Susi and her twin, Lotte, were born in 1936 in Munich, Germany. Their mother, Rosa, was a Jewish domestic servant; their father, a non-Jewish German, left Munich before they were born. Unable to cope with the demands of two babies and working, Rosa gave the children to the local orphanage, where she visited them once a week. In 1939, Susi and Lotte were sent to Britain on the Kindertransport. They were brought to Cardiff where they were taken in by a Baptist minister and his wife.
Although most children on the Kindertransport were fostered by loving families, Susi and Lotte were not so fortunate. They were told that they were the couple’s biological children, given new names and raised as Christians. In 1945, Lotte fell seriously ill and Susi was sent to boarding school. This was in theory to spare her the stress of her sister’s illness but was also designed to prevent her from hearing local rumours about their background.
Susi only discovered her true identity when she came to sit an exam in 1954 and the teacher told her her real name (the name change had never been legally formalised). However, it would be a number of years before she felt able to explore her story. In the meantime, Susi pursued a career in nursing, married and had a son. It was Lotte’s death at the age of 35 in 1971 that prompted Susi to begin the quest to discover the sisters’ story, although it was only after her retirement from nursing in 1987 that she was able to devote more time to her search. She eventually made contact with relatives in New York and learned that her mother Rosa had been deported to her death in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943.
Finding out her real identity inspired her to reclaim her birth name of Susi Bechhofer and to talk publicly about her experiences. Her story is told in her books Rosa’s Child (co-authored with Jeremy Josephs) and Rosa, and Susi shared her testimony with young people for many years as part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Outreach programme.
Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said:
“Susi dedicated the later years of her life to uncovering the truth of her past and understanding what happened to her family during the Holocaust. She spent many years sharing her most painful memories with young people across the country.
We will continue her work, and recommit to ensuring that Susi’s story is never forgotten and that young people know where hatred, anti-Semitism and intolerance can ultimately lead. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family at this sad time.”