Brief messages, short on detail, with only minimal expressions of affection, these postcards and letters were written by Jewish prisoners being held at different Nazi camps within the Auschwitz complex. The writers were attempting to contact their relatives in Vienna.
The postcards were all addressed to a contact in the Jewish community of Vienna, Karl Schneidt (variously spelled Schnied, Schneit or Sznajd), who was usually asked to pass on word to relatives of the sender, though Schneidt was not always successful in this.
Though few Jews remained in Vienna, the community’s “Jewish Council of Elders” was still a functioning entity, right up until the end of the war, and many of those who remained were half-Jewish or married to non-Jews.
Perhaps the most striking feature of this correspondence is that which is left unsaid. These letters and postcards passed through Nazi censors. It was clear to all that no mention could be made of the atrocities taking place in their immediate vicinity.
Most of the writers cited here were prisoners at the Monowitz subcamp in the Auschwitz complex, which provided slave labor for a number of German factories built nearby.
The correspondence is part of the Vienna Jewish Community Archive held at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel.
One letter reads:
Sender: Sajden Efroim, Birkenau Labor Camp, House 1, Upper Silesia
Adressee: Mr. Sznajd, Karl, Vienna, Zeitenstetngasse [Seitenstetten] 2
Date of arrival: Feb. 1st 1943
Mr. Sznajd, Karl
…I inform you that I am working as a tailor and that I am doing fine and that I am healthy and I hope to receive your reply soon.
Kind regards to the Berger Family
Karl Schneidt wrote the following response to the letter:
Dear Mr. Sajden,
I am happy to hear that you are working and that you are doing fine. Sadly I cannot forward your regards to the Berger family for I do not know their address. If you need anything else, please let me know and I shall see if I can send it to you.
Below is a letter written by Leibisch Sperber, a prisoner at Monowitz.
Dear Mr. Schneit
Thank God I am healthy and I am doing well, hoping the same for you.
What news do you have? What are my relatives up to? Hope that you are fine, I thank you for everything and please stay healthy.
Many kind regards
Dear Mr. Sperber,
Thank you for your letter, I am happy to hear from you again.
Attached to this letter is a package that has been sent to you with best regards from your cousin Minna.
I do not know the address of your relatives, therefore I cannot find out how they are.
Sperber was later murdered at Auschwitz, in August of 1943.
Another letter is from Paul Spitzer, who enquires about Schneidt himself, rather than his own relatives.
Dear Mr. Schneid!
…I inform you that I am in good health and hope to hear the same from you. I would be happy if you could tell me about yourself.
With best regards
Monowitz Labor Camp
Schneidt would later respond:
Dear Mr. Spitzer,
I am happy to hear from you again. Please do not hesitate to write me, if you want to know something, just ask.
Until then best regards
Paul Grünberg wrote and told of how he was allowed to receive food packages.
Dear Mr. Schneidt!
I inform you that I am healthy and I would like to hear the same from you. I may receive food packages of up to 60 Shillings and up to 250 grams.
Kind regards and thank you
Dear Mr Grünberg,
Attached to this letter is a package that has been sent with best regards from Mister Reiss to you. You forgot to tell me in which time intervals you are allowed to receive those packages and if you have any wishes regarding the content.
Please answer my questions when it is possible for you.
Until then best regards
A scan of Grünberg’s letter is displayed at the Austrian exhibition at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland. Grünberg passed away in Vienna in 2018.
Abram Tenenbaum, a prisoner at Birkenau, wrote directly to his wife in Vienna.
I am healthy and I work as a tailor.
With kind regards and kisses
The response, however, came from Schneidt. It is unclear if Mrs. Tenenbaum ever received her husband’s letter.
Dear Mr. Tenenbaum,
I am happy to hear from you, that you are working and that you are doing fine and that you are healthy. If you need anything, write me.
The letter below was written by Isidor Bretholz
Because I have not heard from my family for some time, I want to tell you my requests. I have been at the Monowitz labor camp for three months where I am healthy and doing fine. I ask you courteously to send me standard reading glasses and ask you to answer me immediately.
Thank you in advance and best regards
Schneidt sent the following response:
Dear Mr. Bretholz,
I have received your letter but sadly I am not able to send you glasses without you letting me know what type you need and if you are short-sighted or far-sighted. Please answer me these questions and I hope that I will be able to get you the glasses. If there is anything else that you want, please let me know and I will see if I can make it possible.
Bretholz never received Schneidt’s letter. He was murdered at Auschwitz on February 22nd 1943, nine days before Schneidt sent his reply.
Many thanks to Carl-Philipp Spahlinger, an Action Reconciliation Service for Peace volunteer at the CAHJP for his help in translation, to Udi Edery for his wonderful photographs and to Dr. Yochai Ben-Ghedalia of the CAHJP for his assistance in the preparation of this article.
First published: 15:08 , 01.27.20