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Letter from Dawid Najmark to his Family

Najmark, David letter 1941
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw

A letter that Dawid Najmark sent to his family in the late summer of 1941 epitomizes the kind of profound anxiety that took hold of many Jews during the Holocaust. Of course, the circumstances of Najmark's writing were very specific. A Polish Jew from Warsaw, he had emigrated to the United States before the German invasion of Poland. He had kept in touch with the part of his family that stayed behind at home in Warsaw—his mother, sister, and brother—as well as with other siblings and many other relatives in Poland even before the war. Once Germany overran Poland, correspondence and communication assumed an unprecedented level of urgency that must have taken up a lot of Dawid's energy and focus. He was certainly aware of the German policies against the Jews in occupied Poland, and particularly in the Generalgouvernement, where his family was.

The German invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941 had radicalized Nazi anti-Jewish policies, up to 900,000 Jews were killed under German control and almost 90,000 under Romanian control as Najmark was penning this letter in August.1 As horrible as this development was—we do not know if the news had reached Najmark, and if it had, to what extent it affected his concern for his family—the situation in the Generalgouvernement was different, and there had as yet been no acts of large-scale, genocidal murder there. The Germans had shut Jews into ghettos across the territory, but this development itself had been recent. The Warsaw ghetto, for example, where Najmark's nuclear family lived, had been in existence for less than a year, and it had taken more than a year since the German invasion of Poland to establish it.2 At the time, of course, it must have seemed to Dawid that things could not possibly get worse; the dread and alarm that emerge from the pages of the letter hint at this.

The reason Najmark's letter has been preserved in the first place is that it was never delivered. A few weeks after Dawid wrote it, it was opened by the German military censor in the Generalgouvernement, and subsequently "returned to sender," probably because the Najmarks had "moved" from their apartment in Warsaw or were not living at their address for another reason.3 Many Jews in the city had been forced from their residences to new, "shared" quarters inside the ghetto when it became a closed ghetto in November 1940. Pawia Street, where Dawid’s family lived, actually was in the part of town that became the ghetto, making it likely that they had been forcibly relocated elsewhere, or had not been at home for more ominous reasons. Again, there had been no planned mass murder of Jews in the Warsaw ghetto at this point, but Germans would (and did) certainly kill Jews for small infractions, "crimes" or on other pretexts.

It is not clear what happened to Dawid's family in the maelstrom of the Holocaust. Most letters preserved in the archival holding are those sent to Dawid; the one here was preserved only because it was returned to him by the Germans.

Christian Gerlach, The Extermination of the European Jews (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 70.

For a history of many aspects of life in the Warsaw ghetto, see Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).

In addition to German stamps, the envelope features markings of the United States Postal Service, which provide further clues about the letter's voyage.

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[Envelope front]

Address:

Szlama Najmark

Warschau 

92 Pawia st., apt. 33 

Germany-Poland

 

Nazi stamp: High Command of the Armed Forces 

Postmark—Opened August 30, 1941 

 

Nazi stamp: Back to sender 

 

 

[Letter]

 

Brooklyn, August 4, 1941

 

Dear mother, sister, and brother,

I've had no news from you for a long time already, and I simply don't know what to think. Well, truth be told, I have put off writing lately, thinking that maybe some sort of letter would arrive from you; but unfortunately not. I don't have any news from Aron lately either—if you know anything about him, I would kindly ask that you let me know. I have also not received any notification about the money I sent you recently. And yet I know that people are receiving letters from Warsaw and other cities, and this worries me even more, and you know, my dears, once you start thinking you think all sorts of things, so I ask you, my dears, not to stop writing, if one letter doesn't come then the second or third will come. Write to me how Mama, Aunt, and generally how every person in the family is doing. Don't worry about me, everything is more than fine with me, and my one desire is to see you as soon as possible. Aside from that I have a small favor to ask of you: if it's possible, find out the date that Dawid's father died and write to one of us because he is concerned about the anniversary and would be very grateful. I would like to write a few words on the subject of sending assistance, but it is simply very uncomfortable for me to write about it. I can only write, and be certain that on my end I would not stop sending, but it doesn't depend on me, and I'll send you assistance as soon as I can because I'm at my post and waiting for the smallest excuse.

Brother Szlojme, why have I no letters from you for such a long time? Put a couple of words down on paper, so I get some sort of news from you. I end my letter with heartfelt regards to Mama, Guta, Szlojme and Fela and their daughter, Moses, Uncle David, Aunt Fajga, and everyone in the family. 

Your son and brother, Dawid.

 

Regards from Aunt and Uncle, the cousins, and David Solana. 

Please answer as quickly as possible.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw
RG Number 15.233
Date Created
August 4, 1941
Author / Creator
Najmark, Dawid
Language(s)
German
Polish
Location
Brooklyn, NY, USA
Reference Location
Warsaw, Poland
Document Type Letter
Description Letter from Dawid Najmark in Brooklyn to his family in the Warsaw ghetto.
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