Henry's First Letter from Auschwitz

When Henry showed me his camp letters I was so surprised. Why?  Because I’d never seen or heard of these before. But then think about it – Jews were never allowed to write home, just political prisoners. How many Holocaust memoirs or history books really cover the non-Jewish experience? I can’t name a single well-known one. Or, how many Jews are fully aware of the non-Jewish experience?

I even asked someone from my church early on to translate a letter – but she couldn’t believe the translation because it talked about sending packages and letters – which she flat out told me never happened.  I remember while Henry was alive I started searching Ebay (e.g. ‘Auschwitz’ or ‘Buchenwald’) and discovered these letters are collectibles among World War II enthusiasts. I invited Henry to my house to look at Ebay, since he had neither a computer or Internet access at his house.  I pulled up a couple of letters for sale and his unexpected reaction when I brought them up to view full screen –  “Let me see who wrote it – Maybe I know him.”

I was so impressed with them, shortly after Henry passed I even (naively) visited the local Polish-American group with copies of the letters – the reaction was ‘No Big Deal. These are sold all the time and are often counterfeit.’ The message was clear – I didn’t know my Polish history.
Stationary Text for:
Concentration Camp Auschwitz
The following orders are to be followed in written exchanges for prisoners:
  1.             Each prisoner in protective custody is permitted to receive two letters or two cards per month from his relatives as well as send two letters or two cards. The letters to the prisoners must be written legibly with ink and may only contain 15 lines on a page. Only a standard-sized sheet of paper is permitted. Envelopes must be unpadded. A letter may contain 5 postal stamps worth 12 Pfennigs. All other items are prohibited and may be seized. Postcards have 10 lines. Photographs may not be used as postcards.
  2.     The sending of money is permitted.
  3.     It is to be noted that money or postal mail should contain the correct address comprised of: name, birth date, and prisoner number. If the address is incorrect, the mail will be returned to the sender or be destroyed.
  4.    Newspapers are permitted. However, they may only be ordered through the postal location/office of the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
  5.            Packages may not be sent because prisoners may make purchases in the camp.
  6.            Petitions for release from protective custody to camp managers are useless.
  7.              speaking with and being visited by prisoners in the concentration camp is generally not permitted.

Auschwitz, June 28, 1942 (I’ve included the notes from translator below)

Dear Mutti!
Since June 10th I have been at the concentration camp at Auschwitz. I am notifying you that I am healthy. I hope that you are healthy as well. You should not worry yourself and cry but take care of yourself. I hope that you have enough money and food. (This part is hard to read but the general idea is that he is telling his mother that it’s ok to get money from those who owe him.) My suit is at the tailor (page is ripped here). He lives on (street name is hard to read) 7 or 8. His name is Hojias (sp?).
When writing you should follow the instructions (5th line is washed out) on the first page. Ha (partial word then I think he meant to say “Endless kisses” but he said “ending”) I kiss you endlessly, my dear Mutti. (Whole) heartedly , as Miss Gena. (Whole) hearted greetings for all acquaintances and family members and for all in the Bude where I worked.
Note – In June 2006, Ann Kirschner published the non-fiction Sala’s Gift: My Mother’s Holocaust Story.  It is the first instance where I’ve found a documented story of camp letters (at least published in English), and the only one I know of Jewish prisoners writing and receiving letters. I just checked and the book has now been translated into 7 languages.  Her mother was imprisoned in various slave camps but throughout the experience somehow the Germans continued to faithfully deliver the mail. The author was unaware of these letters until her mom faced heart surgery and gave them to her daughter as what could have been a deathbed legacy – a thick stack of wartime letters. Her mother survived surgery, Ann Kirschner wrote two books on the subject, and the original letters were donated to the New York Public Library. (Did I mention she holds a Ph.D in English?) This book was not published until several years after Henry had already passed away – so there really was no other reference that I knew of when I was meeting with Henry.