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Testimony of Dorit Braun

"My connection to Trzemeszno"

During the first lockdown in the UK, in 2020, I began to research my family tree. Some months later I was contacted by Agnieszka Kostuch because I am a descendent of the Jewish community of Trzemeszno. This was a surprise to me. I knew that my great-grandmother, Paula Fuchs, née Loewenthal, was born there, but had really only heard about her living in Stettin and then Berlin. Through Agnieszka I discovered there were many more members of my Trzemeszno family. And their fate was heart-breaking. 

My middle name is Paula and I am named for my great-grandmother. She perished in Terezin, on 27 December 1942. She was deported there from Berlin on 25 August 1942. She was 77. My mother adored her grandmother Paula and told me stories about her. I knew that she had died in Terezin. I knew that she had paid for my mother and her mother to travel from Trieste to Haifa first class, and that she had accompanied them to Trieste but refused to go to Palestine, because she was an old lady and fully assimilated and could not believe the Nazis would pay her any attention. 

I did not know that Paula had a brother, Leo Loewenthal. Or a sister-in-law, Margarete Loewenthal, née Stein. Or a niece, Hanne. I did not know that she had aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews who had remained in Trzemeszno. I did not know that 18 of her relatives had perished. Here are their names and their fates. I name them to honour them and to acknowledge that they lived, loved, mattered.

Leo Loewenthal was executed on 18 January 1941 in Berlin. He was 62. His wife, Margarete died on 18 April 1940 in Lubin. She was 47. (Their daughter Hanne got to New York and survived).  

Paula’s aunt, Julie Strelitz, née Kaphan died on 24 May 1941. She was 77. Paula’s cousin, Flora Schlessinger (née Loewenthal) was murdered in Treblinka in 1942; she was 74. Flora's son, Arthur Schlessinger was murdered in Auschwitz in 1942, aged 52; his wife, Kate Schlessinger, née Munderstein, was murdered in Auschwitz in 1942, aged 44.

photo of great-grandmother Paula Fuchs née Loewenthal, photo from the private archive of Dorit Braun

Flora's sister (and Paula's cousin), Anna Abraham, née Loewenthal, was murdered in 1942, aged 64; her husband, Ferdinand Abraham was murdered in 1942 in Riga, aged 66.  

Ferdinand’s brother, Sigismund Abraham perished in the Warsaw Ghetto, in his seventies. His children perished too. His daughter, Gertha Silvia Lesser, née Abraham, was murdered in Auschwitz in June 1942 aged 35. His son, Dr Felix Abraham was murdered November 1942 in Auschwitz, aged 41. Felix’s wife, Eva Abraham, née Doeblin, was murdered in Berlin in 1943.

Flora’s and Anna's sister (and Paula’s cousin), Jenny Lazarus, née Loewenthal, perished on 8 Nov 1942, in Terezin, aged 68. I often wonder if Jenny and Paula knew they both were in Terezin. 

Another sister, Regina Schwersenzer, née Loewenthal, was murdered around 1939, aged 63, along with her husband, Willy Schwersenzer, aged about 65. Their daughter, Lucie Ohnstein, née Schwersenzer, was murdered in Auschwitz in about 1944, aged about 41. Her husband, Georg Ohnstein was murdered in Auschwitz on 28 March 1943, aged 52. Their son, Kurt Ohnstein was murdered in Auschwitz in about 1944, aged about 15.

Sigismund’s and Ferdinand Abraham’s brother, Karl Joseph Abraham was murdered 6 Feb 1943 in Berlin, aged 64.

Agnieszka showed me photos of the tenement building where my great-grandmother Paula was born. She showed me photos of the family shop which was confiscated by the Nazis in 1939. She has told me that the Jewish cemetery is in ruins, that she did not learn about the Jewish residents of the town or their fate at school. 

Symbolic portrait of Paula Fuchs painted by Dorit Braun

Many years ago, in the 1960s, I watched an episode of a TV detective story with my mother. They were chasing a neo-Nazi. They visited his flat and found a cache of photos and Nazi memorabilia; the photos were shown on the screen. One featured a pile of bones. My mother collapsed on the floor sobbing. That could have been a heap of your great-grandmother’s bones. 

In England, after the Brexit vote, I decided to apply for German citizenship. I am entitled to this through my mother. My European identity matters to me. At that time I became increasingly sensitive to overt anti-Semitism and I am horribly aware of the difficult decisions my family had to make. How does anyone decide when it is time to flee?

Before researching my family tree I believed I might uncover some 15 or so Holocaust deaths. I have uncovered 148 and there are more people as yet unaccounted for. I now understand that the scale of this genocide was something that my parents’ and grandparents’ generations were simply too traumatised to talk about. And I look at events round the world, where people are killed, imprisoned, attacked, exiled just for being who they are with a new horror. We must learn about our pasts, confront them, come to terms with the horrors. If we do not, we risk history repeating itself. 

Dorit Braun

Dorit Braun's website

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