Brown leather photograph case carried by a refugee from Prague to the US

Identifier
irn44293
Language of Description
English
Alt. Identifiers
  • 2011.433.1
Dates
1 Jan 1939 - 31 Dec 1941
Source
EHRI Partner

Extent and Medium

overall : 8.000 x 3.250 x 0.500 in. (20.32 x 8.255 x 1.27 cm.)

Brown leather rectangular case with cloth lining and four glass compartments to hold photographs.

Photograph cases (aat)

Biographical History

Margit Morawetz was born February 26, 1922, in Innsbruck, Austria. Her parents were Gottlieb Morawetz and Lilly Tritsch. She had three older brothers, Paul, Felix, and Bruno. They ranged in age from 8 to 5 years older than Margit. The family was wealthy and assimilated. Margit's father came from an orthodox Jewish family of poor tenant farmers in Bohemia. He studied law in Vienna and worked as a bank director. Her mother came from an assimilated Jewish family in Vienna and was educated in England and France. When Margit was one year old, the family moved to Prague, Czechoslovakia, where her father taught on the law faculty of Charles University, in addition to working in finance. Margit and her brothers grew up speaking Czech, German, French, and English. Lilly was ambivalent about the family's Jewish identity and wanted to have the children baptized. Her husband would not allow it, and the children were never given any religious education. In 1932, Gottlieb died suddenly at age 52. Lilly was then 39. The two oldest brothers, Paul and Felix, went overseas. Bruno stayed in Prague and studied agriculture. In 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria, Lilly decided it was safer to take Margit, then 16, out of school and send her to Paris, where she lived with a French family and studied dressmaking. Lilly was visiting Margit in Paris later that year when Germany annexed part of Czechoslovakia. Lilly hurried back to Prague to sell their home and ship their possessions to Paris, but while she was still in Prague, Germany annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Both she and her son Bruno managed to escape to Paris, but had to leave everything behind. Because of his agricultural training, Bruno was allowed to go to England to work as a farmhand. During this period, Margit was baptized a Lutheran with her mother's encouragement, possibly with the thought that it would provide some protection. Even before that, however, their papers did not identify them as Jews, only as Austrian citizens. When the authorities were interested in them, it was only as alien refugees, not as Jews. In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and France declared war on Germany. Since Austria was now part of Germany, the French considered Austrian citizens enemy aliens. Lilly was deported to a detention camp in Gurs in southern France. Margit was ordered to report in to the Paris police on a regular basis. In May1940, Germany invaded France. As German forces approached Paris, Margit bought a bicycle and joined the exodus from Paris toward the south. She spent the night with other refugees in a school in Etampes. Early in the morning, she resumed her trip south, leaving the school two hours before it was hit by German bombs. In Orleans, she boarded a train to Salies-de-Bearn, close to Gurs and the border that had just been established between the German Occupied Zone and the Free Zone. Now that France had capitulated, people with Austrian citizenship were no longer enemy aliens, so Lilly was released and rejoined Margit. They hired a farmer to smuggle their bags across the boundary into the Free Zone, and crossed over unencumbered as if they were just going for a stroll. So as not to be identified as foreign nationals, they carried no identification papers with them, only food ration cards that they still had from Paris, to give the impression that they were residents of that city. They traveled to Marseilles and began the long process of obtaining exit visas from France and immigration visas to some other country. When their money ran low, they received financial aid from the American rescuer Varian Fry. They eventually obtained transit visas to Spain and Portugal and a visa to the Belgian Congo on the grounds that Margit's father had owned shares in a Congolese mining firm. France, however, would not grant them exit visas before their transit visas were due to expire, so Margit and her mother traveled by train to Cerbere and walked through the hills into Spain illegally. They were arrested by Spanish police and spent several days in jail until German friends who now lived in Barcelona obtained their release. Margit and her mother then traveled on to Lisbon, Portugal. Since many other refugees had arrived there without much clothing, Margit was able to earn money as a dressmaker. They contacted Margit's brother Felix, who was living in the United States. He facilitated their immigration and they arrived in America in April 1941. In December 1941, Margit married Otmar Gyorgy, a G.I. and a friend of her brother Felix. After America's entry into World War II, she worked for the Office of War Information, making use of her knowledge of languages, which now included Spanish and Portuguese. After the war, Margit worked for the U.S. Army Assistance Program to German Youth Activities, re-educating former Hitler Youth in Furth, Germany. She and Otmar eventually divorced. In 1953, she married Frank Meissner, a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Czechoslovakia. They had 2 children. Lilly Tritsch (later Morawetz) was born in 1893 to Heinrich and Emma Grunsfeld Morawetz in Vienna, Austria. She had two brothers Robert and Gustav. They were an assimilated Jewish family and Lilly was educated in England and France. Lilly married Dr. Gottlieb Morawetz who was from an orthodox Jewish family of poor tenant farmers in Bohemia. He studied law in Vienna and worked as a bank director. The family was wealthy and assimilated and lived in Innsbruck, Austria. The couple had three sons, Paul, Felix, and Bruno, and their youngest child was a daughter, Margit, born on February 26, 1922. In 1923, the family moved to Prague, Czechoslovakia, where Gottlieb was on the law faculty of Charles University, and also worked in finance. The children grew up speaking Czech, German, French, and English. Lilly was ambivalent about the family's Jewish identity and wanted to have the children baptized. Gottlieb would not allow it, and the children were never given any religious education. In 1932, Gottlieb died suddenly at age 52. Lilly was then 39. The two oldest brothers, Paul and Felix, went overseas. Bruno stayed in Prague and studied agriculture. In 1938, when Nazi Germany annexed Austria, Lilly decided it was safer to take Margit, then 16, out of school and send her to Paris, where she lived with a French family and studied dressmaking. Lilly was visiting Margit in Paris later that year when Germany annexed the Sudetenland border region of Czechoslovakia in September 1938. Lilly hurried back to Prague to sell their home and ship their possessions to Paris. However, in March 1939, while she was still in Prague, Germany annexed the Bohemia and Moravia regions of Czechoslovakia, which included Prague. Both she and her son Bruno managed to escape to Paris, but had to leave everything behind. Because of his agricultural training, Bruno was allowed to go to England to work as a farmhand. During this period, Margit was baptized a Lutheran with her mother's encouragement, possibly with the thought that it would provide some protection. Even before that, however, their papers did not identify them as Jews, only as Austrian citizens. When the authorities were interested in them, it was only as alien refugees, not as Jews. In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and France declared war on Germany. Since Austria was now part of Germany, the French considered Austrian citizens enemy aliens. Lilly was deported to a detention camp in Gurs in southern France. Margit was ordered to report to the Paris police on a regular basis. In May 1940, Germany invaded France. As German forces approached Paris, Margit bought a bicycle and joined the exodus from Paris toward the south. In Orleans, she boarded a train to Salies-de-Bearn, close to Gurs and the border that had just been established between the German Occupied Zone and the Free Zone. Now that France had capitulated, people with Austrian citizenship were no longer enemy aliens, so Lilly was released and rejoined Margit. They hired a farmer to smuggle their bags across the boundary into the Free Zone, and crossed over unencumbered as if they were just going for a stroll. So as not to be identified as foreign nationals, they carried no identification papers with them, only food ration cards that they still had from Paris, to give the impression that they were residents of that city. They traveled to Marseilles and began the long process of obtaining exit visas from France and immigration visas to some other country. When their money ran low, they received financial aid from the American rescuer Varian Fry. They eventually obtained transit visas to Spain and Portugal and a visa to the Belgian Congo on the grounds that Lilly’s husband had owned shares in a Congolese mining firm. France, however, would not grant them exit visas before their transit visas were due to expire, so Lilly and her daughter traveled by train to Cerbere and walked through the hills into Spain illegally. They were arrested by Spanish police and spent several days in jail until German friends who now lived in Barcelona obtained their release. Lilly and Margit then traveled on to Lisbon, Portugal. Since many other refugees had arrived there without much clothing, Margit was able to earn money as a dressmaker. Lilly contacted her son Felix, who was living in the United States. He facilitated their immigration and they arrived in America in April 1941. They settled in New York with Felix.

