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Discovering a Child’s Story Through Translation

The Salem State University Archives and Special Collections holds a rare collection of child Holocaust survivor testimonies and photographs from immediately after World War II. CHGS Director and Professor of History Chris Mauriello and University Archivist Susan Edwards determined that the Polish language notebooks contained original child Holocaust testimonies from young girls (aged four to fourteen years old). The testimonies were written by the children’s teachers and international aid workers in the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons (DP) camp located in northern Germany.

Jill Sullivan and Zellie Kaplan, members of the CHGS Community Board, took a personal interest in the testimonies as a historical record of the Holocaust. During the summer of 2018, the thoughtful generosity of Zellie and Harold Kaplan enabled us to translate the documents from Polish to English. This translation provided more clarity into the origins and the history of these tragic stories of suffering, loss and resilience.

With the documents translated and the photographs identified, Professor Mauriello worked with undergraduate students in the history department, graduate students in the certificate in Holocaust and genocide studies program and CHGS staff to further explore these rare historical documents. Together they mapped the girls’ journeys in Poland, Ukraine and Germany and found additional childhood testimonies from the Bergen-Belsen DP camp and postwar refugees. Undergraduate student Jacqueline Nunes used the letters and archival materials to complete the research and writing requirement for her history major.

In March 2021, Professor Mauriello consulted with Boaz Cohen from Western Galilee College in Israel, a noted expert on childhood Holocaust testimony. Collaboratively, they discovered that the young girls were part of a group of child survivors who initially arrived at Bergen-Belsen in 1945 at the end of the war. While the story is incomplete, it appears that some of the teachers and young survivors had moved to the Children’s Home in Blankenese, Hamburg, Germany in early 1946 and then emigrated to Eretz, Israel (Mandatory Palestine) during 1946-1947.

Professor Mauriello is planning the next stages of the project, which include traveling to Germany to look at the archives of the Children’s Home and Bergen-Belsen DP camp. While there he plans to take professional photographs of both sites and will work with International Tracing Service records in Bad Arolsen, Germany to learn more about the fate of these survivors.

Salem State is grateful to not only translate these notebooks but to help memorialize the memory of these child survivors. This unique research project has offered our students a first-hand look at how historians and archivists gather information and share findings.

“Working with these testimonies is the first opportunity I have had to create an argument based on original historical documents, that have not already been analyzed by decades of historians before me. We were tasked with telling these stories for the first time since they were written down. This process not only involved analyzing the primary sources but also hunting for the puzzle pieces to gain a better understanding of the context and implications of the testimonies.

It has been an incredible experience to write about these child survivors and a huge part of my education at Salem State. By participating in this research, I learned the process by which historians gather information on original documents and make historical arguments about a topic. In my writing, I used the testimonies to make claims about how displaced children were able to survive the horrors of the Holocaust both mentally and physically. I look forward to the continued discoveries surrounding these documents.”

— Jacqueline Nunes ’20 BA, History

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