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Susan Graham Collection

Identifier: AR 25662

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of questionnaires on Susan and John Graham's lives in Vienna during and prior to their emigration and in the United States, of official documents pertaining to the unsuccessful emigration process of Susan's parents Stefanie and Franz Pisker, and correspondence mostly of Stefanie and Franz to their daughter in America while they were in Vienna and later in the Opole ghetto in Poland.

The first folder contains the questionnaires by the Austrian Heritage Collection at the Leo Baeck Institute from Susan Graham and John Graham. Both give answers to questions about their circumstances before March 1938, from March 1938 to their emigration and to their situation in the United States as well as about their family members.

In the second folder the official documents of Franz and Stefanie Pisker can be found. They are arranged chronologically, yet when undated, were kept in their original place. The official documents consist of birth and marriage certificates, legal documents pertaining to the couple's intention to immigrate to the U.S., telegrams addressed to Rudolph Kraus in Illinois by Stefanie and Susan, as well as letters to his wife and daughter by Franz during his detention in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1939 and another prison in Vienna, Austria in 1938. There are also two reprographic copies of photographs showing the extended family and neighbors during their time in the Opole ghetto, one showing Franz and Stefanie and another one of the Gruenwald family (John Graham's family).

The third folder consists of correspondence between 1939 and 1940 between Stefanie and Franz Pisker in Vienna to Susan in the U.S. The letters illustrate the waiting process for the immigration papers, while the family alternated between hope and resignation. In some letters descriptions about the life situation, the displacement within Vienna, the unreliable mail delivery or fears - especially to be deported - can be found. Among the correspondence, there are a few letters addressed to Susan's cousin Paula or the foster family in Chicago expressing appreciation. In the fourth folder those personal letters continue. In March 1941 Franz and Stefanie write for the first time from the Opole ghetto in Poland, where they and other family members were deported.. Stefanie's and Franz's last letter before their deportation to the Buchenwald concentration camp is dated September 1941. The following last two letters were sent from Susan's aunt and uncle in 1942 who at that time did not know what had happened. The fifth folder contains letters from Susan's friend Herta from Vienna and others; the content is personal matters.


  • Creation: 1938-1947
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1939-1941


Language of Materials

The collection is in German and English.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011


Biographical Note

Susan Graham was born as Herta Pisker on December 27th, 1921 in Vienna, Austria as the only child of Franz Pisker (born in 1885 in Hardegg, Austria) and Stefanie Pisker (née Kraus, born in 1897 in Vienna).

Susan’s father Franz was born to Jacob Pisker and Regina Pisker (née Wottitzki). Franz Pisker married Stefanie Pisker (née Kraus) in 1919, the daughter of Bernard Kraus and Hanna Kraus (née Reiter). Franz and Stefanie owned a dry goods store in Bruennerstrasse 33 in Vienna’s 21st district (Floridsdorf), where they also lived. Their daughter Susan attended Hauptschule in Floridsdorf and afterwards Handelsakademie (business school) in the 1st district until the Anschluss. Franz Pisker was arrested and taken to a prison in Vienna's 8th district and was deported to the Dachau concentration camp and later to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Susan and her mother had to move to her maternal grandparents’ house in Pfluggasse 6/14 in Vienna's 9th district.

Stefanie's brother, who had immigrated to the United States in the 1920s, provided affidavits for Susan and her cousin Paula when they were 17 and 14 years old. They left Austria in 1938 traveling from Genoa on the Italian ocean liner "Rex" to New York. With the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) they could get to Chicago, where Susan's uncle Rudolf Kraus and his wife Kaete lived. Susan became the governess of a Jewish family in Highland Park, Illinois, took classes in drawing, and attended evening school to become a sales clerk.

Around 1938 Franz and Stefanie applied for American citizenship and waited for about four years for the affidavits to arrive from their relatives in America and to overcome other bureaucratic obstacles. In circa 1939 Susan’s father Franz got released from the Buchenwald concentration camp and moved back to his family who was then residing in a "Heim" in Gaensbachgasse in Vienna’s 10th district. For a short time they were allowed to move out of the Heim before they were deported to the Jewish ghetto Opole in Lublin, Poland in 1941, where Franz worked as a pedicurist. Franz was later, together with his wife, deported to the Sobibor extermination camp in 1942, where both were killed.

At 22 Susan married John Graham in New York City. John Graham was born in 1923 as Hans Heinz Gruenwald in Vienna. His parents were Hildegard Gruenwald (née Kollmann, born in 1896 in Vienna, Austria) and Bruno Gruenwald (born in 1889 in Vienna, Austria), who married in 1920 in Floridsdorf, Austria. They owned a delicatessen store at first which later became a drug store, but had to sell it because of the economic depression. The family later owned a second hand furniture store. John studied electrical and mechanical engineering in Vienna, Austria, until the Anschluss. He immigrated to the United States in 1939 via Belgium and England. Upon his arrival, Graham worked in menial jobs as they became available. His parents were able to immigrate to America as well. Susan and John have two children, Carrie-Jane Ester Chein (née Graham, born in 1946 in New York City) and Brenda Silver (née Graham, born in 1952 in New York City).


0.25 Linear Feet


The collection contains correspondence mostly authored by Stephanie and Franz Pisker, dispatched from Vienna, Austria and the Jewish ghetto in Opole, Poland to their daughter Susan (née Herta) in America, before Franz and Stefanie were killed in the extermination camp of Sobibor. Also included are official documents and letters pertaining to their unsuccessful attempt to immigrate to the United States and the questionnaires by the Austrian Heritage Collection of Susan and her husband John H. Graham.


The described material is organized in one series.

Related Material

The Austrian Heritage Collection at the Leo Baeck Institute – Austrian-Jewish Immigrants in the USA: Questionnaire of Susan Graham - AR 10378

Questionnaire of John Graham - AR 10378

Processing Information

The official documents have been reorganized chronologically. One letter from "Correspondence – Friends, Teachers, Others" is now located in the "Official documents" folder as it is related to the official correspondence. Two printed photographs have been removed from the "Correspondence – Friends, Teachers, Others" folder to the "Official documents" folder to have them together with the other printed photographs. As some letters corresponding to "Correspondence – Stefanie and Frank to Susan" are undated, the order was not changed and the bulk of it is chronological.

Guide to the Papers of Susan Graham 1938-1947 AR 25662
Processed by Adrijana Blatnik
© 2016
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from SusanGraham.xml

Revision Statements

  • August 2018:: Links to digital objects added in Container List.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States