Mytholmroyd Net

A visit from Thea - author of Thea's Diary

Thea talks to the 19th February 2003.

For those who have been listening to Thea's Diary on Radio 4, the had the pleasure of meeting with Thea when she visited the village this week and here she tells us a bit more of her story. Fleeing Leipzig, Germany with her mother and brother, she kept a diary and it became a "friend" she could talk to.

Until 1947 she wrote down what was happening to her and around her - the thoughts and feelings of a young refugee in wartime England. She used her school notebooks at first. When she got to London her mother sold her last ring to pay for her to go to Pitmans College to learn shorthand and typing, but she only managed 4 weeks, as they were bombed. She told us "This time we even lost the books we had managed to bring with us." She continued the diary in the notebooks she had been given at Pitman's college. The family moved to Harrogate and she became a fur finisher.

Eventually settling in Manchester she and her husband ran two pharmacies in a village in South Manchester. Soon after retirement her husband suffered a stroke and for ten years was unable to speak, read or write and began to paint and draw and it gave him a new interest in life and filled his days. He had never painted before. Thea looked after him 24 hours a day. After her husband's death Thea started to travel to the States and then to Eastern Europe.

In 1998 Thea wrote to Leipzig for a copy of her brother's birth certificate and the local authorities became aware of her existence. The Lord Mayor of Leipzig invited her back as a former citizen. They have had a policy since the fall of the wall and unification of inviting 30-40 people back every year who had suffered at the hands of the Nazis and she was one of the invited guests in the year 2000. She said "Flights were paid for, hotels, trips out to the theatre and even spending money was provided. So I went back to Leipzig. I went on my own. People had come from America, South America and London, including 3 former classmates of mine. None of us had been aware of the survival of the other. We were taken round by bus to see our former residences, to theatres and concerts and places of interest. Leipzig is a very beautiful and cultural city - renowned for book printing. But for me, it was a town filled with ghosts from my childhood. We were now old people having returned to the city of our youth.

The curator of the City of Leipzig Historical Museum Dr. Andrea Lorz came to our hotel. She was preparing an Exhibition of Leipzig's Jewish inhabitants who had first settled as early as the 12th Century. She asked all of us for material such as family photos, documents, packing lists etc. to bring the exhibition up to date. Under the Communist inspired regime, which only terminated in 1990 no historical records were available of the Hitler period concerning the Jews. I offered 2 entries from my diary - the last entry in Leipzig and the first in Warsaw both written in June 1939. For 61 years the diary had been lying in a drawer. Now it was time for it to come out and it took on a life of it's own. It was published in October 2001 by a Leipzig publishing firm and is used and read in German schools."

Thea has been invited several times to speak in German schools and told me "I now attempt to get across to people how much better it is to show understanding; to bridge the differences rather than to dwell on our different beliefs. We should look for what we have in common - divisions are man made. " Thea

It is a German custom for children on their first school day to receive a cone filled with sweets given by the family to sweeten the transition from home to school.

The photo shows Thea in 1933 a new recruit to learning; unaware of the tragedies that were to befall her and so many others, murdered by the Nazis in occupied Europe. Thea's father and most of her family were murdered during Word War II.

Through her diary and her talks Thea is showing us a way to live without prejudice, hatred nor bitterness.

She has agreed to come back to the area and speak at the Mytholmroyd History Society later this year.

Thank you Thea

The book is presently only available in German. If you missed the Radio 4 drama and/or are interested in the possibilities of the book being published in English, or on cassette or CD, enquiries can be made through the website at: BBC Radio 4 feedback

Or write to:
Woman's Hour
BBC Radio 4,
Broadcasting House,
London W1A 1AA