Revealing a refugee’s story


This post was originally written in 2016

At Heritage Eastbourne we all have a passion for discovering and sharing stories about Eastbourne’s past. It’s really exciting to come across objects that illumine human experiences at different times in history. One in particular moved us greatly last week.

We spend some of our time going through boxes of unaccessioned Local and Social History items. Last Thursday, we came across a collection of photographs, the first of which showed two young boys sitting side by side with toys. We didn’t think much of it, of course it must have meant something to someone at some point in time. But in that moment it was impossible to know just how much. 

Hana Mullerova’s Nephews

It was the accompanying object that gave a long kept secret away. A seemingly innocuous booklet turned out to be an Alien Certificate of Registration, belonging to Czech Jewish refugee, Hana Mullerova, stamped in Eastbourne on 21st February 1939.

The significance of this date is that it shows Hana arrived in Eastbourne one month before the German Armymoved into the remainder of Czechoslovakia, a year after the Nazi annexation of what was called the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia’s northern and western border regions. This occupation had an unfathomable impact on the 356,830 people there who identified as Jewish.

Hana was born in 1905 in the Czech town of Lindava. She had a married sister and two nephews. At the age of 33 Hana was sent to England in 1939 to escape the Nazis.  Only 26 000 Jewish individuals were able to emigrate before 1941 a year that saw the beginning of mass deportations to Theresienstadt (near Prague) and then further east.  Hana was one of the 26 000. Once she arrived in Eastbourne  she managed to get tickets for her family to travel to England but they were a day too late. Her entire family perished in concentration camps. Hana treasured the photographs she had of her family, especially her nephews, they were the only tangible reminders of them all.

Hana (back row right) with her parents (front centre)
A page from Hana’s Alien Registration Certificate

Hana found work as a maid, one of the few occupations open to alien girls and women. She had to report weekly to the police station to have her Aliens’ Registration book stamped.

Hana became a naturalised British Citizen in November 1947. Many Jewish refugees and other ‘Alien’ residents became naturalised British Citizens after the war. Hana then worked in the office at Mansfield’s (Motor sales and service) in Cavendish Place until her retirement.

Hana later in life. She passed away in July 1985

Time has a way of making certain events innocuous. Over 75 years separates us from the Holocaust, but through these objects our concept of time is transcended and we are able to recover stories that fear and history and trauma have conspired to suppress. Hana kept her pain to herself for most of her life. It was only when she began treatment for cancer, and befriended a volunteer ambulance driver, that her story both surfaced and transferred into the care of another human being.

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