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Letter by Marketa Brady from Ravensbrück

Marketa Brady
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Courtesy of Lara Hana Brady
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tags: forced labor letters & correspondence

type: Letter

Marketa (Margarete) and Karel Brady, and their children Hana and Georg, were one of very few Jewish families in the town of Nové Město, Czechoslovakia. While they had been well-assimilated, following the Nazi takeover of the Sudentenland in 1938 Hana Brady was isolated from her non-Jewish friends and neighbors.1 In March 1941, Marketa Brady was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women located in northern Germany. Hana was left with her father and her brother Georg. Her mother sent this letter home from inside Ravensbrück in May of 1942 (the exact date is unknown).

The letter itself is a printed form, and was inspected by camp authorities before it could be sent. As stated in the instructions, prisoners at Ravensbrück could send letters home, provided they adhered to predetermined guidelines. They were not allowed to send or receive packages or photographs. Marketa's message is brief and positive, revealing little of life inside the camp. While we do not know if it was the case here, many Jews wrote in encoded language in documents like these that the Nazi authorities would read and inspect.2 Conditions at Ravensbrück were extremely harsh. A large concentration camp second in size only to the women's camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbrück's prisoners included Roma and Sinti, "asocials" and "criminals," Jehovah's Witnesses, "work shy," "race defilers," political prisoners, and Jews. Many of these women were victims of medical experiments. Non-Jewish women were also used as forced prostitutes.3 Rochelle Saidel's research into the experience of Jewish women at Ravensbrück explores how Jewish women, who comprised approximately twenty percent of the camp's population, endured the heaviest slave labor, starvation and beatings, with extremely few survivors.4

Given its context, and what we know of conditions at Ravensbrück, Marketa's letter cannot be taken at face value. Instead, it invites broader questions about methods of survival in the camps, and the degree of agency involved. Writing a personal letter home to loved ones could act to restore a sense of humanity to the concentration camp prisoner. We thus might wish to read this letter as an expression of dignity. The letter might also fall into a larger category—mothers writing to their children—that draws upon certain assmuptions about gender roles and parenthood, given that the letter concerns typical caregiver concerns for the well-being of the family. That said, we also have many examples of fathers writing home to wives and children that present similar concerns, with additional anxiety about their absence as family provider. As much as we read the contents of the letter itself, however, it also reveals the constraints under which it was written—and the Nazi attempt to hide the realities of the camp. It is therefore worth considering the extent to which this letter is both an example of individual agency, while simultaneously serving as an example of its impossibility.

A children's book about Hana's experiences was published in 2002. See Karen Levine, Hana's Suitcase (Park Ridge, IL: Albert Whitman and Company, 2002).

For more information about coded language in letters, see Jürgen Matthäus et al., Jewish Responses to Persecution, Volume III, 1941-1942, (Landham, MD: AltaMira Press in Association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2013), 70-71; 412-413.

See Robert Sommer, "Camp Brothels: Forced Sex Labor in Nazi Concentration Camps" in Dagmar Herzog ed., Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe’s Twentieth Century (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 168-196.  Jewish women were not used in this way only because of Nazi racial laws.

Rochelle G. Saidel, The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006).

Names in the letter at times appear illegible; the best approximation is indicated by brackets.

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Unclear and unreadable letters can’t be censored and will be destroyed.

Women's Concentration Camp
Fürstenberg i. Meck.

Excerpt from the camp rules:

Every prisoner in this protective custody is allowed to send and receive a letter or card once a month. The rows in the letter have to be written clearly, readable and in ink. The letter must not exceed two pages with 15 rows each. All mail has to have an exact sender, block and prisoner number on it. Each writing must only have one stamp enclosed. Additional stamps will be confiscated in favor of destitute prisoners. Mail that doesn't comply with the requirements will not be delivered. Envelopes must not be padded. Receiving parcels with any content is not allowed. Cash remittances are permitted, but have to be issued via postal money order; deposits in the letter are prohibited. Everything can be bought in the camp. Petitions for release of the protective custody to the camp lead are pointless. The sending of images and pictures is prohibited.

Director of the camp

My exact address:

Margarete Brady
Nr. 8827
Block 7
Fr.-Konz.-Lager Ravensbrück
Fürstenberg i. Meckl.

Letter without number or block are undeliverable.


Ravensbrück, May 1942

My beloved! Endless joy reached me with [Oiav's]1 2 letters, to write some lines to the children and [Ella]. I'm happy that you are healthy, I am too. Congratulations to you, my [Haničko] and dear father for your birthdays, and belated to both [Aničko] and [Jiříčku]. So you were happy, grandma, when you heard from [Mimi's] friend that [Dunka] and Heinrich's wife still live with [Fania], that she sews diligently, is fun, looks good and that she is well loved. Surely everything is too small; [Haničko] wear my shoes after Boža, and my [Jiříčku], the suit after Eliška's or Maruška's father, and the sweater after uncle Kohlman. I'm worried about beloved [Oiav], if he can stay with Klara and enjoy the nice sweater. Thank you [Věruško] and your parents that you are so good to my beloved and make this situation easier. Thank you for the money, write on standardized paper and [write the] sender. With which [Trude] is [Marynka] talking? Where is Vlastas [Klov] boss? It’s a pity that [Dunička] didn't write in a long time, I'm writing her often. Don't worry beloved Ella. What are you doing, my children? Greet everyone. Kisses from Karl and mother.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Courtesy of Lara Hana Brady
Source Number 36195
Date Created
May 1942
Author / Creator
Marketa Brady
Ravensbrück, Germany (historical)
Reference Location
Nové Město, Czech Republic
Document Type Letter
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