Jan 2002 Journal

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Susi Bechhöfer: lost identity

At just three years of age, Susi Bechhöfer and her twin sister Lotte were sent to Britain on the Kindertransport from the Jewish children’s home in Munich, where their unmarried mother lived. Soon after their arrival at Liverpool Street Station in May 1939, they were packed off to the home of a childless Baptist minister and his wife in North Wales and contact with their Jewish origins was lost for the next half-century. The twins were provided with a new Christian identity: Susi became Grace and Lotte became Eunice. They were still known as ‘the German girls’ and no doubt retained traces of a continental accent.


At a well attended KT-AJR lunch meeting, Susi Bechhöfer spoke of her journey of rediscovery. “I am one of you,” she began, keen to compare her experiences with those of other Kinder. She had always felt a “deep void” within her, not knowing who she really was. As time passed, her memory faded and the twins’ origins were never discussed. However, when registering for GCE examinations at the age of 16, she was told her real name for the first time, and became determined to hold on to it.

Susi-Grace trained as a nurse, married and had a son, but it was not until the mid-1980s, when the media were taking an interest in the Kindertransport, that she began her research. In 1988 she heard Bertha Leverton on BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour and wrote to her in the belief that she was one of the Kinder. Bertha Leverton used all her contacts to try to establish Susi’s family ties and eventually a broadcast on Kol Israel radio led to the discovery of orthodox cousins in New York. The cousins knew of ‘the twins’ and had to tell her that her mother Rosa had died in Auschwitz. An article in the Jewish Chronicle, a BBC film, and a visit to New York on the 60th anniversary of her arrival in Britain followed. In 1996 a book co-authored with Jeremy Josephs related her experiences.


The death of her foster parents earlier this year (their treatment of the twins had left much to be desired), Susi confessed, had proved liberating. Guided by Bertha and the members of her family in New York, Susi was re-introduced to the traditions and practices of Jewish life and religion – but she continues to play the organ at the local church.
Ronald Channing

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