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Wartime Correspondence

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Letter from Jakub Birnbaum to Róża Szczegowska

Birnbaum, Jakub letter 1945
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

A dental apprentice from Dąbrowa Górnicza in Polish Silesia, Jakub Birnbaum was deported from that town to a series of labor camps on his twentieth birthday, on April 15, 1942. Before the war, he lived in Piotrków Trybunalski with his father, a local businessman, his mother and sister. After a veritable odyssey, he ended up in the Langenbielau concentration camp (today in Bielawa, Poland), a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen in Lower Silesia, located within the German Reich during the war.1 The work was hard and the living conditions difficult, but the camp food rations were not starvation fare, and it seemed possible to live on them. In the camp, he struck a friendship with a woman named Ewa Szczegowska, who worked in the women's section of the camp, and started writing letters to her. Procuring paper was difficult; the scraps of paper on which Jakub wrote his letters cost him a daily ration of bread each. But he managed.

When Ewa fell ill and was too weak to carry on the correspondence, her twin sister Róża kept writing to Jakub; they developed a friendship as well.2 In one of the letters he wrote to Róża, Jakub paused to reflect on the coming defeat of Nazi Germany and the uncertain liberation from the camp. The letter is undated, but it is clear that it must have been written in early 1945, in what was to be the last phase of the war. The long-time dream of Jakub's entered the realm of real possibility, and the question now was whether he and his inmate friends were going to live through to usher it in. But there was hope now, Jakub was calm, and he entreated Róża to be optimistic.

Jakub's family perished in the Holocaust. He recounted his life during the war in a memoir written and published after the war, and so did Róża.3

For a while, Jakub was corresponding with Róża, because Ewa was too weak; Ewa eventually died in the camp.

Jacob Birnbaum, I Kept My Promise: My Story of Holocaust Survival (Lexington, MA: Jason R. Taylor Associates, 1995); and Rose Rothschild, A Rose Blooms Again: A Survivor's Story (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2003).

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Dear Little Rose,

Today, I forced myself to take a few minutes to write to you. You wrote that you don't believe me that I don't have time. This time you are sorely mistaken. It may be that you do not know what to do with your time, but things are different with me. First, the recent events have strained my nerves to the extent that not only am I unable to sit down and write a letter, but I can't even collect my thoughts. I wish that the time that separates us from the future would pass without straining my mind. I know that it would be much healthier for me. It is true that last year I had fantasies about it [liberation], and I even composed a few verses in "Dreams during a Lager Night," but today I only want to calmly wait for it. I only hope that God surrounds us now in this epilogue of our suffering. Second, I've recently held a difficult and responsible position (as I wrote you) as a coal stoker of a boiler, which doesn't allow me to leave even for a minute. Now I have a few minutes before I have to leave, so I am writing this quickly. I wanted to write you a longer letter, but I've had bad luck. I have to stir the embers right now. It's a terribly taxing job, and it has taken me too long to finish. I ask that that you not look at everything through dark glasses. Be happy and have faith in the future. God will see to it that happiness will greet us. I send you my greetings.

Your Jakub

Regards to Ewa

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 2000.255
Date Created
Author / Creator
Birnbaum, Jakub
Bielawa, Poland
Langenbielau, Germany (historical)
Document Type Letter
Description A letter that Jakub Birnbaum, a forced laborer in Langenbielau-Bielawa concentration camp, a sub-camp of Gross-Rosen in Lower Silesia, wrote to Róża Szczegowska in the women's section of the camp.
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