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Wartime Correspondence

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Letter from Ilse Chotzen to Her In-Laws

Chotzen, Ilse letter 1942
Courtesy of the House of the Wannsee Conference, Berlin

Like many Jews from Berlin, Ilse Chotzen was deported to Riga with her husband, Erich, in January 1942.1 Erich died two months after their arrival in Riga, which made Ilse’s life even more difficult. She then befriended a German soldier, Adolf—whose last name she never mentioned, and which is thus unknown to us—who agreed to send letters to Ilse's father- and mother-in-law under his own name, using regular military postal service. This was an extraordinarily bold move, since the soldiers' mail was subject to inspection by the authorities as well. The nature of the relationship between Ilse and Adolf is unknown; we also do not know what happened to him and whether he survived the war.

Unbeknownst to Ilse—since she had not been receiving letters from Berlin—her father-in-law in Berlin died shortly after she and Erich were deported to Riga. Since she had no way of finding out about this development, she kept writing letters to both Erich's parents, telling them about life in Riga, and inquiring about their health and circumstances in Berlin. The letter presented here, dated July 23, 1942, chronicles the profound pain that its author experienced. It also underscores the tragic disintegration of family ties, a common experience for many Jewish families during the Holocaust.2

For a history of Jews in Berlin during the Holocaust, see Beate Meyer, Hermann Simon and Chana Schütz, eds., Jews in Nazi Berlin: From Kristallnacht to Liberation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

For more about the Chotzen family, see the uncompleted farewell note from Ilse’s husband Erich in Jürgen Matthäus, ed., Jewish Responses to Persecution, Vol. III, 1941-1942 (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2013), 416. The correspondence was also published in German; see Barbara Schieb, Nachricht von Chotzen: "Wer immer hofft, stirbt singend" (Berlin: Edition Hentrich, 2000).

"A." is Adolf, the German soldier helping Ilse send this and other letters.

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23./7 [July 23, 1942]

This is the sixth time that I've written you, and I still haven't received any answer. What's going on with you? By now, of course, you know everything that I've been through, but just think: now I'm together with A. every day.1 He's really a great guy, and I'm very happy that I have him here. Enclosed, we're sending along a permit stamp for military postal parcels. 1 kg. Please send A. soap, he really needs it badly, and I urgently need stockings and a nightgown. You need to get the parcel ready right away, please, so that the stamp doesn't expire. I can't describe to you how I'm doing because I never suspected that one can actually survive with such profound pain. The longing for all of you, my dear ones, tortures me to no end, and to this day I still can't conceive of living without my beloved Erich. I simply don't comprehend it, and I always think (I sit in the dark at the window for half the night) that I just have to find him or something of him in nature, but...! Are you well? Dearest Mama and Papa, you've never been so close to me as you are now in my immeasurable grief. I think about you so much! [...] I want you all to write us, please, especially you, dearest Mama, and my dear Papa. Adolf would like to hear all your news, too. We talk a great deal about home. He's interested in everything. [...] Do send me pictures of Erich and yourselves, please. Dearest Papa, I hope your leg is alright again, I'm so worried about you and above all about Mama. I think about you so much, Papa, because Erich had such a close resemblance to you. When A. goes on leave in September, he'll definitely come to see you. He'll be traveling through Berlin anyway. He'll certainly have some stories for you! [...]

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the House of the Wannsee Conference, Berlin
Source Number Archives of Gedenkstätte Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz (NL Chotzen)
Date Created
July 23, 1942
Author / Creator
Chotzen, Ilse
Riga, Latvia
Reference Location
Berlin, Germany
Document Type Letter
Description A letter that Ilse Chotzen sent from Riga, to where she was deported, to her in-laws in Berlin. She managed to send a letter through a friendly German soldier, "A."
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