Marianne Roth

Title: An intricate collage
Author: Marianne Roth
Publisher: Makor Jewish Community Library
Place of publication: Melbourne
Year of Publication: 2000
Location of Book: Rare Books Collection, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University Clayton Campus
Cities/town/camps: Germany: Oppeln (modern name Opole, Poland), Gross Strehlitz, Patschkau, Breslau, BerlinAustralia: Melbourne
Note: those cities/towns/camps underlined are those which are most central to the narrative

Roth presents an autobiographical account of the significant memories and events that occurred throughout her life. The memoir is short – 75 pages – and is divided into small chapters of around three to four pages each. Pages 1-30 focus on pre-war life in Oppeln: family life and school life. Pages 30-46 recall the period under Nazi rule, until Roth’s emigration to Australia. Pages 47-75 offer insight into Roth’s life after migrating Australia. The book also contains several pages filled with photos as well as pictures that Roth, an artist, has drawn over the years. An Intricate Collage was published in 2000 as part of Makor library’s “Write Your Story” project.

Roth was born in Oppeln, Germany, on the 26th of September 1920, to parents Margarethe and Eugen. Her brother, Hans, was born less than fifteen months later. They were a close, happy, prosperous family. When Hitler came to power in 1933, anti-Jewish decrees affected Roth’s family, but the sentiments of their non-Jewish friends and neighbours initially did not change; they remained tolerant and friendly. Nevertheless, as the years progressed, the family was forced to move several times, as Roth’s father was initially demoted from his position as a schoolmaster, and later dismissed altogether from his field, as Jews were no longer permitted to teach members of the ‘master race’. In 1936, Roth’s family moved to Berlin, where her father found work in a Jewish school. For some time, life continued with relative normality, at least in the eyes of the young Roth.

The period of calm was shattered on November 9th, 1938, ‘Kristallnacht’. Roth and her brother, neither of whom looked particularly Jewish, were able to walk freely in the streets, as they saw Jewish businesses destroyed, their synagogue burned to the ground with its caretaker inside, and Jewish men being beaten in the streets. Soon after, the Nazis began rounding up Jewish men. For a brief period of time, Roth’s father went into hiding. After just a week, the stress of “hiding and being hunted like an animal” became too much for him. A stomach ulcer that had not bothered him for years burst, and he died several days later of pneumonia.

Arrangements were made to get both Roth and her brother out of Germany. Hans left on a children’s transport to London in April 1939; a month later, Roth departed on the long journey to Australia. Their mother, supportive of their escape, was left alone in Berlin. Upon arrival in Australia, Roth faced many more difficulties. She had little money, and she struggled to make ends meet, let alone organise for her mother to escape Germany. On September 1, 1939, war broke out and Roth realised that she would never see her mother again.

Although Roth and her brother managed to escape Germany before the war, most of her extended family was not so lucky. As she states, “the fate of my family is so typical of so many European families. Most lost their lives in the Holocaust”. Roth slowly rebuilt her life in Australia. She married, had two children, and found work as an arts teacher. Roth mentions at several points in her book the important therapeutic role that her art played during the many difficult times that she faced. In 1949, she was reunited with her brother Hans, with whom she remained close.

An Intricate Collage is concise but comprehensive, and quite personal. Roth shares with her readers her feelings of grief, sorrow, joy, anger, and sometimes guilt, both during the war and afterward. Although short, this book conveys powerfully the horrible experiences faced by one young Jewish woman and her family as a result of the policies of the Nazis.