click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Love Letters of the Holocaust

Love Letters of the Holocaust

Elizabeth Luz sent back and forth over 1,000 letters between hidden children and their parents during the Holocaust.

by and

More than a dozen years ago in Worcester, Mass., Prof. Deborah Dwork got a letter from a man in Switzerland she’d never heard of. Ulrich Luz told her about something he’d discovered packed away in a suitcase among his late aunt’s belongings that might be of interest to Dwork.

Indeed it was – so much so that she is now writing a book about his aunt’s quiet heroism and the lasting treasure she managed to preserve.

It turns out the nephew, a retired professor of theology in Switzerland, had heard about both the work of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University, for which Dwork is the founding director, and Dwork’s book “Children with a Star” (Yale University Press, 1991). So when Ulrich Luz discovered more than 1,000 letters his aunt Elisabeth Luz had sent back and forth between hidden children and their parents from the time of the Holocaust, he had a hunch Dwork might find the collection to be of value.

“He began sending packets of the letters…over 1,000 in all,” says Dwork, who is also the Rose Professor of Holocaust History at Clark. She was ready for the fragile old sheets of paper, having assembled white cotton gloves, archival paper, acid-free sleeves, and tweezers.

“It was such a treasure, and an amazing thing to hold them,” she recalls. Then began the long process of translating the letters, which had gone from parents in Greater Germany to their children hidden in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and England.

Elisabeth Luz. Credit: Luz family.

In all, several hundred families are represented in the collection. Many of the letters were from parents and kids reassuring each other that they’re alright, as both sides walked gingerly across the land mine of loneliness and worry.

The letters’ dates span the years beginning in late 1938, when the Kristallnacht pogrom and the general anti-Semitism of the time mobilized the Jews in Greater Germany to try to send as many children as possible to safety.

Most of the families’ correspondences stopped cold by 1945, by which time the majority of the parents were presumed murdered.

When war broke out the following year, civilian mail stopped moving freely and Luz managed to keep the correspondences going by taking a more central role as letter writer. “Dear Tante Elisabeth,” a child might write to her. “Please tell my mother I am fine and doing well in math.” Or a father might ask her to convey, “Dear Elisabeth, please tell my son to dress warmly and that we send our love.”

Most of the families’ correspondences stopped cold by 1945, by which time the majority of the parents were presumed murdered; others continued into the 1960s. It is still unknown how many of the children survived, but presumably far more than the parents, most of whom were unable to escape the Nazis’ murderous net.

But one of the enduring mysteries about the collection of letters is that they are all originals, written by these parents and children. No one knows for sure why, in the era before Xerox, Luz rewrote each of the 1,000 letters by hand and sent them out.

Two of the more than 1,000 letters that Ulrich Luz sent to Prof. Deborah Dwork. Credit: Courtesy Deborah Dwork.

The prevailing theory? “Trying to fool the censors,” says Dwork, who included several of the letters in her book “Flight from the Reich: Refugee Jews 1933-1946” (Norton, 2009).

“This church-going Christian lady, who often spoke about the importance of giving aid and help, spent years doing this painstaking work and at no small risk to herself,” she says.

The Strassler Center at Clark University is still scanning, sorting, transcribing, and translating the letters, and the public should be able to access them by early 2018, but several of them are going to be used at the center’s Summer Holocaust Institute to help high school history and literature teachers integrate the Holocaust into their curriculum.

“The letters are a great opportunity to engage with this time period firsthand and understand some of their concerns these parents and children had,” says Sarah Cushman, who directs the summer institute.

Cushman also expects the letters to resonate with high school students.

“The average American kid will understand these kids’ concerns with their futures and even petty gripes between them and their friends,” she says.

This often comes as a surprise, says Cushman, explaining that with “our 20-20 hindsight, we know all too well the outcome for most of these families, but the letter-writers of course could not. The number 6 million is an abstraction, but one document from a real person can make the Holocaust real for today’s teens.”

Dwork agrees. “These personal letters are a compelling way to teach aspects of the Holocaust because they relate how families dealt with the problems and pain they endured,” she says.

Indeed, the letters just may serve another function.

“Google ‘Holocaust’ and the first sites that come up are all deniers,” says Janet Stein, president of the American Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants of Greater Boston. “These letters are positive proof that it happened.”

