Elizabeth Kauffmann was fourteen years old when her family fled from Austria in the aftermath of the “Anchluss”, the German takeover of her country in 1938. Like many other refugees from the Nazis, Elizabeth’s family fled to France. She began keeping her diary shortly before her sixteenth birthday. Her first entries were in February of 1940.
World War II in Europe began when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. France and Great Britain had signed a treaty with Poland, so they declared war on Germany in defense of their ally. Even though a state of war existed in France, the real fighting had not yet begun. This was the time period that was later to be known as the “phony war”. People in France were living in a state of heightened fear and apprehension, but no one knew exactly what to expect. The situation was hard on everyone, but it was particularly bad for Jewish refugees. They were often victims of two types of discrimination at the same time. There were some in France who were anti-Semites, so the Kauffmann’s might experience rejection because they were Jews. On the other hand, some viewed them as enemy aliens, because they came from Austria, which was now part of Nazi Germany.
In spite of the unsettled situation, Elizabeth and her family were trying to get on with their normal lives. Elizabeth was just about to resume her education after a six month break that had been due to the beginning of the war and her status as an Austrian. She had mixed feelings about starting her studies again. On one hand, she was anxious to make up for lost time. On the other hand, she feared that she would not be accepted because of anti-Jewish and anti-foreign prejudice. She was also afraid that coming to a new school in the middle of the year would make her stand out even more. She was pleasantly surprised to find out that this was not the case. On February 27th she wrote, “I was happily surprised at the reception by professors and schoolmates – no trace of xenophobia. …The intimacy among the classmates is unusual; it reflects the whole character of the school.”
Unfortunately for Elizabeth, her happiness was short-lived. The “phony war” ended just a few months later and she wasn’t even able to finish the year at her new school.
You may read entries from Elizabeth’s diary in Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust by Alexandra Zapruder.
To find out more about what happened to Elizabeth and her family, see this site.
September 25 to September 26
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