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Object | Accession Number: 1991.226.18

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    Brief Narrative
    Created by Irene Heppner (donor's mother), 1943.
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Max Amichai Heppner
    Irene M. Heppner
    Irene Marianne Krämer (1904-1997) was born in Munich, Germany, to Jakob (1868-1943) and Frieda (née Cornelius, 1874-1933) Krämer. Jakob spent his early career as a supplier for diamond and gold miners in South Africa, where Irene’s older sister, Helene (1899-1964) was born. Jakob’s supply business was extremely lucrative, and he was able to retire in his early 30s. The family returned to Germany in 1904, shortly before Irene was born. Irene attended school at the Höhere Tochterschule, and received a diploma from the Riemerschmidtsche Handelsschulen. In 1922, Irene met a tenant of her aunt, Albert Heppner (1900-1945), who was working on his Ph.D. in Art History. When Albert had to leave Munich, they began a long-distance courtship through mail. Irene and Albert married in June 1927 and settled in Berlin, where Albert worked as an art historian and dealer.

    After Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, anti-Jewish decrees were passed that restricted every aspect of Jewish life. Around June, Irene and Albert fled Berlin to Amsterdam, Netherlands. They were able to ship most of their belongings and furniture, and hid cash in the mats of Albert’s paintings and sewn into Irene’s travel blanket. They were taken into the home of a family Albert knew as a student, and he was able to establish a new art business. Irene often worked with him, serving as hostess to a variety of international clients. A few months after Albert and Irene immigrated, her father, Jakob, joined them in Amsterdam and took a central role in raising their son, Max (b. 1933), who was born that October. Irene and Albert were not religious, but ensured that Max learned Hebrew. However, Albert attempted to disassociate himself from Germany and was insistent on assimilating as much as they could into the Dutch culture.

    The family was on vacation in Switzerland, when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. They rushed back to the Netherlands, and made it just before the border closed. In May 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands, and the Germans established a civilian administration run largely by the SS, which gradually tightened control on the residents. Albert’s work permit was rescinded in 1940, but continued his work illegally with the help of non-Jewish friends. In early 1941, all Jews were required to register themselves with the authorities and a Jewish council was established.

    On April 29, 1942, Irene’s family was required to wear yellow Star of David badges that identified them as Jews. The authorities raided their home for valuables on multiple occasions, and that summer, Jewish deportation round ups began. Albert almost got caught in a street raid, but was saved by a business associate. In early August, the SS staged a night raid on the Heppner’s block. Albert went to the roof to escape, and when the SS could not find him, they took Irene instead. Max was taken in by non-Jewish family friends for a few days, until he could reunite with his parents. Irene was taken to a collection center, but was released after a neighbor helped her get a letter certifying that Albert had done work for the Jewish Council. After this ordeal, Albert began looking into options to flee the Netherlands.

    Albert and his friend, Heinz Graumann, were connected to a group who promised to smuggle their families in the back of an empty gasoline truck to unoccupied southern France. On August 9, Irene, Albert, and Max left Amsterdam, with only the clothes they were wearing, for a meeting point in Utrecht, about 25 miles south. They were joined by Heinz, his wife, Elli, and their sixteen-year-old son, Michael. The Heppners feared that Jakob would not survive the perilous journey, and were forced to leave him in an elder care facility in Amsterdam.

    For the next month, the smugglers moved the refugees through a series of hiding places. On September 10, the smugglers announced they were going to split the group up and take them to different locations. They took Michael first, and then the Heppners were placed on a farm owned by Johann (Harry) and Hubertina (Dina) Janssen in Zeilberg-Deurne. Later that night, the smugglers brought Heinz and Elli Graumann, and the refugees were all placed in an empty chicken house. The following day, Harry and his underground connections formed a search party for Michael, and discovered he had been killed by the smugglers and buried in a shallow grave. The families realized that the smugglers had intended to kill the rest of them as well, but they were handed over to the Dutch underground instead.

    The Janssens took the Heppners and Graumanns in as part of their family. A double wall in the stable, so when danger was imminent, the refugees were hoisted into the rafters and lowered down between the walls. With the help of their underground connections, both Albert and Heinz were able to continue with their academic research and writing, and Albert continued to run his business remotely.

    In 1944, the Allies were fighting in the southern Netherlands. Liberation forces got pinned down by the Germans and occupied the farm next to the Janssen’s. The British soldiers befriended the refugees and helped the Heppners to exchange letters with relatives that had immigrated to the United States. Max got very sick, and had to be hospitalized in the spring of 1945. After the northern part of the Netherlands was liberated in early May, Albert set out to check on his friends and business in Amsterdam. He stopped in the small town of Barneveld to await the necessary paperwork so he could enter the city. While there, he was taken in by the only Jewish family in that town. On June 5, Albert suddenly became very ill and died of liver failure. His hosts found Irene and brought her to the funeral, and afterwards she went back to Amsterdam. Irene was taken in by friends and was joined by Max after his release from the hospital.

    After returning to Amsterdam, Irene and Max were able to reconnect with members of their extended family. By 1939, Albert’s mother, sisters, and their families had fled Germany to England. Irene’s sister, Helene, and her two children fled Germany for the Netherlands shortly after the November 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom. Irene’s brother-in-law was already in Amsterdam on a business trip and staying with the Heppners. Upon arriving, Helene and the children were interned in a camp near Rotterdam, and later transferred to a camp near Amsterdam, where the Heppners could visit them. In August 1939, Helene was able to immigrate to the United States using a South African quota number. Her husband was able to join them that December. Jakob had been interned in Westerbork transit camp, and was then deported to Sobibor killing center in German-occupied Poland, where he was killed on March 13, 1943. Although Max wanted to stay in Amsterdam, Irene decided they would join her family in the US. Irene and Max arrived in New York City on November 17, 1946. For the next two years, they stayed with their family in Cleveland, Ohio. In March, 1947, Irene began working in the library at the Cleveland Museum of Art, where she drew on the work she had done with Albert. Max returned to school, and later attended college and graduate school. Irene became a naturalized citizen in 1952. Around 1970, she moved to the Washington, D.C. area, where she worked as a research bibliographer for the National Portrait Gallery until her retirement at the end of 1990.

    Physical Details

    Dress Accessories
    Object Type
    Handkerchiefs (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Handkerchief made from an old shirt, decorated by pulling out threads to form a pattern. Made by Irene Heppner.
    overall: Height: 10.750 inches (27.305 cm) | Width: 11.140 inches (28.296 cm)

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Administrative Notes

    The handkerchief was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1991 by Amichai Heppner.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 18:33:54
    This page:

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