On December 17, 1942, a Jewish woman named Gitla threw this note from a train passing through the train station in Częstochowa in occupied Poland. It was written on a simple piece of paper, a few quick words addressed to her "dear ones."
This letter exemplifies the diverse genre of "last letters" written during the Holocaust by Jews who sensed that they would not live much longer.1 Though Gitla announces that she and probably her remaining family members—she uses the pronoun "we"—were being taken "to work," there seems to be a hint of despair in the message. Did Gitla know the fate that awaited most Jews deported to Poland?
Gitla's full name is unknown. So is the origin of her deportation. But there are some clues in the letter and the accompanying archival documents. First, the letter eventually came to Warsaw's Oyneg Shabes archive,2 though it is unclear how this happened.3
The postwar archivist in the Oyneg Shabes archive noted that the transport had originated in Płońsk. Some of the letter's details suggest that they were correct. 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 from the Płońsk ghetto; the last transport that left the ghetto departed on December 16.4 Gitla might have been on that one or the one that was sent off the previous day. Finally, the transport was clearly traveling southwestward, from Płońsk, via Warsaw, to Częstochowa, from which Gitla sent her letter.
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.