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Wartime Correspondence


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Letter from Ruth Goldbarth to Edit Blau

Ruth Goldbarth, Edit Blau, and Lutek Orenbach had met in Poland before the war, three care-free Jewish youths. Goldbarth and Orenbach lived in Poland (Warsaw and Tomaszów Mazowiecki, respectively), while Edit Blau, though originally from Danzig (today Gdańsk in Poland) and having lived elsewhere in Poland, was living in Minden in Germany. The three kept in touch before the German invasion of Poland; though Lutek's letters gradually petered out, Ruth and Edit continued writing to each other despite the occupation of Poland, the ghettoization of the Jewish population in Warsaw, and the general deterioration of conditions for the Jews, both in Germany and occupied Poland. The letter here was written at the end of May 1941, some six months after the Warsaw ghetto had been "closed," or physically separated from the rest of the city by a newly-built wall.1

Ruth's and Edit's correspondence points to one of the important functions of Jewish letter writing during the Holocaust. In many instances, Jews wrote letters to offer support to their friends, while simultaneously making their own lives easier to bear by vocalizing their fears and hopes, and often joking about their predicament. In this way, letters to friends far away sometimes constituted a lifeline, a thin thread of imagined normalcy that could sustain one through the day's challenges. The one-sided correspondence that survived the Holocaust—we have only Ruth's letters, since they were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by the only surviving member of this trio, Edit Blau (later Edith Brandon)—showcases this particular aspect of letter writing. Ruth's letters are sometimes serious, and often tongue-in-cheek; despite the seriousness of the situation, they paint a picture of a lively and energetic teenager. Jokes, gossip, coded language, and youthful banter all reinforce Ruth's commitment to her friend hundreds of miles away.2

For an exhaustive history of life in the Warsaw ghetto, see Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).

For the context and analysis of the letters, see Alexandra Garbarini, ed., Jewish Responses to Persecution, Vol. II, 1938-1940 (Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press, 2011), 457-76; and Jürgen Matthäus, ed., Jewish Responses to Persecution, Vol. III, 1941-1942 (Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2013), 70-82.

"Mogen" refers to the six-pointed Star of David ("Magen David"), by which Jews were marked on German orders, usually on the front or back of their clothing, or by an arm band. This was one of the first and most common German orders regarding the Jews everywhere in the occupied territories. The fact that Jurek, a man, can "allow himself to go without Mogen more easily" points to the specificities of the women's experience in the Holocaust.

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May 29, 1941

My good little Edit,

Yesterday evening your letter and your parcel from the 19th and 21st respectively arrived here by the same post. As always, my sincere thanks for all the love and care with which you picked out the many fine things for us. Everything arrived in perfect condition, and once again, we're all quite delighted about the parcel. I won’t even tell you anything at all about the fantastic prices here; the circumstances here are such that you simply cannot believe them without experiencing them yourself. Is it really humanly possible that a kilo of bread increased from 20 to 30 zł. in the course of a single day? Everything else, of course, rises along with it to an equal extent. And nevertheless, people buy everything they can get and at any price. A real state of panic! And add to this the large numbers of corpses, the famished children, etc., it's quite something! Actually, you don’t even dare to go out into the street carrying a package, without having it ripped from your hands within the space of two minutes. It is all indescribable, and unfortunately it will get even worse; but we can't be grateful enough for the fact that we needn’t go hungry yet. It's really a miracle to be able to eat one’s fill these days. But enough of this! I also try to think about it as little as possible, and since luckily I am busy from morning till night and usually sit together with our folks here well into the night (just to have some diversion), I generally succeed in my attempt, too.

[ . . . ] Ditlein, how I envy you the outings to enjoy the springtime! I don't even know anymore what a green tree looks like. In the narrow streets here, there’s nothing but dust and dirt and "stinkies" [sztynki] (little fish that are sold on the street here in large quantities and have this beautiful name because of their strong odor. In the past few days, when it was so hot, you could pass out in some streets), flowers in only two shops, at insanely high prices. Do you know how much I would like to get out sometime, into the countryside, into the fresh air, hear birds singing, and see water! Viktor wants to take me along one day; just recently he has been allowed to go to Jurek again, but it's not worth the risk—he can allow himself to go without Mogen more easily than I can.1

But we're happy indeed about our balcony. From the street side we have sun until 11:30 a.m., and on the courtyard side until 3:30, and on all the floors a "beach life" is developing. Using an extension cord, we brought a light onto the rear balcony, and bridge is played there; in front, the young people get together (those who aren't playing bridge) and chat. And in addition, "our" café is now open. The passageway from our building hasn’t been created yet, of course, but our residents are among the most grateful patrons. Admittedly, I haven't yet managed to go over there, although I had three invitations for Saturday and Sunday; I was just recently in the kindergarten next door, which has a swing, seesaw, sandbox, etc., with Marcyś and Henryś Kuschner. It's really nice there, even quite lovely for our circumstances, but I always think that in these times one shouldn't spend money on such things, money that can be used to help others. At any rate, I always have pangs of conscience whenever I think of going to such a café. And somehow I have a sense that I wouldn't feel comfortable there, either. [ . . . ]

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
RG Number 10.250
Date Created
May 29, 1941
Author / Creator
Goldbarth, Ruth
Language(s)
German
Location
Warsaw, Poland
Document Type Letter
Description A letter that Ruth Goldbarth in the Warsaw ghetto wrote to her friend Edit Blau in Minden.
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