Brother-in-law and Child,
I haven't received a
letter from you in a long time. To be honest, it's my own fault,
since I never answered the last letter you wrote.
Yidiss, you might have gotten the impression from our
father's last letter that I'm angry at you, but that isn't so,
since up to now, you've never offended me in any way. But dear
sister and brother-in-law, I will now explain the situation to
you, since that letter might have upset you.
As you know, dear
sister and brother-in-law, my wedding will be taking place soon,
and you are probably wondering how things are in Poland; that's
why I wasn't sure about what to write, and had to think over what
I was going to say. And so, dear sister and brother-in-law, as you
can see, I cannot make a life for myself in Poland because people
are living in fear for their lives; that's why I can't say too
much, but I have to say this much.
They're driving all the Jews out of Poland and taking
In a word, my opinion is that things will get as
bad here as they did in Germany, and since my dowry is still
intact, I have 600 dollars. So, dear sister and brother-in-law, if
you have any pity at all, and don't want to see the death of me,
my plan is to quickly get married here in Poland and you should
make an application to bring us both over. Dear sister, I ask you
not to laugh at what I'm saying, because I remember when Sarah and
her husband (Gershon who had left alone
that same month for Bolivia) asked you
to bring them over, it was a big joke and you quickly wrote home,
and you were laughing at her. It was a big joke to you, and that
was two years ago, and things are getting worse every day. And now
you see that our brother-in-law had to go to Bolivia - he had no
other choice, since you didn't want to bring him over. Yidiss,
remember that we always got along well together, and I was always
ready to risk my life for yours, and today is no different.
Remember that and help me as much as you can, and don't laugh at
me, because I see no other way out. Our brother-inlaw knew
someone in Bolivia and he made out his application to bring him
over, but I have no one. Now, dear sister and brother-in-law, I'm
counting that, with God's help, you won't refuse what I'm asking
and the 600 dollars would make it easier for you to bring me and
my husband over, who is even more attractive than our brother
Shloime. Now, dear sister, you just can't imagine how miserable
things are for me, that I should have to ask you such a big favour.
been in America for seven
years, and I've never
written such a letter to you before - and every time I
laughed at the idea of you bringing me over and when I asked
you how much money it would cost, you said that whatever it
would cost was no concern of mine, that you would worry
about that. You said that as long as I wanted to come over,
you would arrange it.
Did you know that two people are leaving Ozarow for
Montreal? Pirim Rimash, one daughter, and Moishe
Mayerowitz's brother, Ella Vovkis' son, whose name is Shafir,
and the girl's name is Sherman. Shloime wants us to send
along a small parcel with a few things for him. I'll write
and let you know what and when.
Passport photo of Yehudith "Yidiss" Birenbaum (later Edith
Birnbaum), who emigrated from Gdansk on the S.S. Pulaski in
May 1930, arriving after her transatlantic ship voyage in
Yidiss, I don't want to write to Shloime at all,
because he interfered too much in choosing my husband, the same as
he did with you. I'm angry with him and I'm not writing to him at
all. We received a letter from Shloime last week; he's telling
Raisele to sew up a few things for him. He's not asking for much,
just a white hand-sewn tablecloth like the
one you took
with you when you left, the one I traded with you: you gave me the
silvery one and I gave you the white one. I still have it. I would
sooner send him an evil eye before I would send him a tablecloth.
He also wants four bishops for his chess game like the ones you
took with you when you left and a Krakower style dress for Goldale
(Shloime's oldest daughter).
Raisele could do it for him but she says she
probably won't she loves herself better than anyone else.
I think that out of all these things, he'll have to be satisfied
with nothing. If he hadn't interfered in my wedding, I would have
sent him all those things. He behaved badly towards me, he never
should have interfered in my wedding at all.
Dearest sister, I have a lot of hand-sewn things. I
have a few tablecloths. I have one tablecloth worth 20 dollars
which means a hundred zlotys, and over there it would be worth
even more. I have some lovely pillowcases, the likes of which you
couldn't find in all of Poland. I sewed them up a long time ago. I
wouldn't have the patience to sew like that today. I've gotten
everything ready for the time when you'll bring me over; I'll
bring you lots of presents then - you don't have such things over
there, and I myself will not arrive poor and shabbily dressed, but
in the best store-bought goods. I won't be a burden to you. My
husband is a strong, healthy fellow and he's not afraid of work,
and my hands are not yet lying idle in my lap. I'm used to working
day and night.
