Susi Bechhöfer, 1936-2018.

Bechhofer H Education Trust
Susi Bechhöfer. (Image, Holocaust Education Trust)

I learned today, by a roundabout route, of the death of Susi Bechhöfer. I first came to hear of Susi from Dr Uwe Schütte of Aston University, when I was in correspondence with him about W.G. Sebald. Uwe had been very kind in providing me with all kinds of material and information about Sebald, and it was he who first told me of the connection between Susi and Austerlitz. He put me in touch with Susi, advising me that Sebald’s unauthorised borrowing of a major part of her life story for that of the life of the protagonist of Austerlitz was still a sensitive issue. I believe that Sebald may have made some private acknowledgment before his accidental death.

I had been meaning to get back in touch with Susi, to ask her about her experience of time and space – there are hints, but nothing substantial, in her two books, the as-told-to Rosa’s Child by Jeremy Josephs, and her own Rosa – and also to ask what gave her the idea of composing ‘letters’ to the mother she never really knew. Of course I’m sorry from my own point of view that I will not now have the opportunity; but much more importantly I am very conscious that we have lost another link with pre-WW2 European Jewry, the almost total loss of which robbed Europe of a cultural interweaving of great value, and left us poorer. Susi’s family must feel the lack of someone dear to them too.

Sebald held back from borrowing the more harrowing aspects of Susi’s life. Loss of identity was dreadful enough for his protagonist, he was not willing to plunder the details of something else which Susi has shown incredible bravery in making public in her books. If you want to know more, then look out for her books; each of them is a short and uncomplicated read.

Susi Bechhöfer is honoured at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, and at the Holocaust Educational Trust.

Also recently I came across Pavel Haas‘s ‘Study for Strings’. It was composed in Theresienstadt concentration camp, and performed there during the infamous 1944 Red Cross visit, when the Nazis had ‘cleaned up’ the camp to make it seem like more of a resort. After the visit a large number of the inmates, including Pavel Haas, were packed off ‘East’ to be murdered. As this site hopes to deal from time to time with the question “What is art?” I make no apologies for mentioning that Haas’s music, with its Modernist feel and its echoes of slavonic folk themes, would have been classified by the Nazis as ‘degenerate’ art and suppressed. We only have this piece because the string parts were found amongst papers from Theresienstadt; the double bass part was missing, and was reconstructed by a pupil of Haas. It is music of great vigour, and I have come to love it unashamedly.