On Monday I was sitting with my father’s cousin looking at family letters. She was showing me the correspondence her father had sent to the Czech government in 1992 after the Velvet Revolution concerning their aunt Sophie who had been living in Holleschau with her husband and mother until their deportation. In between the various typed papers I noticed a small handwritten letter, dated 14 January 1943. It was from Sophie to her brother Alfred in Jerusalem:
We’re leaving here on the 18th of January… we’re being gathered in a school and after three days sent to Theresienstadt. Whether we’ll stay there or be sent on further to Poland remains very uncertain. All Jews have to go…. It’s not clear if Josef is going to remain with us. Hopefully dear mama will be able to go to an old age home in Theresienstadt in Bohemia and meet up with our dear aunts from Berlin.
In this manner we want to say farewell to you all and tell you, my dear ones, where you may be able to look for us after the war.
There follow the addresses of the two properties they own, with whom they have left their silver, jewellery and other precious possessions, and the details of their bank accounts. They were a well-to-do couple. Sophie continues:
We pray to God that he will allow us successfully to overcome this test which has been placed upon us and that we will see each other again in peace.
At the bottom of the letter is a short note from her mother, my great grandmother, whose husband Rabbi Yaacov Freimann had died in 1937 and was buried there in Holleschau:
My Dear Children, Today I took my farewell from your beloved and good father; may his spirit hover over us in these difficult times.
When she was due to be transported on from Teresin to Auschwitz a relative offered to go in her place. She refused, ‘You are younger, but I am old and my life’s work is done’, she explained. She added that her faith remained with her wherever she went. I have the card she sent from Theresienstadt in November 1943, prior to this final deportation.
I stared at Sophie’s letter, at the neat handwriting, and tried to think about the circumstances in which it had been written. I have a picture of Sophie; she was beautiful, an elegant lady who loved to travel. In one of the last conversations I had with my father he told me how she had visited them in Palestine in ’37 or ’38: “We told her ‘Don’t go back; stay here; don’t return toCzechoslovakia’”.
I also have Sophie’s letters from the summer of 1938 onwards, how she made jam and bottled fruit, how she looked at the weather before deciding what to do about the washing, things my father used to do, matters I discuss with Nicky. Even in ’41 she was writing hopefully, describing how she was able to send food to her sister Trude in Posen. She too perished with her family.
Next Friday is National Holocaust Memorial Day. In a step which is new for us, we are holding a commemoration together with members of the Congolese community, whose land has been ravaged and whose families have often been murdered. Please join us.
It is one of the few things we can do in the name and memory of our relatives, to support our people and live our own faith with renewed vitality and passion, to strive to protect the dignity and sensitivities of human life everywhere, and to protest with all our power whenever and wherever the sanctity of life is profaned.