September 19, 2022
“My little cousin never had a sixth birthday.” – Carla Moore
In 2005, Carla Moore-Kogel donated two diaries to the Museum’s collection, filled with photographs and anecdotes about her cousin Liesje – a little girl who was murdered in Auschwitz in 1943 – just two months shy of her sixth birthday. The diaries were discovered in a drawer when the donor’s father, Max Kogel died in 1965.
Liesje (Liesbeth) Prins was born in Amsterdam on Christmas Day of 1937 to mother, Suze and father, Nico Prins. Shortly after, Suze began writing a diary in an exercise book, documenting her baby daughter’s development from birth to childhood. By May 1939 she had already filled one book, and began another.
The diaries abruptly end in 1942, when Suze, Nico and Liesje were deported to Westerbork and then to Auschwitz, where they were murdered on arrival.
These books reveal the depth of a mother’s love and joy for her growing child and are a poignant window into their family life. Golden tufts of hair taped onto pages and close to 100 photographs are further tangible proof of this child’s existence.
The diary is not written ‘about’ baby Liesje, but more ‘to’ her, as a conversation.
For example, the entry dated 4 March 1938:
“You were born on Saturday 25 December ’37 around ten minutes to five. When you came into this world you were no beauty. A red little crayfish with an outsized head. Your weight was six pounds and ten grams. The next day your little head looked more normal and you looked much nicer.”
Suze records what her baby ate: “With the tomato puree, we are still at odds”, and what she weighed: “Your weight is now 4190 or not too much for a three months old baby. But you are not such a skinny little frog anymore as you were in the beginning”.
It describes her personality: “When you are in a good mood you make such nice cooing sounds in your cradle. It almost seems like you are singing”.
She documents the first time Liesje rolled from her back to her tummy; her first words spoken at age one and a half, and a drawing of a cat at age three.
By April 1942, the Netherlands had endured almost two years of German occupation.
Suze captures the discriminatory practices against the Jewish population:
“We are wearing ‘Stars’ now and we had told you that that is the fashion and we did not talk about it anymore…There is so much Jewish talk going around and naturally, when you play in the street you hear more than is good for a worm of four and a half years…”
The pages of these diaries were recently scanned at high resolution for a Dutch historian in the Netherlands, simultaneously giving me the opportunity to page through them, and try to decipher Dutch words here and there from my cursory memory of Afrikaans.
The researcher, Jan de Roos, is seeking to reconstruct what had happened to the Prins family, and “in this way give a face to the victims and their helpers from this tragic episode of war.”
One photograph, in particular, haunts him: the one of Liesje, almost two years old, sitting on the shoulders of her father Nico.
“Protectively, he clasps his hands behind her back. Liesje laughs, her father too. In the background, their house in Amsterdam. A carefree photo of a little girl and her father shortly before the outbreak of the war.”
The Sydney Jewish Museum is home to thousands of remarkable artefacts like this that give history a voice. As Curators, not only do we continue to collect memorabilia and document the stories that keep the history and memory of the Holocaust alive and not only do we safeguard the community’s heritage for posterity, but we also give researchers access to our collection so that more can be known about our objects.
The Dutch historian has shared information that has come to light following his research. Liesje was sheltered by Lida Reijer, a piano teacher who lived in Haarlem.
According to Jan, when Nazis discovered the hiding place: “Liesje and Lida were brought to the police station, where they were locked up in a bare cell. There wasn’t even a straw sack in it. After 10 days they were roughly separated from each other. Lida was sent to the Vught concentration camp and afterwards to Ravensbrück.
“Five-year-old Liesje was returned to her parents and deported to Auschwitz with them. They were gassed immediately after they arrived, on 22 October 1943. Lida, the piano teacher who had sheltered Liesje, survived the war. Until her death at almost 100 years, she never spoke about the horrible things that had happened”.