Poems From Bergen-Belsen
A selection of eleven poems by Felix Oestreicher, from the camp diary he kept from November 1943 to May 1945 in Westerbork transit camp and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
In 1938, in the face of the threat from Nazi Germany, the Jewish physician Felix Oestreicher (1894–1945) fled with his family from Karlsbad (present-day Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic) to Amsterdam, where his two sisters, Lisbeth and Maria, were already living and working. The parents of his wife, Gerda Laqueur, had lived in Amsterdam since 1922, where Felix and Gerda had met in 1929.
On 1 November 1943, the Oestreicher family – father and mother, their young daughters Beate and Maria, and Felix’s mother – were deported to Westerbork transit camp and then to Bergen-Belsen. Their daughter Helly was ill and remained behind in the Jewish hospital ‘De Joodse Invalide’ in Amsterdam. Members of the resistance smuggled her away to a safe hiding-place.
Felix Oestreicher continued to keep his diary in Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen, and ‘the Lost Train’. His mother died in Bergen-Belsen. On 25 April 1945, the train in which the Oestreicher family was being transported, was liberated by the Russians in Tröbitz, Germany. Felix and Gerda Oestreicher succumbed to typhus shortly after their liberation.
At the end of June, Beate and Maria (aged ten and nine) returned to their maternal grandparents in Amsterdam. Among the scant items in their luggage was the diary of their father, Felix Oestreicher. Felix’s two sisters, Lisbeth (a textile artist) and Maria (the photographer Maria Austria), survived the war, as did Helly, who had lived in hiding in the farmhouse of the Braakhekke family in Gorssel, Gelderland.
This display was made in connection with the exhibition Maria Austria: Living for Photography in the Jewish Historical Museum from 26 January through 2 September 2018. Many of the family photographs accompanying these poems were taken by Maria Austria. Publications: Naderhand/Nachher and Naderhand/Afterward, 2013, AFdH Publishers.