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FSU institute receives letters detailing Holocaust experience

Florida State University’s Institute on World War II and the Human Experience has received a collection of 5,000 letters and memoirs detailing the life of Holocaust survivor Giulia Koritschoner Hine and her extended family. The collection is available online and is free for public viewing.

"We were astounded that Giulia wanted the collection on the Web," said William Oldson, director of the Institute. "When people give us donations, most don’t want it on the Web for personal reasons. We usually have to promise we won’t do that."

Donated in honor of Hine’s grandfather, Paul Hasterlik, the collection is unique because Hine and her family never considered themselves to be Jewish. The Viennese family had converted to Roman Catholicism generations before Hitler’s regime. However, Hitler’s anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws stated that nationality was based on the ethnic character of one’s grandparents. Thus, during Christmas of 1938, Hasterlik quickly worked to send his family away under forged passports. He, however, refused to leave Vienna and was eventually deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp where he died in 1944.

"When the Nazis occupied Austria, my two daughters and I were forced to separate so as to escape," wrote Giulia’s mother, Maria Hasterlik in 1945. "My elder daughter was stranded in Africa. My younger daughter, Giulia, found refuge with a Swiss family who were ready to take a refugee child for a short period. I myself went to England. On the way there, I stopped in Switzerland for two days, and that was when I saw my little girl for the last time (1939). A week after I had arrived in London, war started. My hopes to get Giulia to London were destroyed."

Hine comes from an intellectual and economic background that is of the level of the Kennedys, said Oldson. "She went from wealth to being a scullery maid in Switzerland."

Through the words and drawings of 14-year-old Giulia, her diary and letters depict the dramatic changes she encountered as she adapted to her new life. They describe her childhood crushes on boys, her struggle to comprehend the depth of Hitler’s hate and her journey to reunite with her family.

"Suddenly we were considered outcasts," Hine said recently in a telephone interview from her Boulder, Colo., home. "In school I had to sit in the back row and then eventually I had to go to a Jewish school, so I was aware that we weren’t wanted. I didn’t know why or how this could happen, but it did."

Each letter and photograph in the collection is an intimate look into the affection that kept family members bound together despite the distances between them. Hine inherited the letters from relatives. She said her original goal was to translate the documents for her children who could not read the Czech-German dialect.

"I thought it was a pity that they did not know their heritage," said Hine. "Then there is so much information in the letters that researchers could use. I thought it might fill some of the holes in their knowledge."

The collection of letters dating from 1933 to 1945 is accessible online at http://www.fsu.edu/~ww2/. The original documents are available for scholarly research by appointment. For more information, please call Anne L. Marsh at (850) 644-9545.

The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience focuses on preserving the memories and artifacts of the men and women who helped served in World War II in the service and of civilians who helped on the home front. The Institute accepts donations of letters, diaries, manuscripts, photographs, military documents, uniforms, ration coupons, drawings, cartoons, etc. If you would like a brochure, please email the Institute at ww2@ww2.fsu.edu.