Like a lot of Jews my age, I sometimes have a hard time conceptualizing the Holocaust. I’ve heard tons of stories and seen movies and read books, but it’s rare that it really hits me just how many people were killed, and how horrific and sustained the violence was. Recently, two things helped me to think about the Shoah in a meaningful way.
1)Â Â Â A friend mentioned in conversation that there are fewer Jews in the world now than there were before WWII. We still haven’t gotten back to neutral.
2)Â Â Â The letter below, posted on the Letters of Note blog:
A heartbreaking letter, and farewell, from a brother to his sister. At the time of writing, Herbert Langer was based in TerezÃn, a Czech town which was used as a Nazi German concentration camp by the Gestapo during World War II. Herbert’s sister Elly – the intended recipient of the letter – was living in Beverly Hills, California during this period. The day after the letter was written, Mr Langer was deported to the death camp at Auschwitz where he later died.
The letter is written in Czech, an English transcript follows.
Teerzin, October 27th, 1944
My dearest Elly,
On September 6th, 1941, our father was taken prisoner and on November 11th, 1941 he died an honest man, decent and respected by everybody. The latest news which he sent to me and which was given to me here last year by a fellow-prisoner who knew his suffering and shared it, was that he felt alright. Our father fulfilled his duty, nobody fulfilled it for him.
Since 1939 I have worked conscientiously and I fulfilled honestly the duties to those who like myself were exposed to persecution and oppression. I am only sorry that I shall be unable to describe what I saw. All I am asking you, is that you believe always what you shall hear, because everything you hear is true. All you are going to hear is nothing compared to what I had to witness. I always had the most honest relations to everything.
Until today, thank God, I was able to save our family, with the exception of our father from the terrible fate, which overtook tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, maybe millions. Tomorrow my family and the family of our sister have to start the trip which thousands before them had to take. If God will be gracious they may survive this hard time and the unjust fate. Alas, beginning tomorrow I can’t guard or help them anymore. I only hope that there will be some people who will take care of them and I pray they will be granted some of the good dreams I cherished for them.
Tomorrow I am leaving, separately from the others. Beginning tomorrow you shall never hear from me again. I shall vanish in the boundless spheres where those had to vanish who recognized and saw, what the whole world looked with crossed arms. We are in the war, we are enemies, we have to die like soldiers. In the next 48 hours my fate shall be accomplished, with me the fate of my wife Gerty. All I am asking you is to take care of our father’s grave and if you should find us then bury us by him. Help our own and Gerty’s families as much as possible, help them forget all the horrors they had to go through. They will need your help.
I pray that you remain healthy and brave and stay happy with your family and that you may never forget that all you shall hear is nothing compared to what millions of people had to suffer and go through.
May God bless you,
Pronounced: SHO-uh (long o), Origin: Hebrew, the Holocaust.