Two Holocaust Journals - A Father's Impact on Children of the War

Heather Becker, TCC's Chief Executive Officer, tells the amazing tale of a colleague who brought in her father's WWII journals:

Every day at The Conservation Center, we see all kinds of art and artifacts, each with its own unique story or history; some with cultural significance, others part of a family’s heritage, and even the work of great masters. But when an item comes in that literally takes your breath away, those are moments that remind us of how important and humbling our daily tasks are, and reinforces the importance of preservation and conservation.

When my colleague Gail Golden mentioned her family stumbled across two of her father’s WWII journals, I told her to bring them by and we would take care of them for her. Then, when she brought in the journals and we started turning the pages, reading the text and images, there was an overwhelming sense of how precious these journals are to her family – but also to us all. Gail has been gracious enough to share the story of the journals with us, and I hope her story will help convey the importance of how even the most personal artifacts become awe-inspiring historical records for future generations. Among all the items we conserve at The Center, it is an honor to take part in the preservation of our past, for our future.

“My father, Walter Hartmann, and his brother, Horst, escaped from Nazi Germany in 1939 on the Kindertransport, an English initiative to rescue Jewish children and bring them to England.  The Hartmann parents, who stayed behind in Germany, perished.   A few years later, when the war ended, Walter became a counselor in a rehabilitation center for boys who had been rescued from the concentration camps. 

After my parents passed away, my siblings and I found among their books two startling artifacts.  The first was a diary.  In Walter’s first few months in the English refugee camp, he kept a diary of his feelings and experiences – a deeply personal account of a brilliant 16-year-old boy struggling to deal with his profound trauma.  The second was a notebook of hand-drawn pictures and messages in Polish, German, Hebrew, Yiddish, and English – created by the boys in the rehabilitation center as a gift for Walter when he left his position there to go to America.

These books were deeply meaningful to us as a family.  We also knew they had historic value for other Holocaust survivors and scholars.  But the books were now over seventy years old and very fragile.  To preserve them for ourselves and for future generations, we brought them to The Conservation Center.  In addition to preserving and protecting the books, The Center also made digital copies which enabled us to share the content with others.  We are very grateful that this important part of our family’s legacy has been beautifully preserved.”