Secrets of a Suitcase

The Countess, the Nazis, and Middle Europe's Lost Nobility

October 2024 9781911723394 304pp, 17 colour illus
Forthcoming Pre-order
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


When Pauline Terreehorst bid for a vintage Gucci suitcase at Sotheby’s Amsterdam, she had no idea what was inside. The case turned out to be full of fine dresses, furs and lace, with boxes of postcard albums showing grand castles and churches in Austria, France, England and Scotland. The curious correspondence revolved around Austrian philanthropist Countess Margarethe Szapáry, and her daughter.

These unexpected family treasures are a gateway to a lost world: social, cultural and political life as the Szapárys knew it vanished in twentieth-century Europe’s great upheavals. Borders were redrawn, old cities received new names, communities changed loyalties—and Central Europe’s cosmopolitan, royalist aristocrats had to decide whether to become Germans under Nazi rule.

What did Margarethe choose, when her new neighbour Hermann Göring came knocking with a troubling request? What were the consequences for her and her children? And how did the family’s suitcase cross war-torn Europe to end up in Terreehorst’s hands decades later?


‘An impressive, multi-faceted historical narrative.’ — NRC Handelsblad 4-star review

‘A fascinating account of Margarethe Szapáry’s life and chronicle of Central Europe.’ — De Volkskrant 4-star review

‘Fascinating, accessible, and worth the read.’ — De Standaard 4-star review

‘From one suitcase, Terreehorst unpacks the lost world of Central Europe’s old aristocracy in all its brittle splendour. Her lens is never still, focussing on individual lives, then panning out to the fall of empires, the rise of Nazism, and the aftermath. Microhistory at its most vivid and instructive.’ — Martyn Rady, author of The Middle Kingdoms: A New History of Central Europe

‘From the intimate belongings of an unknown aristocrat, Terreehorst builds a richly detailed picture of life as it was lived in Middle Europe’s castles, before vanishing for ever in the turbulence of two World Wars.’ — Anne de Courcy, author of Chanel’s Riviera; Margot at War and The Husband Hunters


Pauline Terreehorst is an essayist and former director of the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, Utrecht's Centraal Museum, and Eindhoven's Natlab film theatre. Known for her fashion articles and film and photography columns in de Volkskrant, she has helped develop scenarios for the future of living and working for government and business.

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