Kristallnacht diary comes home - 70 years late

By Jonathan Kalmus, December 1, 2011
David Berkley and Eva Wurm with her Poesiealbum

David Berkley and Eva Wurm with her Poesiealbum

A diary of a German Jewish refugee girl, lost for 70 years and bought in England for a few pounds by an amateur Jewish book collector, has been returned to its original owner.

In 1942, Eva Wurm lost a personal treasure after escaping Nazi Germany. It was a small notebook known as a Poesiealbum, a fashion for German girls whose friends and confidantes filled the books with poems and messages.

A 10th birthday gift from her uncle Albert in 1931, Eva's Poesiealbum entries run until 1942, a period including the destruction of her parents' hosiery shop on Kristallnacht in 1938 in her hometown of Recklinghausen, in northern Germany, and her escape to Britain in 1939 just three days before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Five weeks ago, Eva, now 90, again turned her album's pages at her home in Israel after the notebook was discovered and brought to her by Manchester barrister David Berkley.

"When I saw the pages, I cried and cried," Eva said. "It was heartbreaking because I don't know if the people in it are still alive or what happened to them. I had two or three non-Jewish friends who wrote in it. One, I sat in her house every day during the Nazi time."

In one moving 1936 entry, Eva's rabbi, Selig Auerbach, comforts her about Nazi persecution with a verse from Proverbs which pleads with people not to despise God, who still loves those who suffer.

Two blank pages have left Eva inconsolable. They were marked "Mother" and "Father" in each corner, but were never written on. Louis and Gertrud Wurm were murdered by the Nazis in the Riga ghetto in Latvia. In their last letter to her, Louis and Gertrud said they were "going on a great journey and will not be returning."

Eva's twin sister, Ruth, left Recklinghausen as a young child and was adopted by a Dutch Jewish family. Ruth was later hidden in Holland by a non-Jewish family during the war and survived. The sisters were reunited after the war.

The day after Kristallnacht, Eva's mother sent her to school without initially revealing what had happened to the family's shop. Then she began planning to send her by ship to England.

The book's final entry is in 1942 in London, where Eva, who spoke no English, found refuge alone. She was taken in as an au pair by a Jewish family, and later by a Jewish girls' club run by philanthropist Lily Montagu, where the book was probably lost, .

Mr Berkley had collected numerous Jewish interest books before buying the Poesiealbum but, because it was written in German script, it remained in obscurity.

He explained: "I came across an old, green, oil-cloth notebook which I
identified as belonging to a German refugee girl called Eva Wurm.

"I probably picked it up in a market stall. It cost just a few pounds. I certainly didn't appreciate its significance at the time, but it went from being a curiosity to a piece of living testimony."

With the help of a German colleague at his Manchester law chambers, Mr Berkley deciphered the handwriting, then trawled online databases of the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, matching the names of people in the book. His detective work led him to Eva's son in southern Israel.

"I scanned and emailed some pages to him. He told me, 'Yes, that's my mother. I'll make sure Eva sees it tonight.'"

A startled Mr Berkley had not realised Eva was still alive. He said: "Eva had just celebrated her 90th birthday. I told her son I would bring the book with me to Israel.

"Having made a decision to do everything in my power to restore it to the family from which it had come, little did I think that I would be able to give it back to the person it actually belonged to. It was an extraordinary experience."

Last updated: 10:20am, December 2 2011