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Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
Julia Nussbaum, known as Hanni, was born in 1942 in Budapest, an only child. Her father Marcel Prager disappeared in 1944. Julia believes he was murdered in Dachau concentration camp. Sensing he was about to be captured, Marcel wrote Julia a letter of farewell. She has no memory of him as she was only two when he disappeared.
Julia survived the war with her mother Pearl, moving to an aunt’s home in another part of Budapest at one point to evade capture. Pearl worked as a seamstress to support them. After the end of the war, Julia and her mother returned to their flat to find it occupied by another family, who presumed they had died in the camps. Pearl told them in no uncertain terms to get out. They stayed there until 1956 during which time Julia went to school and her mother continued making a meagre living as a seamstress. Julia was often hungry but she recalled that ‘at least there was always bread’.
In 1956 at the time of the Hungarian Revolution, a Hungarian admirer of Pearl’s, who was living in Germany, urged her to leave with her daughter and offered to help. A clandestine scheme was hatched to get a group of people, including Julia and her mother, by train to a point close to the Austrian border from which they would have to walk to safety. This involved a march under cover of darkness, ducking patrols, which was difficult for Julia's mother who had a heart condition. Julia remembers that the others were worried that Pearl’s laboured and noisy breathing would give them away. Luckily one of the women had a lemon which she gave to Pearl for her to suck on and ease her breathing. It worked and they were able to escape into Austria and onward to Vienna. Julia was 14 at the time.
Julia and Pearl moved to Stuttgart, Germany. At the age of 15 Julia travelled with a small group of Hungarian girls to Jerusalem. She was happy there and appreciated the plentiful supply of fresh food, having been so hungry earlier in her life. She vividly remembers that on the outward-bound voyage, some kind person put an orange in her hand.
After a few months in Israel, Julia's mother came to fetch her as she had married in Germany and wanted her only child with her. Julia's step-father, a very kind man who had lost his first family in the Holocaust, was very religious and wanted her to live in a strictly Orthodox environment and be immersed in Jewish culture. He arranged for Julia to live with a Rabbi’s family in Stamford Hill, North London in 1960 when she was 18. This is where she was to meet her future husband Albin, a British Jew.
Julia returned to Germany for a while during which time she and Albin corresponded by letter. He travelled to Germany to meet her mother and step-father and they subsequently married, making London their home. The couple went on to have 3 children and to enjoy a happy life together. Julia says that she has been happy in her adopted country, has had a good life, and feels lucky to be alive. Her only regret is that she never knew her father.
Additional Comments: Marcel Prager’s heartbreaking farewell letter to his daughter, written in March 1944 just after her second birthday, has been preserved in its original form, and is included in the filmed document section. Hanni’s son Robert reads extracts from the English translation.
Budapest, Marcel Prager, Pearl, farewell letter, disappeared, Dachau, flat in Budapest, sewing, seamstress, hungry, 1956, Hungarian Uprising, escape, train, heart condition, walking, lemon, border, Austria, Vienna, Stuttgart, Germany, Israel, Jerusalem, orange, Stamford Hill
Budapest, March 23rd, 1944. ‘My dear darling little child, when you get this letter in your hands it’s possible your daddy cannot come back to you anymore. My darling little child I would have very much loved to bring you up and would have liked to straighten your ways and your happiness. But fate which gave me so much in life over the years cannot give me that. In that case, I would at least like – your father would like to get you to know your father in a letter... Darling little child, now it was you second birthday and you got from me a nice big doll. Every year for sure laugh on that day, have a lovely time, and enjoy yourself, because I want you to be happy. I always walked on the sunny side of life, and now I’m forty-two years old and still too young to die, but I can say while I lived, I lived well. If I must go, I will go with Hashem’s name. My beloved only child, I say goodbye to you. I kiss you with much love as a father can say goodbye to a child.'