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Eyes of a pretty porcelain doll hide horror of Belsen; Precious toy being restored on Merseyside.


A PRECIOUS doll unearthed in the rubble of a Nazi concentration camp has emerged on Merseyside.

Discovered in the ruins of Bergen-Belson, the doll was found by a nurse who helped liberate the camp in 1945.

After undergoing repairs, the doll's pretty porcelain face serves as a poignant reminder of the tragedy of the Holocaust.

Named Gretchin, the doll belongs to gran Sue Hedges, who sought help when it needed repairs.

Desperate to play with the delicate toy when she was little, Sue was refused permission by her aunt - who hid the doll in a trunk with the rest of her treasured wartime memories.

Sue, who lives in Southport, found the doll she remembered from her childhood when she was clearing out her aunt's home after her death three years ago.

She said: "We found it in a trunk. As a little girl I wasn't allowed to play with it and she just put it away.

"We just found it - I thought 'that's Gretchin', because I remembered that doll from when I was little.

"I was told I wasn't allowed to play with it, I was only allowed to look at it - it was a treasured possession."

When Sue was growing up her aunt, who was one of the first nurses to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, told her how she found the doll in the rubble there.

But, despite Sue's interest, her aunt could never delve too deep into her painful memories of the horror camp.

Sue said: "I didn't want to push her about it because she wouldn't talk about Belsen, only very rarely. The horrible things she must have seen and the horrible things that doll must have seen.

"It's very sad, it must have been dropped by a little girl or an SS officer's girl, but it's still very sad."

Liberated by British soldiers in 1945, Bergen-Belsen was part prisoner-of-war camp, part Jewish transit camp (where Jewish prisoners were sent before being moved on to death camps), situated in northwestern Germany.

Set up in 1943, it is estimated around 35,000 people died there, including Anne Frank.

As a little girl Sue never thought much of Gretchin's background, but now she finds it difficult to look into her porcelain eyes without feeling emotional.

She said: "I cry when I look at it. What the little girl (who owned Gretchin) must have gone through. I wonder if she is still alive or what happened to her. It would have been horrible in there.

"I keep it wrapped up. I don't use it, it's been in a cupboard for the last two or three years since she (her aunt) died.

"The whole thing is very emotional really."

After plucking up the courage to take Gretchin for repair, Sue burst into tears as soon as she revealed the doll's past to Jeannie Pritchard, who was tasked with restoring the doll.

Sue said: "I suppose it overcame me, the significance that it was found in Belsen. It never really bothered me before but it all came out. As soon as I thought that, that was it, and to tell someone was weird.

"When I look at it I see a really pretty little thing, but now I realise it was somebody's possession and they've lost it. It's so sad. I feel an overwhelming sadness.

"Before I didn't think much about it, but now it's dawned on me. I keep it in a nice little box and put it in tissue paper.

"When I look at it it's a bit spooky really, I feel all emotional about it.

"My only regret is that I didn't ask my aunty (more) about it."

Jeannie Pritchard, of Pritchard's Dolls' Hospital at Burscough Wharf, has worked on dolls from all over the world but, like Sue, finds it hard not to get emotional when she unwraps Gretchin.

Jeannie said: "I just got a little feeling (when Sue unwrapped the doll) and when I saw the doll I just went 'oh gosh' - as soon as I had seen it I asked 'what's the story behind that?'.

"When I was working on it I felt very humbled and just thought of the girl who must have played with the doll - it must have been very frightening when she was in there.

"I don't know whether she made it out or not and that's the thing, when you are working on it. Every time I took it out of the box my arms were tingling because I could feel the doll, and I've done the very best I can for the doll."

Convinced Gretchin is unique, Sue is now considering putting her in a museum.

She said: "I have been on the internet and there's nothing like her on there. If she was mass-produced it would be there on the internet but it's not, there's nothing like it at all, it's unique - apart from its history - it's a unique doll.

"It's a beautiful doll and it's been kept in great condition, it's obviously been kept well.

"I think it's an important reminder of what happened."

PRECIOUS: Jeannie Pritchard working on restoring the doll Pictures: ANDREW TEEBAY


RESCUE: The horror of Bergen-Belsen was revealed by British soldiers in 1945 POIGNANT: Gretchin, who may have belonged to a Holocaust victim and was found at Belsen
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 15, 2011
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