A new year, a new collection

I am very excited to begin work on the family archive of Dorrith Sim (née Oppenheim). Well known in the local and national community, Dorrith Oppenheim fled from the German city of Kassel to Scotland in summer 1939 on a Kindertransport. She was cared for by Sophie and Fred Gallimore in Edinburgh, with whom she remained until she married Andrew Sim in 1952. Dorrith’s parents, Hans and Trude Oppenheim, were deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1943 and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau where they were both murdered. Hans’ parents, Alma and Julius Oppenheim, were able to join his younger brother Ernst in Canada in early 1939, and his sister Alice fled via the UK to the United States. Dorrith’s grandparents were able to bring a large quantity of household goods and personal items with them, and Ernst was a conscientious correspondent who preserved both sides of many letter exchanges. Thus it is possible to trace the family’s efforts to secure passage out of Germany, in particular Ernst and Alice’s tireless work to rescue Hans and Trude.

Dorrith has given testimony about her and her family numerous times; most recently, for example, for Gathering the Voices. She was active in Holocaust remembrance in the local community and contributed to the work of the Kindertransport Association and particularly to its Scottish branch. Ernst and then Dorrith were aware of the significance of the collection of documents and letters, as well as material objects relating to the family history. Dorrith’s generosity made it possible for her children to deposit the archive with the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre in Glasgow where it is now accessible to researchers.

It is truly a privilege to be able to immerse myself in this archive and not only trace the intricacies of the family’s journey in the 1930s and 1940s, but also reach back to the family’s life in eighteenth century Germany, analyse letters and papers from World War I, and read forward into the present time through Dorrith’s own correspondence and collections of writings, documents and things. Historical research on Jewish refugee journeys, personal memories of one family, and public commemorations of the Holocaust intertwine in this archive. As my work begins I am mindful of the responsibility which comes with being allowed to look so closely into one family’s personal affairs which are of public significance. While I am sad never to have met Dorrith herself, I am grateful to her children for making this amazing family archive accessible and for welcoming my questions and thoughts. I am heartened by being able to place my work alongside and in relation to a growing body of scholarship on family archives and correspondence which brings the personal and local in connection with the history of communities and nations. To cite but a few:

Mark Roseman 2000, A Past in Hiding: Memory and Survival in Nazi Germany.

David Clay Large 2003, And the World Closed Its Doors: The Story of One Family Abandoned to the Holocaust.

Daniel Mendelssohn 2006, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million.

Joachim Schlör 2016, ‘Liesel, it’s time for you to leave.’ Von Heilbronn nach London. Die Flucht der Familie Rosenthal vor der nationalsozialistischen Verfolgung.

Shirli Gilbert 2017, From Things Lost: Forgotten Letters and the Legacy of the Holocaust.

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