Among the tens of thousands of letters that Jews in Nazi-occupied countries sent to the free world, several thousand found their way to Massuah Institute for Holocaust Studies at Tel Yitzhak.
This is one of the world’s largest collections of letters and postcards from the World War II era—a trove of personal, if not intimate, testimonies that complement the great political and military personalities and the general historical processes. The letters reveal the perspective the individual Jew who feared for his or her fate and reported (sometimes in code) the persecutions, escapes, imprisonments, and murders of the war era and, after the war, their lives a survivors in the DP (displaced persons) camps.
The core of the archive is Alfred Szwarcbaum’s collection of letters. Szwarcbaum, a businessman from Będzin, Poland, managed to obtain asylum in Switzerland for his family in spring 1940. There, in Lausanne, he turned his home into an aid and rescue enterprise for Polish Jews, equipped with an office and a food and clothing warehouse. His address, passed on by word of mouth, became a source of hope for thousands.
The Massuah collection also contains many letters from and to members of the Hanoar Hazioni youth movement who went underground to smuggle Jews out of Poland, joined the partisans, or fled to the Soviet Union in order to “make ‘aliya”—settle in the Land of Israel—after the war. The collection also contains letters from and to Jewish soldiers who fought under Allied flags in the Free Polish Army, the British Army, and the Soviet Army.
The letters—the only means of communication with the free world—expressed more than anything else the state of mind and the daily realities of the millions who were trapped in the inferno. They attest to their writers’ desperate struggle to maintain their human complexion and dignity and to their indefatigable effort to seek avenues of escape and cling to every shred of hope.