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Letter by Marketa Brady from Ravensbrück

Marketa Brady
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Courtesy of Lara Hana Brady

Traditional gender and family roles were often turned upside down during the Holocaust, but many people managed to maintain their established roles even when they had been separated from their families. The featured letter from Marketa (Margarete) Brady shows how she continued to think of the well-being of her family and children even as she herself faced terrible conditions during her imprisonment at Ravensbrück—a concentration camp for women located in northern Germany.

Brady’s family was one of very few Jewish families in the town of Nové Město na Moravě, Czechoslovakia, but they were well-integrated into the community until the German invasion and occupation of the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939. Marketa and her husband Karel had two children, Hana and George (born Georg), and the children became isolated from non-Jewish friends who were no longer allowed to play with them.1 In March 1941, Marketa was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Ravensbrück. She sent this letter home to her family in May of 1942 (the exact date is unknown).

Conditions at Ravensbrück were extremely harsh. A large women’s concentration camp that was second in size only to the women's camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ravensbrück's prisoner population included Jews, Roma and Sinti, Jehovah's Witnesses, political prisoners, and women imprisoned as "work shy," "race defilers," “asocials,” or “professional criminals.” Many of these women became victims of medical experiments. In some camps, authorities selected non-Jewish women for forced sex work.2 Jewish women—who comprised approximately twenty percent of the camp's population—faced starvation, beatings, the heaviest forced labor, and a low survival rate.3

Brady wrote the featured letter on a printed form that was inspected by camp authorities before it could be sent. Prisoners at Ravensbrück could send letters home if they followed strict guidelines, but their correspondence was subject to heavy censorship. While we do not know if it was the case here, many people used coded language in documents they knew authorities would inspect.4 Brady's letter to her family is surprisingly positive, and she reveals very little about conditions inside the camp. Instead, she inquires about the well-being of various family members and asks for news about her children. Even though she was writing as a prisoner of a concentration camp, Brady’s letter shows more concern for the well-being of her family members than it does for her own situation. Was Brady maintaining her role as a mother and caregiver even in the terrible conditions at Ravensbrück, or did the threat of censorship keep her from sharing details of her experience with her family?

Marketa and Karel Brady were both killed at Auschwitz in 1942. Their children lived with an aunt and uncle before being sent to Theresienstadt in May 1942. Hana was deported to Auschwitz and killed in late 1944. George was the only member of the family to survive the Holocaust.

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).

Nazi racial laws forbade sexual contact between Jews and "Aryans," which is why Nazi authorities targeted non-Jewish women for forced sex work. 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. 

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

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.

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
Ravensbrück
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
Language(s)
German
Location
Ravensbrück, Germany (historical)
Reference Location
Nové Město, Czech Republic
Document Type Letter
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