Forget me not

The picture is of a page in a poetry album which belonged to a friend of Hedi Metzger.

The text is in German and it says. “Forget me not, trust in G-d. Speaking is silver, and silence is gold. This from your memories, Hedi Metzger, Amsterdam 19-4-1939.”

Less than 2.5 years later she would be murdered in Auschwitz.

Hedi was born in Berlichingen on 24 December 1926. She was murdered 80 years ago in Auschwitz on 26 September 1942 at the age of 15.

Hedy and her brother Lothar came to the Netherlands in January 1939. They first stayed in the Zeehuis in Bergen aan Zee, then in the Burgerweeshuis in Amsterdam, and in January 1940 moved in with a foster family in Amsterdam. Their parents were Lylli Gutmann, born in 1900 in Ohlhausen, and Simon, born in 1892 in Berlinchingen. Both perished in Riga in 1943.

In the orphanage, she wrote a few lines in the poetry album of a girlfriend, who like her came from Germany.


In the 1960s, a collector bought a batch of books at an auction in Maastricht. Hedi’s little poem was also included in the books.

Twenty of those books had an ex-libris with the name Alex Heumann pasted on the inside of the cover. Presumably, this concerns Alex Heumann (Maastricht, 29 August 1885). His birthplace could be an explanation for his language skills. (Maastricht and the south of Limburg are close to Belgium and Germany, most people would speak German and/or French aside from their native Dutch)The collection contains Dutch, German and French authors, including Poelhekke (about Alberdingk Thijm), Boutens, Veth, Rilke, Tollens, Sternheim and Molière’s Oeuvres complètes.
In addition to being a proprietary mark, an ex libris is also a way in which the owner expresses something of himself.

Handwritten Notes
Very personal are the books in which the owner has made a note, although it is usually no more than his own name, sometimes supplemented with an address or a date. They are often religious books that have been preserved as special keepsakes. Such as the prayer book that Rachel Groenstad (Amsterdam, 14 July 1900) received on the occasion of her wedding on 6 September 1925. Her new name is printed on the cover,  Rachel Drilsma, geb. Green City. Johanna van Thijn-Goldsmid (Oss, 20 May 1905) owned a somewhat more luxurious version, whose name shone in gold letters on the cover.

Sometimes only the giver of a book is known, as is the case with the prayer book ‘Tephillah Wetachanoenim’, which Ruben Velleman (Groningen, January 11, 1894) donated to his nephew Joop in 1936 for his bar mitzvah. A sticker in the book shows that the book was obtained from the ‘Hebrew and Alg. bookstore’ by J.L. Joachimsthal in Amsterdam.
Remarkably many children have left a handwritten note in a book. It usually concerns gifts that they received on a special occasion. Edith Kahn (Wermelskirchen, November 10, 1924) had come to the Netherlands from Germany in the 1930s with her mother and two sisters. The family lived in Zaltbommel, where the mother started a business in embroidered baby clothes. In December 1932 Edith had been given a Haggadah for Passover as a ‘memorial of my visit to the Jewish School’.
In the prayer book Shabbos-Tefillo by Kurt Cahn (Wesseling, April 10, 1929) there is a cryptic, but significant text: ‘Kurt Cahn, B.6-21. Camp Westerbork, Hooghalen East’. Judging by his age, he may well have celebrated his bar mitzvah in camp Westerbork. Kurt had fled to the Netherlands in 1939 together with his brother Josef (Wesseling, 25 August 1925) and sister Hannelore (Wesseling, 31 May 1935). The three children stayed for some time in the Central Israelite Orphanage in Utrecht before they were transferred to Westerbork. In Westerbork, which first served as a refugee camp and later was used as an internment and transit camp, the small theatre hall in barrack 9 was used as a synagogue. Later, the central hall of the orphanage, barrack 35, was also used as a youth shul. Religious life simply continued the Nazis turned a blind eye initially.

Poetry albums
A third category of life signs in books is found in poetry albums. This kind of touching children’s prose has been popping up more and more lately. Former girlfriends are often only too happy that they still have something tangible from their deported classmates.
For example, ‘Thea’ found two poems from former girlfriends in her carefully preserved album. One is by Frieda Mathilde Kattenburg (Amsterdam, March 27, 1932). She wrote: “Dear Thea, Even though you are not my sister; and you don’t get a kiss either; mine every day too; still as a girlfriend; I write a sentence; that I like you.” The other poem is by Anita Maria Grünewald (Duisburg, December 15, 1931), written in March 1941: ‘It is of little value; what I offer you; pick roses on earth; but don’t forget me.”

Several writers made good use of the double meaning of forget-me-nots. Klaartje Fresco (Rotterdam, 26 March 1934) wrote a poem in June 1941: ‘Sprinkle flowers in your path. Roses and daisies. But in between all those flowers! A few forget-me-nots for me.” Hedy Metzger (Berlichingen, December 24, 1926) used the literal meaning a few years earlier. In a heart-shaped template, she wrote to a friend from Germany just like herself, ‘Ver-giß-mich-nicht! Vertrau auf!!

For her 13th birthday in 1940, Geertruida (Truus) Spanjer (Amsterdam, 26 November 1927) had been given a poetry album. The album has been preserved and contains, among other things, a poem by her niece Selma Spanjer (Amsterdam, 19 May 1931) from May 1942, Dear Truus, Een hart klein, full of sunshine. A big smile, every day. That makes your body fat and round. Dear Truus, stay healthy.

Jiska Pinkhof (Den Helder, December 9, 1931) was the daughter of the painter Leonard Pinkhof (Amsterdam, June 19, 1898). She wrote in a friend’s album: ‘Always be a ray of sunshine to everyone you meet. Then you bring joy to others, and you are well off yourself.” Bertha Augurkiesman (Antwerp, 18 May 1930) left the following rhyme to a girl next door: ‘Dear Hennie, I am sitting here sighing; I bite my pen; what a pity I am not a poet; but oh dear Hennie; I don’t know anymore; then my best wishes; and I’ll never rhyme again.”
Finally, a heartfelt wish from Frijda Goudsmit (Amsterdam, 28 March 1927). At the end of the thirties, she and other children from the Middenweg in Amsterdam were part of the club ‘The cheerful Achttal’. In a preserved poetry album, Frijda wrote in 1939: ‘An angel comes flying. See how kindly she smiles. It’s not a lie. Happiness is what she brought.”

I will not forget.



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