Jewish Families on the Brink of War

Suddenly the Skies Darkened

Children's Album from Villingen

"Beloved Marga,
Follow your father's advice
And also listen to your mother's words,
And then you will be happy."

Irma Schwarz wrote these words in her daughter Marga's autograph book in April 1939. Irma was murdered in Auschwitz.  Marga survived.

Marga Schwarz was born in 1928 in the village of Villingen, in Baden, Germany. Her parents were Hugo and Irma née Oberndorfer, and Marga had two younger brothers, Heinz (b. 1929) and Manfred (b. 1931).  Hugo was a cattle trader and Irma was a housewife.  Hugo's parents Bertha and Louis and their daughter Julie lived with them in the same house.  In 1933, 60 Jews lived in Villingen, who formed part of the adjacent Randegg Jewish community.  There was a small prayer hall on the second floor of the Schwarz's home that was used by the Jews of Villingen.  Louis passed away in 1934.

When the Nazis rose to power, the Jews of Villingen were persecuted, and the locals severed their ties with their Jewish neighbors due to pressure from the authorities. 

On 9 November 1938, during the Kristallnacht pogrom, the prayer hall in the Schwarz home was destroyed, and Hugo was brutally beaten by hooligans. A rabble broke into the family home and vandalized it.  Hugo was sent to Dachau, and was only released home three months later.  On his return, he and his son Heinz collected the tattered remnants of the Torah scrolls from the desecrated prayer hall and buried them in the courtyard of a Jewish home in Villingen.

Hugo had a plan to immigrate with his family to North America.  Two of his brothers were already there, and as a first step, he decided to get the children out of Germany.  At the end of April 1939 the three children alighted a train in Freiburg.  They reached Switzerland and were taken in by different foster families. 

In October 1940, Hugo and Irma, Hugo's mother Bertha and his sister Julie were deported to the Gurs camp in France.  They managed to maintain an exchange of letters with the children in Switzerland until July 1942, and even sent them little gifts that Irma made in the camp.  Hugo's brothers managed to arrange for their mother and sister's release from Gurs and to move them to Marseille.  A while later, Bertha and Julie were arrested again.

In August 1942, Hugo and Irma were deported from Gurs to Auschwitz and murdered.  Several weeks later, on 16 September, Julie was deported from Drancy to Auschwitz, where she too was murdered.  Bertha perished in Gurs.

After the war, the three Schwarz siblings immigrated to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine).  Marga changed her name to Dalia, Heinz, to Yitzhak and Manfred, to Uri.  The two boys changed their family name from Schwarz to Ben Yehuda.

In 2010, Yitzhak Ben Yehuda submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of his mother Irma, his father Hugo, his grandmother Bertha and his aunt Julie. In 2014, Dalia Miller (Marga Schwarz) and her brother Yitzhak Ben Yehuda (Schwarz) donated documents, photographs and artifacts to Yad Vashem as part of the "Gathering the Fragments" national project.  Among the artifacts was Marga's autograph book, in which her relatives and friends inscribed dedications, songs and drawings between 1939-1943.  Pages from the autograph book are displayed in this exhibition.