Born in Dublin, Ireland, Dr. Sheridan-Quantz studied Geography and German, eventually gaining her PhD in a comparative study of eighteenth-century Dublin and Berlin. She went to Germany in the 1990s with a post-doctoral scholarship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to study the commercial development of Hannover city centre in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. "This roused my interest in the vanished families of the many Jewish entrepreneurs who had shaped the modern city and then fled from the Nazis or died in the Holocaust," explains Dr. Sheridan-Quantz. "One of these businesses was the printing works of Adolf Molling, but information about the firm was scarce. The expansion of the internet in the early 2000s as well as documents relating to the economic aspects of the persecution of German Jews in the State Archives of Lower Saxony helped me reconstruct the history of the company and their international printing and publishing activities.
"Among Molling’s picture books, three books illustrated by Hilde Koch in 1921 stood out. Her vibrant illustrations made me curious to know more about her as the only unknown woman among well-known male artists."
In her article, Dr. Sheridan-Quantz describes how she eventually found an address for Hilde Koch, which through the Frankfurt City Directory for 1921 led her to a Julius Koch living at that address. Searching on Yad Vashem's Names Database, she discovered Pages of Testimony for Julius Koch, his daughter Hilde Koch Neuberger and her husband Otto Neuberger. Indeed, Dr. Sheridan-Quantz made good use of Yad Vashem's archival resources: There she also found Hilde’s letters to her sister Leonie, as well as the summaries of the deportation transports from France to Auschwitz.
"After that I simply followed up every single clue revealed by these sources – I wrote to the archives in Frankfurt and Mannheim (where Hilde lived after her marriage); I scoured the academic literature on German book illustration; and I searched genealogical websites to trace Hilde’s family tree – always in the hope of finding and connecting with a living relative. Every tiny new discovery gave me a new starting point for further searches. I wrote to the French archives in the regions that Hilde passed through on the journey from Gurs to Auschwitz, and I visited the State Archives in Karlsruhe where the files relating to the robbery and restitution of the Jews of Mannheim are kept. This principle of 'leaving no stone unturned' or the exhaustive examination of every possible source and clue is central to the practice of microhistory."
"The amount of detail I discovered exceeded my wildest hopes," she explains. "It was surprising that the fragments of Hilde’s life story revealed such a level of complexity, in spite of their incompleteness. There are so many points of departure for further discussion in what we now know of Hilde’s life – the questions around her education and professional training as an upper middle-class Jewish woman, the use of Christian imagery in her work, the degree to which her professional life may have been a secret from her family, and the remarkable way in which she reclaimed her identity as an artist on her Camp Gurs registration card."
In 2018 Dr. Sheridan-Quantz finally connected with Hilde's niece Miryam Nachsatz, Leonie's daughter, who lives in central Israel. "This was more than merely academic satisfaction," she relates. " Miryam sent me scans of numerous family photographs of Hilde, Leonie and their parents Clementine and Julius Koch. Miryam had also inherited from Leonie the artworks that Hilde managed to save before she was deported in 1942 – but she did not know that Hilde had published any of her works.
"Our conversations changed Miryam's image of Hilde and mine – Miryam learned of Hilde’s 'secret' life as a professional illustrator, I discovered a new breadth of creativity not reflected in the published work."
Since 2017, Dr. Sheridan-Quantz has been employed as a researcher for the City of Hannover, and one of the tasks most important to her is to research miniature biographies for Stolpersteine (stumbling stones), a physical memorial for people persecuted by the Nazis. "Many of these individuals are 'insignificant' in the sense that they had no public presence – they were mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, friends, associates, business partners, employees, casual labourers," she explains. "Most of them left few traces in the sources available to us, but I try to recreate the circumstances of their lives in as much detail as possible, so that visitors gain a sense of their humanity, their place in the city and the reality of their lives."
Who Was Hilde Koch?
Hilde Klara Neuberger (née Koch) was born in Frankfurt am Main on July 17, 1896 to Julius and Clementine Felice (née Metz). Her younger sister Leonie Hermine was born in 1899. Julius was a banker and merchant, and the family lived at 10 Parkstrasse, and in 1921 moved to 130 Wolfsgangstrasse.
In 1920, when she was 24 years old, Hilde illustrated children's books, three of them published in Jewish-owned publishing houses in Hanover. Although there is no authoritative evidence, she apparently studied illustration and graphics at a higher academic institution. In 1921, Hilde became a member of the Frankfurt-Offenbach Group of the German Graphic Artists' Association. In 1924 her mother, Clementine, died. In 1934, Hilde married Otto Neuberger (b. 1886), a widower with two children, both of whom immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1939. That same year, Hilde's 77-year-old father, Julius, moved in with her and her husband in Mannheim.
In October 1940, the Jews in Baden, including Hilde and Julius, were deported to the Gurs detention camp in France. Otto Neuberger, who had suffered a stroke, was allowed to stay in the Mannheim Jewish Hospital. Julius Koch died in Gurs in November 1940. Otto was deported from Mannheim to Terezín in August 1942, where he died in March 1943. In 1942, Hilde was deported from Gurs to Vénissieux and Drancy, and finally to Auschwitz – where she was murdered.
In February 2019, Hilde's niece Miryam Nachsatz donated to Yad Vashem a notebook containing illustrations of animals, which Hilde had drawn for her in the Gurs detention camp in 1941, as well as some other pieces of artwork she had inherited from her mother. "It was so difficult for me to hand over the artworks, the only surviving remnants left by my aunt, who I never had the honor of knowing," said Miryam. "But I could see they were getting old, disintegrating, and I wanted them to be kept safe by Yad Vashem, the most appropriate home for items like these.
"I feel that through her drawings, and this very important article written by Edel [Sheridan-Quantz], we have somehow brought her back to life."
This article originally appeared in the "Yad Vashem Jerusalem Magazine," volume 95.