September 4, 2020
“Love each other. Be tolerant. Help each other.”
“What legacy can I leave my children, grandchildren and great-grands? Much love. Yes… Love each other. Be tolerant. Help each other.” – Susi Cohen
Our collection of diaries, poesie books, letters and postcards belonging to Susi Cohen (nee Katz) safeguard her story of escape from Germany and pre-war immigration to Australia.
Susi Katz was born in November 1920, to Ephraim and Esther Katz. Her father was a well-to-do wood carver, and had lived in Lodz, Poland, until he was transported to Essen, Germany to work in the coalmines during WWI.
Susi’s diary from 1934 to November 1937 is in many ways a typical diary of a teenage girl, only strewn with commentary about the Jewish situation in Essen. In 1937 she wrote ‘’Here in Essen, everything is so quiet. Almost every month Jews drive away. Young ones and old ones. When will we be next?” She asked herself if she was worthless and in which way she was different to her female classmates in school, as she was the only Jewish girl in class. Susi wrote about the change in her parents following escalating antisemitism. Her mother Esther became very nervous and superstitious. Her father, Ephraim, became funnier and more courageous, though he blamed his wife for her opposite reaction. The pages are sometimes smudged with tears.
Towards the end of 1937 the family began planning their emigration. In January 1938, after a visit from the Gestapo, Susi and her parents escaped from Essen to Amsterdam.
The months they spent in Amsterdam waiting for a visa was a tense and fearful time. Yet despite this, or perhaps because of it, Susi made some deep friendships, particularly with Sal Mahler and Moses Pieter Parijs. There are 42 letters in our collection from Sal and Pieter from 1938 to 1940. The letters are highly emotional, speaking of friendship, love, fear and hope. At the end of her life Susi wrote to her children informing them of the importance of these letters; how the words and their authors helped to form her character.
In November 1938, the Katz family received a visa to go to Australia. Susi remembered that it was very hard to say goodbye to her dear friends, who she would never see again. Sal was murdered in Sobibor on 23 July 1943. Pieter was murdered in Auschwitz on 30 September 1942.
Susi arrived in Sydney on board the Ormonde in January 1939. She worked as a maid and later as a nurse. On 6 April 1940, Susi married Jules Cohen, a trained actor.
Author: Erin Ramsay, Curator and Registrar