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Miriam Arden: Remembering a Life, Honouring Life

For Holocaust Memorial Day 2022 Cataloguing Archivist Jim Ranahan looks at the life of Jewish Refugee Ilse Aufricht.

Jim Ranahan
The Holocaust Memorial Day logo, a purple flame above the words 'Holocaust Memorial Day 27/1'.

‘One Day’ is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2022, commemorating the Holocaust and genocide around the world. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust offers this small reminder that the everyday and the routine can mask the most horrendous experiences.

Sunday 18th May 1947 saw the first of the season’s Sunday Evening Concerts, held for the Shakespeare Festival at the Memorial Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Attending this concert was Miriam Arden from London, in Stratford that weekend to celebrate her fiftieth birthday. In addition to the recital by the noted violinist Alfredo Campoli, Miriam visited properties of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and enjoyed a performance of ‘Twelfth Night’.

The front cover of Miriam Arden's flyer for Campoli Recital. In the top left is Shakespeare's coat of arms, next to the name of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. The flier appears to be printed on thin paper stock with the text on the reverse visible from the front.
Miriam Arden's Flyer for Campoli Recital

Miriam visited Stratford regularly from 1945 until the 1960s and it is apparent from mementoes collected during these trips that she appreciated the life, works and memory of Shakespeare. The 1947 visit was particularly important to Miriam and not just because of a milestone birthday. In May 1947, she was awaiting news concerning her application to become a British citizen and also a decision on her request to have her name changed by deed poll (both were approved in June of that year). At the time of Miriam’s 1947 visit, she was Ilse Aufricht, a Jewish refugee who had fled Austria in 1938, because of Nazi persecution.

Persecution of the Aufricht family followed a distressingly familiar pattern, unfortunately still recognisable in many aspects across the world today. Initially the family business in Vienna was seized and Aufricht ownership cancelled, then Ilse’s mother and sister were interned in concentration camps where the sister died, Ilse’s father committed suicide to avoid internship and Ilse threw herself on the mercy of the international community as a refugee.

Whilst Ilse adopted the name Miriam Arden in June 1947, she retained the horror of the Aufricht family destruction, revisiting the trauma as she sought restitution of lost family assets, through the Austrian courts in the post-war period. This protracted process ensured that Miriam’s grief would remain fresh and raw, unaffected by the passage of time. Against this backdrop, her regular visits to Stratford cannot be regarded as ‘cultural tourism’. Outsiders cannot second guess the needs and emotions of survivors of Holocaust and genocide, but it is appropriate to note that some fundamental experience must have kept Miriam returning to Stratford and collecting souvenirs of those visits.

Those souvenirs and mementoes have been donated to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, along with manuscript transcriptions of records relating to Miriam, the originals being held at the U.K. National Archives. We are humbled to receive this donation, given her affinity with our properties and Shakespeare’s Stratford during a troubled period of her life. We welcome this opportunity to share Miriam Arden’s story, in memory of her life and in honour of all who perished or survived the Holocaust and genocide.