Else Ury’s books about a German girl were so beloved, readers clung to them through the upheaval of World War II and passed them on to their children. But few knew that the author had died at Auschwitz.
Overlooked is a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.
Here is a brief excerpt from her long-overdue obituary by Melissa Eddy, published in The New York Times.
Credit via Marianne Brentzel
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BERLIN — What stood out was the thick, white “U” of her last name, which had been carefully painted on a brown leather suitcase that was loaded, along with the belongings of 1,190 other Jews, onto a train in January 1943. The destination was Auschwitz.
The suitcase survived the Holocaust. Its owner, Else Ury, did not.
Decades later a group of high school girls, visiting the concentration camp’s memorial site on a class trip from Berlin, noticed the suitcase among others in an exhibit and recognized the name immediately: Else Ury was the author of “Nesthäkchen,” a series of books about a blue-eyed blond girl from a middle-class German family.
Ury wrote more than 30 books for children, in addition to short stories and travelogues for a Berlin newspaper. Her books sold millions of copies from 1918 to 1933. Then, with the Nazis in power, she was barred as a Jew from publishing her work, even though her last book featured Adolf Hitler as a hero.
The “Nesthäkchen” series was reprinted after World War II and became the basis of a television show that attracted 13 million viewers, including the girls who had noticed the suitcase. But neither her publisher nor the TV series mentioned what had happened to Ury during the war.
It was the girls who shed light on her fate. They checked the name and address on the suitcase against deportation lists and discovered that Ury had died at Auschwitz on Jan. 13, 1943. She was 65.
The girls wrote a school report on what they had found, and their teacher told a Berlin newspaper about it. The paper soon published an article, and the story — of how one of Germany’s most popular children’s book authors had been killed in the Holocaust — became national news.
Ury’s most popular series recounts the life and adventures of Annemarie Braun, known by her nickname, “Nesthäkchen,” or the baby of the family. Amid a comfortable life, the heroine challenges the conservative order of Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II and, over her father’s objections, pursues an education during the time of the Weimar Republic, between the world wars.
As World War II raged around them, German children clung to their “Nesthäkchen” books, packing them among the few items they could carry in their luggage when their families were forced to flee. As those children grew to be mothers and grandmothers, they passed the books on to younger generations.
“Girls could identify with ‘Nesthäkchen,’ ” said Marianne Brentzel, who published a biography of Ury in German, “Nesthäkchen Arrives in the Concentration Camp,” in 1992. It was expanded and republished in 2007.
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.