25 May 1929 to 1942
She may have been born here – I don’t yet know – but the family certainly lived here from when she was very young. A recently discovered record dates a family presence here from 1931, when Ilse was two years old.
On 18 September 1935, Ilse started to attend the school you can see in the picture below. I don’t know what it was called at the time, but it is now known as Primary school number two.
We found this information in a single old record book that survived a fire in which all the other old records were destroyed. You can read the remarkable story of its discovery here. This book gave us useful information about Ilse. I already knew the year in which she was born, from my dad, and this confirms that family knowledge.
There were fewer than 200 Jews living in Mysłowice by this stage, so the chances of this not being our little girl – with the Polish version of her German name (which would be expected in this context), and with a father called Kurt Bloch – would be vanishingly small.
You can see her entry here – the third name down: Blochowna Elza. The Polish ‘owna’ ending to her surname simply denotes an unmarried girl or woman.
This page states in red on the right-hand side that she was in fact at the wrong school and was to be moved elsewhere. She had originally been at school number 5.
Other information provided includes a confirmation that Kurt was a merchant or trader of some kind – kupiec, which also confirms what we already know. It gives us another address for the family – at M. Pitsudskiego 7, I think it says (to be followed up).
Ilse is noted as speaking Polish, as having had two unspecified vaccinations, and as being ‘normal’.
The real surprise and puzzlement, however, is that she is also noted here as being Roman Catholic. Now, this is something to follow up, but unless we can obtain her birth certificate, or some more official information about Frieda, we can’t get anywhere with it for the time being.
Frieda might have been Catholic (so did Kurt convert?), but even if they had felt that Catholicism might have saved the children much difficulty, even in 1929, the Nuremberg Laws in the end would still have meant that the children of Kurt – and the grandchildren of Hermine and Joseph, and of Albert and Bettina – would have been marked for death as Jews.
Anyway, this is all speculation at the moment – it might have been an error, it might have been a lie, it might have been Frieda’s religion, and if it was, it seems to have made no difference to her inclusion in family life and events.
It’s another puzzle for the moment.
The treasures of patient detective work
We just received the following from our translator, Helga, which tells us that the top line is Ilse’s handwriting. Her father is amused, writing, ‘One has to laugh about the many ‘y’s Ilse has added to end of words … uncle Kurt’.
Information about Ilse in family letters
Kurt to Werner: 9th February 1939
Ilse finds her new surroundings strange.
Else to Werner: Gleiwitz 28th February 1939; 10.30pm
Ilse goes to the cinema, she only pays 20 gr not 50, because she is saving up for her emigration.
Ilse was 10 years old when this was written, which indicates something about the priorities the whole family must have been having to consider as conditions for Jewish lives worsened. To some extent Kurt’s family would have been shielded from the worst of it at this point, as they were living just over the border in Poland, but as we know, the net was closing here too, this close to the outbreak of the war.
Werner to Frau Sack: Frankfurt am Main, 19th March 1939
We also want to help my Aunt Frieda’s oldest child. She has two girls – one aged 15, the other 10. The little one is very attached to me. She is already saving up so that she can join me. I wish it were all as simple as children imagine. Could you try and find a camp for the older girl? I am told they enjoy their time there in US camps.
Tragically, no-one is seriously trying to get Ilse out of Poland. Again, they lived in Poland and not Germany, so she would not have been eligible for the Kindertransport. Generally, it would seem that families were trying to get their eldest children out. This would have made sense. Money for most Jewish families was by now in very short supply, as jobs and business contacts had long since been reduced or removed entirely, and as homes and valuables had often also been taken away. The oldest children could travel alone, and would be able to earn some income, both for themselves, and in hopes of being able to bring other family with them later on. Without the ability to earn an income, no country would take refugees, except on something like the Kindertransport, which was mainly funded by British Jews, to get some children to safety – but only those living in Germany.