Acquisition

The photograph case was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2011 by Margit Meissner, the daughter of Lilly Morawetz.

Accession number: 2011.433.1

Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Margit Meissner

Scope and Content

Photograph case carried by Lilly Morawetz in her backpack from German occupied Prague, Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic) to France in 1939. After Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Lilly sent her youngest child, Margit, 16, to Paris. Lilly was visiting Margit that September when Germany annexed the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Lilly hurried back to Prague to sell their home and ship belongings to Paris. In March 1939, while she was still in Prague, Germany annexed the Bohemia and Moravia regions, which included Prague. Lilly and her son Bruno managed to escape to Paris. Bruno continued to England and Lilly stayed in Paris with Margit. Lilly and her husband, who died in 1932, were assimilated Jews and the children were born in Austria and raised with no religious affiliation. Their passports identified them only as Austrian, and not also as Jews. In September, Germany invaded Poland and France declared war on Germany. Since Austria was now part of Germany, the French considered Austrian citizens enemy aliens. Lilly was deported to Gurs detention camp in southern France. Margit was ordered to report to the Paris police on a regular basis. In May 1940, Germany invaded France. Margit fled south to Salies-de-Bearn, close to Gurs and the border that had just been established between the German Occupied Zone and the Free Zone. In June, France capitulated and people with Austrian citizenship were no longer enemy aliens, so Lilly was released and rejoined Margit. They crossed into the unoccupied zone and went to Marseilles to begin the process of obtaining visas to leave France for some other country. They managed to get to Lisbon, Portugal. Lilly contacted her son Felix in the US and, with his help, she and Margit arrived in America in April 1941.

Conditions Governing Access

No restrictions on access

Conditions Governing Reproduction

No restrictions on use

Note(s)

  • The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

  • Object type: Photograph cases (aat)

  • Record type: Object

  • EMU Classification: Containers

  • EMU Category: Cases

Subjects

Places