As chance would have it
Pampel, Margot with her daughter Felicity Zwarf
From Jena to Melbourne
Margot Pampel’s memoir tells a most uncommon story – that of a Jewish girl living and working under her own name in Germany throughout the Nazi era. Born of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father, Margot’s early life in post-World War I Jena was filled with the simple joys of family, friends, holidays and the excitement of being part of a progressive, egalitarian school. When Margot was eight years old, her father died suddenly. Her widowed mother struggled to provide financially for them both, a task that became increasingly difficult after Hitler rose to power.
In 1933 Margot’s mother was persuaded to have her daughter baptized in the hope of protecting her from the Aryan laws. Margot was not, however, protected from the fear of discovery, which haunted her life as long as she remained in Germany. In late 1942, her mother was arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where she died the following year. Through plain good luck and resourcefulness, Margot worked until the end of the war, escaped from East Germany and later met and married her husband Horst. In 1953, with their baby son, Michael, Horst and Margot migrated to Australia. Their daughter Felicity was born in Melbourne in 1956. As with most immigrants, their early years in Melbourne were difficult, but as Margot writes: ‘I didn’t need to make too many adjustments to cope with getting by on very little.’
Margot told her story in German to her daughter, who then translated and transcribed it. Nonetheless, her voice comes through with clarity and reflects the determination which characterized her life. In addition to her life story, the book is enriched by Margot’s later reflections on her life, a tribute to her mother and insightful pieces by her daughter. There are many lessons to be learned from this book, while at the same time sharing the unique experiences of a very courageous woman.