Holocaust survivor to talk at Aston University

Susi Bechhofer

8 March 2016

A Holocaust survivor who was the inspiration for W G Sebald’s classic novel, Austerlitz, will give a talk at Aston University this week. 

Susi Bechhöfer will give a testimony of her experience which will be followed by a question and answer session. The visit, organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET), will take place in on Thursday 10 March in Room 155 in the Main Building between 2pm – 4pm. It is free for all staff and students to attend. 

Susi’s story, like many fellow survivors’, is one of displacement and loss but also of hope and courage. In 1939, when she was just three years old, Susi was sent on a Kindertransport evacuating German Jewish children to Britain with her sister, Lotte. 

She was born in Munich to Rosa, a Jewish domestic servant, and Otto, a Member of the Nazi Party who left the city before her birth. Struggling to cope with the demands of childcare and work, Rosa gave her children to the local orphanage before their eventual evacuation. 

Once in Britain, the sisters were taken in and raised by devout Baptists, Edward and Irene Mann, who had them baptised and changed their names. Susi Bechhöfer became Grace Mann. She discovered her real identity years later when, as a result of her name not being legally altered, she sat a school exam under the name Bechhöfer. 

From the 1970s, Grace tried to find out more about her family history. She eventually discovered that her mother had been deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943, where she died, and that she had a half-sister, from whom she learnt more about her father. In 1988, she changed her name back to Susi although kept her Christian faith. 

Her life story became the basis of the novel, Austerlitz, by acclaimed German author W G Sebald. The book was awarded the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, the 2001 Salon Book Award and, in the UK, the 2002 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. 

Dr Uwe Schütte, Reader in German at Aston University, said: “It is a privilege for us to welcome Susi Bechhöfer to Aston. Her testimony will serve as a powerful reminder of the horrors so many experienced. We are grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust for co-ordinating the visit and we hope that by hearing Susi’s testimony, it will encourage our students to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and make a positive difference in their own lives.” 

Susi’s testimony is part of the HET’s extensive all year round Outreach Programme, which is available across the country. The Trust aims to raise awareness and understanding in educational institutions and amongst the wider public of the Holocaust and its relevance today. 

Karen Polloxk MBE, Chief Executive of the HET, said: “The Holocaust Educational Trust educates and engages students from across the UK, from all communities about the Holocaust and there can be no better way than through the first-hand testimony of a survivor. Susi’s story is one of tremendous courage during horrific circumstances and by hearing her testimony, students will have the opportunity to learn where prejudice and racism can ultimately lead.”