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April 28, 1989 - Image 24

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-04-28

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t was a priceless find. Not
gold, jewelry, an insurance
policy or a will. It was just
a tattered green gox of
tinged letters on which the
suffering of a man and a woman
caught within the horrors of the
Holocaust were written.
It came unexpectedly last spring.
At first, it looked like just another box
to be stored away after the death of
my father-in-law. Clothes were given
to charity, personal mementos divided
among the family.
For weeks the cardboard box sat,
looking shabby and out of place on my
sleek kitchen shelf. I never fully put
it out of view; however, just moved it
around from one plabe to another,
with a promise to myself to get to it
"one of these days?' But for the mo-
ment there were important things to
do, like taking my daughter to dance
class. There was baseball practice for
the boys, shopping and parties to be
planned, deadlines for my writing
assignments — the usual calendar
commitments of a busy household of
the eighties.
And then one night, my husband
and children occupied with video
games in another room, there was
time. I sat down at the table without
too much curiosity and flipped open
the latch of the box. A musty smell
filtered out, along with handfuls of
letters, telegrams and passports. Most
were written in German, envelopes
and stamps intact. There were letters
to attorneys, to the State Department,
to the Red Cross and more than 100
letters from Europe. The letters began
in the late 1930s and ended in 1945.
The box contained the cries of despair
from my husband's grandparents,
Paul and Betty, who were trying to
flee Germany during the Nazi regime.
I knew the basic story of Paul and
Betty from family discussions. They
were both living and working in-
Essen, Germany, at the outbreak of
the war. Paul happened to be in
France on business when the borders
were closed. He was refused re-entry
into Germany. Betty was forced to
turn over their home and belongings
to the Nazis, then was deported to
Poland where she died in a concentra-
tion camp. Their only son Henry was
studying in Holland when war broke
out. He was forced to leave the
University of Cologne because of his
Jewish faith. He was able to come to
America in 1938 and became a
United States citizen in December
But here in my hand was the ac-
tual evidence about what was hap-
pening to my husband's family dur-
ing that time period. Father writing
son about the terrifying events hap-
pening around him. Son and
daughter-in-law answering back
feverently, then corresponding with
any agency that would listen in an at-
tempt to get his parents out of Europe.


FRIDAY, APRIL 28, 1989

But they were just two of the hun-
dreds of thousands trying to leave the
country, and their son's entreaties,
although heard, were unable to be
acted upon.
My Dear Children,
I kiss you from all my heart. Today
is your birthday, my dear son. My con-
tratulations. Yesterday I cabled that I
am desperate. Money is running out,
the situation here is frightening. Mail
is very unreliable and I worry when
there is no news from you. What is to
become of us?
I read and re-read some of the let-
ters someone had translated into
English, reliving a time of horror and
frustration. Cablegrams, short notes
and lengthy dissertations about what
was happening. Pleas for assistance
in gaining entry into the free world.
Do everything in your power to get
us out of Europe and into America. I
am suffering, mostly my nerves, about
what is going on . . . I received your
telegram, can only pray that papers are
on the way . . . if not, please wire us
about what is happening .. .
Sifting through the fragile, yellowed
paper, I could hear the sounds of peo-
ple gathering in small groups, anx-
iously discussing what was going on.
I could feel the fear growing daily in
the people's hearts.
. .. am trying to get passage out on
the Clipper, but prospects look dismal
. . . travel is dangerous . . . escape
avenues becoming closed .. .


A chance discovery
of a box of old letters
in the attic changed forever
one woman's life.


Special to The Jewish News

My Dear Children,
Yesterday I cabled that I am
desperate. Why? Listen. On the 28th of
April, the consul informed me by or-
dinary letter that . . . my quota number
had arrived. I should come on the 28th
of April at 9 o'clock in the morning to
call for it. Unfortunately I received this
letter on the 28th of April at 10 o'clock
in the morning, the same day that I
was supposed to be there. In spite of
that I left immediately with the train
for one day and one night. On May 1st
at 9 o'clock in the morning I went to
the consulate; quicker, it was not possi-
ble. The consul told me, "You are too
late, I sent your number back last even-
ing." I showed the consul that his let-
ter was sent late, but it did not get any
results. He told me, "Pay again 800
francs and I will inform you by cable."
I never heard anything from him after
that. I had no food card and no money.
I had to go back broken-hearted, but
I am trying to keep my chin up.
Letters were again sent in a flurry
to Washington, but they were always
met by polite denials, apologies and
closed doors.
To a secretary at the U.S. Senate:
My husband and I are on pins and
needles here. We have not yet received
word from Washington that the visa
has been granted. We are so afraid that
something will go wrong. Is there a







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