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Letter from Julius Lewy to "the liberators"

The experience of liberation for survivors who became "stateless persons" in the eyes of the world was fraught with difficult decisions at every turn. For survivors of concentration or forced labor camps in particular, liberation often included physical exhaustion, geographical displacement, and what survivor-writer Primo Levi calls the "pain of exile."1 Survivors often found themselves hundreds of miles from home without the means to travel. For those who did return home, a stark landscape greeted them. In addition, the psychological devastation of separated families also figured heavily in survivors' experiences of liberation.2

This letter from survivor Julius Lewy to his liberators, is indicative of this postwar anxiety and desire to mediate the loss of home and family.3  Lewy (b. 1917) was born in Krakόw and had been working as a forced laborer since at least September 1941. He was in the Płaszów camp near Krakόw until early 1945, then spent two months in the Mauthausen concentration camp before being transferred to work in the "Goeringwerke" factory in Linz.4 Both he and his father, Friedrich (b. 1884), also a Polish Jew, survived the war.

The letter itself is addressed only to the chief doctor of the American Red Cross. While it is unclear who actually received it, the letter wound up in the hands of US Army Captain J. George Mitnick, who had taken part in the liberation of the Ohrdruf camp in April 1945. Mitnick, therefore, is not the intended recipient of this letter and its pleas. Rather, the letter addresses the "liberators" and attempts to make the case that Lewy has the proper education, ability, and attitude to work for the Allies.

Although Lewy expresses admiration for "Anglicist" culture, he is also critical of US occupation policies. He writes of the extreme malnutrition still present in the postwar German hospital where he resides, and questions the use of German staff to care for Displaced Persons. Lewy rhetorically asks, "An enemy of yesterday should be your benefactor of today?" Above all, Lewy's letter demonstrates his desire to find a home and a purpose after the war that reaches beyond the status imposed upon him as "an orphan of the world."

Primo Levi, The Reawakening (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 18.

For more information about the effects of displacement on family and human rights, see Tara Zahra, "The Psychological Marshall Plan: displacement, gender, and human rights after World War II," Central European History 44, no. 1 (2011), 37–62.

See also Leah Wolfson, Jewish Responses to Persecution, Volume V, 1944–1946, (Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield Press, 2015), 64–68.

For more detailed information about these and other camps, please see USHMM's Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945.

Meaning, Yiddish.

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Linz, 30 May 1945

Dear Liberators!

I know well I have no right to trespass on your dutiful time—but before entering into the subject I think some introductory explanations would be of importance. In any case I shall try to be as concise as possible, although the very nature of my topic is likely to let my pen ramble far beyond any preconceived limits.

Who am I? A Polish Jew 28 years old, with University education; man deprived of everybody and everything, but instead rich of experiences; so that much more essential would be the question: who have I been?

From the very beginning of this most tremendous of all wars I have been living in Poland, under German occupation facing the hell on earth as martyr and witness in one person. There is not any suffering imaginable either moral, or physical or material I would not have gone through during these six fateful years.

Physically rather weak, I have had to my advantage another form of resistance: my spirit. For all this time I’ve never ceased to believe in the final victory of Humanity and Justice and never ceased to hope in my personal survival.

The conscience of possessing some quantity of Anglo-Saxon culture—I studied English literature in Cracow under of greatest Polish Anglicist [sic], Professor Roman Dyboski, has imparted to me the reassuring feeling that I am in a certain degree representative of Anglo-American potentialities. And it is, without a doubt, this psychological attitude of mine which is to be seriously taken into account when I try genuinely to explain the phenomenon of my personal survival.

It was not earlier than in the last period of my war biography, about two month before the end of the European cataclism [sic], that my physical organism collapsed: diarrhea, this mortal camp disease became my share too and in the course of following weeks I grew more and more exhausted and emaciated—till the miserable condition in which I was found by the Liberation. From there in a few days I was together with others transferred into the local hospital.  

Since have passed several weeks.  I was better already and I tried to descend steps. And then came a collapse with a heart disease.

For the time being I am very far from being healthy, indeed I don't feel any bettering of my general state at all.

What are the reasons?

Here, in the hospital, all is lacking, all is failing. Medicaments as well as eating (quality and quantity!), treating as well as nursing.

Example: a daily ration: 1/3 of brown bread; never any butter nor jam.

You are treated by a young German physician. An enemy of yesterday should be your benefactor of today? 

It would take much time to enlarge on the subject; and I won't weigh you so long with my complaints.

My strongest wish now is to recover; to rejuvenate my breath not in the mere egoistical aim of enjoying my life, but to be able to serve and further my ideas and realize my life’s aim: which consists in becoming a writer (I’ve got a nerve for it) in English language, nowadays a most universal means of literary expression (I already wrote several things in my Polish before the war).

That's why I've decided to address myself to you. I beg you, may I implore you, to help me out of my predicament by transferring to the hospital of yours.

For years I have dreamed about your victorious arrival and now when the longed for time is come—I am away from you, cut off from any contact with the civilization and culture that you represent and for which we have been so long and so desperately fighting.

The staying with you would prove, I presume—as most promoting my ultimate aims. I am ready to accompany you where you go and—as I know besides English and my mother-tongue Polish: German, French, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Jewish1 and Esperanto—I may be in Europe of some use to you (I've got a lot of practice as an interpret [sic]).

Who am I now? An orphan of the world. And you are in a position to restore the sens [sic] to my life: to create a new (first spiritual) home for me and the possibilities of fulfilling my life’s aims.

I hope you won’t refuse to make this salutary gesture . . .

Yours truly

Julius Lewy

P.S. I beg you very much for an immediate written answer; ill men are so impatient . . .

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 2005.120
Date Created
May 30, 1945
Author / Creator
Julius Lewy
Language(s)
English
Location
Linz, Austria
Document Type Letter
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