The Autograph Book

Martha came to the UK on the 'Kindertransport' – part of an operation which brought 10,000 unaccompanied children to England as they sought refuge from Nazi persecution. Martha originally came from Austria and rebuilt her life in London. Her entire family was murdered in the Holocaust.

One of Martha’s most treasured possessions is a small book, quite worn with age that doesn't appear to be worth very much from the outside, but inside it is full of handwritten messages in German. Some of the messages are amusing, some quite serious but each message represents an untold story.

In January 1938, Martha celebrated her eighth birthday. Friends and family gathered to make the day special. Martha’s cousin gave her an autograph book. Martha was delighted with this present and asked the people she knew and cared about to write personal messages in her new book. Her school friends and relatives filled the pages with their thoughts. The entries were varied. Some wrote witty comments whilst others wrote earnest statements about the importance of good behaviour and getting on in life. Martha’s father gave her some serious advice: ‘He/She who puts the effort into their studies will achieve their life goals.’ Martha was pleased with all the messages. They were a record of a happy time. A few months later, the Nazis entered Austria and her life changed forever. The small autograph book and its messages to an eight year old girl would soon represent a vanished world. 

In 1939, only a year after her birthday,  Martha's parents decided to send her away, fearing the dangerous anti-Semitic developments they were witnessing in their country. Her family sent her on the ‘Kindertransport’ to safety in the UK. In her suitcase she carried her favourite doll and the autograph book.

Kindertransport
Nine months before the Second World War, the UK opened its borders to about 10,000 children. Most of them, like Martha were Jewish, and their families sent them to escape from the terrors of the Nazi regime. The children arrived, without their parents, from Austria, Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia, in a process that became known as the ‘Kindertransport’. This lifeline organised by the Red Cross, enabled unaccompanied children between the ages of 5 and 17 to travel to the UK by train. The ‘Kindertransport’ saved the children’s lives but separated them from their families, often forever. By the end of the war, many of these children were orphans.


Martha heard no word from her parents for five years and was dreading the discovery of what had happened to them.  Eventually she learned that both her parents, along with grandmothers, aunts, uncles and cousins, had all shared the fate of millions of Jews who were exterminated in Hitler’s concentration camps and gas chambers. 

Having nothing in Austria to return to, Martha remained in England and grew to adulthood. She built a new life in her adopted land. The autograph book became, and remains, a treasured possession. The messages it contains now represent the world the Nazis destroyed. Martha’s whole family was murdered, and to this day she does not know what happened to many of the school friends whose words of wisdom, joy and hope filled the pages of her book. The messages written by the relatives and friends of one eight year old girl, represent a world destroyed by policies of hatred. Propaganda can make ordinary people do terrible things. Today, Martha asks us to remember to think for ourselves, and not to listen to those who speak hatred. Let us instead, be bridges of reconciliation and understanding within our communities, committed to never let anything like the Holocaust ever happen again. 

This story and other survivor's stories from the Holocaust can be found on the website of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust www.hmd.org.uk

The International Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on 27th January each year. It’s a time for everyone to pause and remember the millions of people who have been murdered, and those whose lives were changed beyond recognition during the Holocaust. Many Holocaust survivors are living in Israel today, but many are still suffering emotionally and physically from the trauma of their experiences. Your People My People partners with a local Israeli organisation which alleviates the suffering of many of these survivors. As we stop and remember the atrocities of history, we have an opportunity to make a difference, particularly for those still living the consequences of this history.


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