feb. 4, 2021).

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 2018.70.5
Date Created
December 1944 to April 1945
Dimensions Height: 3 inches (7.62 cm) - Width: 2 inches (5.08 cm) - Depth: 0.5 inches (1.27 cm)
Material Brown burlap backing, secured with black vinyl adhesive tape and stitched with thread. Paper and ink.
Maker / Creator
Margret Simon Hantman
Owner
Margret Simon Hantman
Location
Kudowa-Zdrój, Poland
Auschwitz, Poland (historical)
Object Type Equipment
How to Cite Museum Materials

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