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Accession Number: NEKHC:2015.8.7

Object: Tablecloth

Physical Description: Pink cotton; cotton thread embroidery; silver thread pattern; complete.

Information: This tablecloth was donated by Agnes. They were embroidered by Agnes' maternal grandmother in anticipation of her getting married.

Further Information

This tablecloth was donated by Agnes and had previously belonged to Agnes’ maternal grandmother Ilona, known as Ilonka.  Agnes’ family lived in and around Debrecen, Hungary, and Ilonka had been born in 1885.  As was customary for girls at that time, the tablecloth matched napkins which Ilonka embroidered with her name, in anticipation of getting married.

Ilonka was born in the country and had little formal education, but she was naturally intelligent. She was a huge influence on Agnes’ life, remembered as warm, caring, and driven, demanding the best from herself and her family. Her broad knowledge of the countryside would later help family members survive the camps.

Agnes’ family faced increasing danger from the rise of Nazism and the persecution of Jewish people.  Ilonka’s flat was situated in the Jewish quarter of Debrecen, and fell in the area which in 1944 became established as the Ghetto. When Jewish people were concentrated into the Ghetto from all parts of the city and surrounding districts, Ilonka's small flat became the home of thirteen people.

From the Ghetto, Agnes and her family were deported within the Nazi camp system to agricultural and industrial forced labour camps in Austria.  Surviving family members were finally liberated by Russian Troops in 1945. Following liberation, Agnes’ parents tried to return to their former family home, but found that it had been reassigned a non-Jewish family who had lost their home in bombing raids.

Before their deportation, Agnes' family had tried to store some valuables for safe keeping with non-Jewish neighbours; however these possessions were never seen again, as people took them for themselves. By contrast, items which were not considered to have much value had been left behind, and some of these were saved by a kindly caretaker of the building who preserved as much as he could. Among these items were Ilonka’s tablecloth and napkins. These were then left behind a second time when Agnes fled communist Hungary in 1956.

Agnes' parents emigrated from Hungary to reunite with their daughter in November 1957.  They too had to leave everything behind apart from a small crate of possessions. Agnes’ mother had brought with her the embroidered tablecloth and napkins as they held sentimental value, having been embroidered by her mother. 

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