Ivor Samuels: family and experiences on the Fleeing Hitler website.

September 25, 2013

Ivor discusses his own experience of  finding out about  his family during the war. This includes the accounts of his wife Olga and his cousin Solange  Why not post your own thoughts on Ivor, Olga and Solange’s stories at the bottom of the page?

The “Fleeing Hitler” website has been a remarkable catalyst for finding out about my extended family’s experiences during the war. First of all my wife Olga’s  account  of her flight from Italy in1943 and subsequent stay in Switzerland,  which she had always been reluctant to set down because it seemed to her to be an essentially fortunate story, compared with so many war time experiences and Italy had been a relatively safe. For example we have a Croatian friend who was sent into Italy to spend the war with her grandmother because it was safer there than under the Nazi puppet regime in Croatia.

Olga with her foster sister, Elsbeth

Olga with her foster sister, Elsbeth

Then there is cousin Solange in Colmar who had a typescript in French of her account of moving from Alsace to the centre of France in 1940. Hanna Diamond arranged for her story to be translated and it will appear on the web site where, for the first time, it will be illustrated by Solange’s own wartime photos.

But for me the greatest achievement has been the story of my aunt Marie Fox. She had spent her childhood in occupied Paris after both her parents had been deported. For years I had been trying to get her to record her experiences without any success. However, when we told my aunt about the website project, it inspired her to recount her story to Hanna Diamond in several telephone conversation s after previously refusing to put anything down or give an account which was more than some disconnected anecdotes. We all felt that the website offered her an appropriate way to present her memories and could offer those interested in the period and the events a valuable resource. The fact that it is also curated by an expert in the field, was also reassuring for her and the rest of the family.

These histories are just part of a vast store of experiences lived out against momentous and horrific events which happened within (just) living memory. But we also need other histories to explain the context of these individual stories. I did not understand why my aunt’s family had fled specifically to Saumur on the Loire or why and how Solange had moved with her family y to the department of Haute –Vienne. We cannot expect small children to be aware of the bigger picture  so it was only when I read Hanna Diamond’s book “Fleeing Hitler” that I understood the context of these journeys. At a time whether there is much debate about the teaching of history in English schools, this book and the web site which has been cleverly devised to draw the reader through it, emphasise  the importance of the experiences of “ordinary” people which are not included in the history books dealing with Kings, Queens and  Presidents.

Ivor Samuels


22 March 2013



You can read Olga’s story by clicking here.

You can Also read Solange’s story by clicking here.

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