Yidiss, listen to what
I'm saying, and remember my words. You must help me as much as you
can. You would be saving my life. I still want to live and taste
something of life. Yidiss, remember my words!
Here, they don't know
that I'm writing you this letter. Yecheskele says that he's going
to write to Shloime and tell him to bring the whole family over. I
don't want to ask anything of our brother. If Yecheskele had
wings, he would fly to America. He's been advising our father for
a long time to pack things in and tell Shloime to bring us all
over. He's in the biggest hurry to leave since he reads the
newspaper ever single day and he sees how things are going for the
Jews in Poland. Our brother-in-law Gershon left on January 15th.
It's only been two weeks today, and we can already see that he did
the right thing. And this past week 70 people left for Australia
and Bolivia. People are leaving Poland like birds. Soon there will
hardly be anyone left in Poland, only those who don't have the
money to save themselves.
children in Montreal have written to tell her that she should sell
the house and they'll bring her over. I know that if our brother
write a decent letter to our father telling him that he wants to
bring him over, he would make up his mind to leave the same day,
because we're growing black with worry, wondering at every moment
when they're going to start chasing us out.
Yidiss, don't write home and tell them what I'm asking
of you. Don't mention me at all. Just send your answer to my
father-in-Iaw's address. They won't open the letter. You can say
whatever you like. Send me a good answer.
I send you all
warm regards; and special regards for your daughter Rivkale
(Rosalie). I will make
her a Krakower-style dress like the one for her sister Goldale
(actually Shloime's daughter and
Your sister and
brother-in-law who are hoping that they might yet live to see you
one day and to talk to you face to face."
* * *
Sister Sarah had married Gershon Zweig, a stall
vendor from Zaklikis. They had two children, a boy and a girl
named Yehudith. On January 15, 1939,
over his father-in-law Chit's bitter
opposition, Gershon left Ozarow alone for La Paz, Bolivia.
No other country would
admit him. He fully intended that his family join him later and
sent immigration papers to Sarah in the course of the year. Sarah
and the children were forced to move in with her mother-in-law in
Zaklikis, from which desperate for money to pay for passage to
Bolivia, she wrote to Yidiss in August 1939:
"Dear Sister and
You must surely be
asking yourselves why I haven't written you till now. You should
know, dear sister, that it's because you didn't answer my last
Dear sister, it's been
almost a year since Gershon left, so I'm living at my mother-in-Iaw's
parents. You can just imagine what my life is like, living with a
mother-in-law. Just imagine to yourself, dear sister, my
miserable situation. I have nothing to live for. Just imagine how
bitter my life has become; I have to wait for my mother-in-law to
feed me. So remember, dear sister, what I am writing you. Write
me, answer me like a sister. You should know that I have never
asked you for any favour up till now.
But now that I
have received papers from my husband, I'm asking you to send me
money for passage on a boat. If there is any hope in living, dear
sister, don't think that
take anything from you; I will pay you
back with thanks. Now that times are changing in Poland, you
should realize that if you don't manage to get me out,
be miserable. Remember
well what I'm writing here; take heed of my words. Get me out of
here as soon as you can so I can be with my husband, or else he'll
soon find himself another woman. Sister, remember well these
words. If I can't turn to my own sister, who else can I turn to?
Now, dear sister, write and let me know how your
health is and how business is doing. How is your daughter? Write and
tell me how things are going for you. For my part, I can tell you
that I have two fine children, they should only be healthy.
Dear sister, I implore you to well consider my
letter and I beg you to help me out of my miserable situation; you
would be saving my life, since the times are changing here, and
there's a big fire in the making.
I have the applications
lying here, my dear sister, so send me money for a ship's passage -
if not, the applications will expire, and there'll be nothing left
Sister, remember well
what I am writing here; help me out of this wretched situation. I am
so very unhappy.
I send warm regards for you, your husband and
daughter, they should only be well; also, regards from my children.
Write and let me know if you've gotten a letter from my husband.
Dear sister, I beg of you to grant me what I'm asking. Answer soon.
You know very well that I'm not one to ask for favours from others,
but since things are so bitter for me right now, I have to ask you
to lend me the money for passage on a boat. With God's help,
pay you back. Remember what I
am writing you. Don't cast my words aside; take them seriously and
do me this favour.
Your sister Sarah"
Then there was