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Australian revisits childhood in Arolsen

“I had a good time in Arolsen,” remembers Ksenia Bettany, an Australian who lived in Bad Arolsen and Rennertehausen in the Waldeck Frankenberg district as a Displaced Person (DP) with her parents and siblings immediately following the Second World War. Ksenia and her son Romill made the 4-day trip to retrace her childhood, the highlight being yesterday´s visit to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen.

“I had no idea there were so many documents about me and my family,” Ksenia said. The 70-year-old doesn´t remember much about her childhood apart from a few details and images, such as the castle in Bad Arolsen, the barracks or the church. “My parents hardly spoke about this time,” she said. “Some of the towns´ names were familiar but I was very young.” Romill, however, had often spoken of the past with his grandfather. “I know a lot about the family history,” he said. “It is fantastic to be able to visit these places with my mother and something very special for me.”

Mother and son found DP registration and work cards in the ITS archive, as well as the birth certificate of her brother Alexe, who was born in Frankenberg in 1946. Ksenia was surprised and fought back tears. “Memories of Arolsen are coming back,” she said. “We lived upstairs in the second barracks building. The walls, which are still visible, seemed to me as a child incredibly high. From an adult´s perspective they look normal.” She remembers playing in the barracks courtyard. The play area was fenced in so the children couldn´t run away. “But we found a hole and ran around outside in the fields in Arolsen,” she chuckled. Her father worked next door at the International Refugee Organization (IRO), forerunner to the ITS.

Ksenia was born in France on 28 February 1941, where her parents fled after the Communists took power in Russia in the fall of 1917. They were deported after the German occupation of France in the Second World War and used as laboratory workers at BASF/IG Farbenindustrie in Ludwigshafen. The children were sent to a home in Heidelberg. “I was very sick,” remembered Ksenia. “Even though my brother Rostislav was lying next to us he managed to stay healthy.”

The family was housed in a courtyard in Rennertehausen immediately after the war ended. Ksenia´s brother Alexe was born during this time in a maternity hospital in Frankenberg. Ksenia and her son visited the town with a population of 1600. “It sounds incredible but I met a 93-year-old woman who remembered me and my family. She used to be our neighbor. She still lives in the same house, which I recognized immediately,” said Ksenia.

On June 17, 1949 the family emigrated to Australia from Italy on board the ship Nelly. “We were in so many places from 1942 to 1949 that I can´t keep them all straight,” said the Australian. “The ITS documents will help me put the pieces of the puzzle together.” Her brothers are copying the records for her and together they plan to talk about the time in Arolsen and Rennertehausen. “It´s going to be a big party and we´ll need a lot of tissues.”