The letters could also be a healing force for any of the children who remain alive, adds Stein, whose own father survived Auschwitz to emerge as the only member of both his family and his community in Hungary to live on.

“So many of the kids grew up never even knowing they were Jewish so these letters could be a reminder of who they really are. As all that is left behind of their parents, how precious these letters would be to their children,” she says.

“Because she was willing to play the role as messenger between hidden children and their parents, they could maintain some semblance of a relationship,” says Prof. Alexandra Garbarini, who teaches modern European Jewish history at Williams College in in Williamstown, Mass. “And it was all done for the sake of the child whose life depended on maintaining the fiction they had all created – the parents, the child, and the adoptive family too. It reminds us that very small acts when done in such numbers means it’s no longer a very small act but a big one.”

June 18, 2016

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 3

(3) Kathleen Dahnke Nottestad, August 28, 2016 10:15 PM

Tap into Genius - JEWS - HITLERS back up plan! Up till now-wire JEWS!!

Sooo True I never heard of the HOLOCAUST until I had children. FOR REAL!! I saw the movie Anne Frank and could NOT watch from the JEWISH people being taken from their homes and one sweet innocent young lady asked one of HITLERS henchmen, how long before we get to our destination? Ya which point he answered her question point blank with a bullet that ended her journey which was HITLERS intent all along!! I could Not watch anymore it was quite awhile before I saw the whole movie. My son also experienced the exact reaction as I had many years later when he 1 st watched. I have always ?ed wheather this young women's answer to her ? Was in this circumstance a gift for I think her soul could NOT have fathomed what hatred this movement contained, so God spared her. My take! I believe it very smart on the part of those wanting to carry out HITLERS plan to rid the world of JEWS! I believe we are JEWISH but unfortunately ignorance was in all the HITLERS advantage it took me years to put together things implied but never said by family members who would have known. Not knowing helped Hitler continue even though gone! THANK GOD!! His followers who quietly carried out his will - especially easier when their targets were NOT aware of WHY they were targeted!!! Slowly by injecting cancer and other forms of death to ensure those who lived unbeknownst to them that being JEWISH was why the Jealousy and making sure these individuals intellectual discoveries could be claimed by those who had intercepted their thought process and could claim these ideas as their own, I believe some have been wired so the conversations that would equate to inventions ect. Could and would be credited to BB Brains that watch and study their subjects and steal their knowledge. Then be credited for it. I believed that the reason for targeting the JEWS was HITLER knew if anyone could destroy him, his mencontrolling the world it would be the JEWS of our world it was his way of destroying his competition!!!

(2) MONICA GODO, June 23, 2016 2:52 PM

book about Elizabeth Luz

I would like to know if the letters of Elizabeth Luz have been or will be published. I would appreciate any information as to how I can get a copy of the book.
Thank you.

(1) Sonia, June 22, 2016 6:32 AM

I wish to draw attention to a publication put out by the Hidden Child Foundation

Infant Survivors of the Holocaust, The Last Witnesses is a most poignant publication put out by The Hidden Child Foundation's 25 Anniversary Issue under the auspices of the ADL

As I myself fit that category I looked to see if what the contributors revealed about their emotional world and how their experiences impinged on their day to day lives. For me firstly their achievements in terms of contribution to other people's lives is what stands out - in spite of the brutalities and assaults by the world into which they were born and survived. Secondly, for me it is so important for me to keep the integrity of my individuality above all else, to not disappear into definitions of what I am, who I am on the basis of my beginnings in such a world. Disappearing is an issue with me and not unreasonable to make a connection for its reason because it was what was happening when I was born, the fears of the people to which I was born and those involved in the preservation of my life. Though since only my mother and myself survived and she unable, unwilling to discuss the time of the Shoah - for which quite frankly I am grateful - information however in regards that part of my life is completely barest minimal. i can only say that nevertheless what must have been absorbed at some level is likely an influence factor in my life. Though it is the personal relationships or lack, or inconsistencies of them that most influence a child's self perception and sense of worth in the world. I recommend acquiring this document and the visibility aspects of it in a world which all to easily neglects the lessons it has to teach

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment