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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

Jakub Birnbaum was deported from Dąbrowa Górnicza in German-occupied Poland to a series of labor camps on April 15, 1942—his twentieth birthday. He eventually ended up in the Langenbielau concentration camp (today in Bielawa, Poland).1 The work was hard and the living conditions were difficult, but the rations were enough to avoid starvation. At Langenbielau, he struck up a friendship with a woman named Ewa Szczegowska, who worked in the women's section of the camp. Jakub started writing letters to her even though finding paper was difficult—the scraps of paper he used to write each cost him a daily ration of bread.

When Ewa fell ill and became too weak to write, her twin sister Róża kept up the correspondence. She and Jakub developed a friendship as well.2 In one of the letters he wrote to Róża, Jakub reflected on the coming defeat of Nazi Germany and the possibility of liberation from the camp. The letter is undated, but it is clear that it must have been written in early 1945, during the last months of the war. Jakub focuses on hope, encouraging her to be optimistic.

Ewa died before the camp was liberated in May 1945. Jakub’s parents and sister Chana were also murdered in the Holocaust. Jakub and Róża survived the war. Both of them recounted their life stories in memoirs written and published after the war.3

Langenbielau was a subcamp of Gross-Rosen in Lower Silesia, located within the German Reich during the war. For more information, see the USHMM Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos.

 Jakub corresponded with Róża when Ewa became too weak to write.

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).

Lager: German for "camp."

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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,"1 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
Jakub Birnbaum
Bielawa, Poland
Langenbielau, Germany (historical)
Document Type Letter
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