You can almost hear the longing to help in Werner’s tone, but also his resignation – he knows that he cannot affect change for the family’s little girl.
Is it any wonder that the few survivors of the holocaust to come were burdened with a lifetime of guilt – at a level the rest of us can’t come close to understanding.
Else to Werner: Sunday, 7th April, 1940
Your Uncle Kurt was in a terrible mood. From the 1st March he was made to give up a quarter of his flat, because the forthcoming sale will take place, it is connected to it. Eight days since the sale, they haven’t found any alternative. I don’t know where they found any place to live. Aunt Freida was to have come here today but she is unable to. Uncle has sold many items. Elle misses school very much. Aunt Hedel wrote recently that she was prepared to look after the child, but who is going to pay the board and lodging? Aunt Hedel is really caring and looks quite well.
In fact, in the end, aunt Hedel was killed before the Bloch family – she was deported to Auschwitz in June 1942.
Leopold to Werner: Zurich, 24th April 1940
Ilse added that she would like to be a Professor. It is very much unlikely that her wish will be granted. The child is most studious and wants to emulate her “Ideal”.
Here, Leopold refers to Ilse’s ‘ideal’ – in other words, to Werner. He has ‘made it’, in being the first person in the family to attend a prestigious university. Education to a high standard was extremely important to the family, as it was to most German Jewish families – I know that much from my father.
Letter from Leopold to Werner; 22 May 1940
On Sunday, 19 May, I had to accept Uncle Kurt’s farewells because he is to be moved away [unbekannt verzogen – moved to an unknown destination] with his family. ... Ilse is the next biggest, but slim, with a fine face.
Else to Werner: 22nd August 1940
There is no good news from Uncle Kurt, he has a damp flat in Krenau and suffers doubly with the damp there and the bad weather. Ilse sent congratulations to Grandma on her 86th in German writing, with which papa had to help her.
Ilse, remember, is living in Poland, not Germany, as the rest of the family are – and attending a Polish school; as we know from the record above, she speaks Polish and must presumably be learning to read and write in Polish. To her, German is a second language – hence the emphasis here on her attempts to write birthday wishes in German to her German grandmother.
Else to Werner: Saturday, 6th April 1941
Uncle Kurt, unfortunately, was unable to come because he had a very bad attack of influenza; however, he has recovered quite well. Even Ilse, who was *12 on the 11th, was very ill.
*We have a date problem here – the school record states that Ilse was born on 25th May 1929: it gives the right birth year, the correct (Polish version) of her name, and the correct father’s name – so why the discrepancy over the birth dates? Again, unless I can find the youngsters’ birth certificates – which will be almost impossible for now, because the documents are under 100 years old, and even though no-one is alive from these families except us, as far as we know, we still almost certainly won’t be allowed to consult them. It’s very frustrating.
Ilse would have been 10 years old when the German Army invaded Poland in September 1939. Her family home in Upper Silesia was the first region in Poland to find German tanks rolling across its fields and down its cobbled streets.
Even before to this violent onslaught, however, Ilse would probably not have remembered a single year in which the State and many of its people did not legislate and behave viciously against her and her family because of the faith into which they happened to be born.
She and her family were forcibly moved to the Krenau ghetto, located about 15 miles from Mysłowice, in May 1940.
Letter from Leopold to Werner; 22 May 1940
On Sunday, 19 May, I had to accept Uncle Kurt’s farewells because he is to be moved away [unbekannt verzogen – moved to an unknown destination] with his family. ...
As far as we had been able to ascertain, Ilse did not survive the holocaust; we believe from letters and accounts that she was almost certainly either worked and starved to death, killed in the many shootings and hangings in the Krenau ghetto, or deported with her parents: any Jews who had managed to stay alive that long were transported from Krenau to Auschwitz in February 1943.
Scans of ITS records and documents found during this research have been uploaded here.
For Ilse – our sweet, clever girl
You should have had your chance to study, and to grow to adulthood …