On December 17, 1942, a woman by the name of Gitla threw a note off the deportation train passing through the train station in Częstochowa. It was written on a simple piece of paper, a few hasty words addressed to her "dear ones." This letter exemplifies the diverse genre of "last letters," missives written during the Holocaust by Jews who sensed that they had run out of options and would most likely be murdered soon.1 Though Gitla announces that she and probably her remaining family members—she uses the first-person plural pronoun "we"—were being taken "to work," there seems to be a hint of despair in the cryptic message. Did Gitla know where they were being taken, or do we sense despair because we know, in hindsight, that most Jews who ended up on deportation trains in this period and in this area were slated for murder?
We don't know Gitla's name; we don't even know where she was being deported from. But there are several clues in the letter and the accompanying archival documents. First, the letter is contained in the archive of Oyneg Shabes, which means that it eventually made it to Warsaw.2 It is unclear how this happened. Either the address ("40/35 Marmurowa") was in the Warsaw ghetto, and someone who found the letter in Częstochowa delivered it to Warsaw, upon which the letter was smuggled into the ghetto and found its way to Oyneg Shabes archivists; or, the intended recipient received the letter in Częstochowa, and they themselves made it to the Warsaw ghetto in the period immediately following this. Two details suggest that the latter scenario was more likely: the address on the note does not state the town, from which it can be inferred that it was local, i.e., a street address in Częstochowa itself; and Gitla herself wrote in the letter that the transport had already passed through Warsaw. If the intended recipient had been in the Warsaw ghetto, it would have made more sense to throw the letter off of the train there.
The postwar archivist in the Oyneg Shabes archive noted that the transport had originated in Płońsk. There is no direct evidence to support this claim, but there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that they were right. The letter was dated December 17, 1942, and Gitla wrote that they had been traveling for two days already. This short time window corresponds with the time of the final wave of deportations and the "liquidation" of the Płońsk ghetto; the last transport that left the ghetto departed on December 16.3 Gitla might have been on that one or the one that was sent off the previous day, depending how we interpret her concept of "two days." Finally, the transport was clearly traveling southwestward, from Płońsk, via Warsaw, to Częstochowa, from which Gitla sent her letter. Unfortunately, the last leg of this journey was some sixty miles long, from Częstochowa south to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the entire transport was murdered in the gas chamber.