Yad Vashem Publications' new release, The Journey of Ilse Kaufmann: Vienna-Prague-Buenos Aires, is a personal testimony of Ilse Kaufmann's survival in the Holocaust.
Each story of wartime survival is different, but knowing whom to trust is a dilemma shared by many who were struggling to survive the reality of war. In Ilse's story, a bottle of cognac saved three people, a marriage proposal saved two families, and the help of a loyal governess made all the difference. Growing up in in prewar Vienna as the only daughter of her adoring banker father and beautiful mother, Ilse Kaufmann (nee Hahn) had a sheltered childhood. When the Germans invaded Austria in March 1938, Ilse was in Olmutz, a small town in Moravia, visiting her Aunt Alicia. Ordered by her father not to return home, she found herself alone with her Aunt, worried about her parents who were caught in occupied Vienna. Four months later, she was joined by her parents in Czechoslovakia, and the family's struggle and long journey to freedom began.
Ilse's marriage to Adalbert (Bela) Kaufmann, a hotel manager whom she met in Prague, assisted the family in establishing connections with the Argentine embassy, and in late 1941, her parents acquired Argentine passports, which enabled them to flee Czechoslovakia. A year later, Ilse, her husband and their son were among the last Jews remaining in Prague. With their "non-German" passports they successfully made the journey to Spain via Berlin, then crossed the border to Lisbon and secured a place on one of the final ships to sail across the Atlantic Ocean during the hostilities, arriving in Argentina in early 1943.
Ilse wrote her life story with the assistance of Helena Pardo, who was introduced to Ilse by a mutual friend, and the co-writing of this book created a lifelong friendship between the two women. In the foreword chapter of the book, Pardo describes Kaufmann as "a woman who fought not only for her own life but also for the life of her loved ones; a woman who had the people she most loved taken away from her by death."
The Journey of Ilse Kaufmann is a story of rescue, love, family and friendship, and is a heartfelt chronicle of survival.
"That night, at three in the morning, we woke up with a start to the sound of boots marching, fists pounding on our front door and the doorbell ringing insistently. "Open up! Gestapo!" a voice yelled outside the door. They entered immediately and began searching and breaking everything. They even had the nerve to pick the child up out of his crib. I had just managed to make it into the bathroom to conceal a document my father had entrusted me with, placing it inside the hem of my nightgown."
The Journey of Ilse Kaufmann: Vienna-Prague-Buenos Aires, by Ilse Kaufmann and Helena Pardo, is available for purchase at the Yad Vashem online store.