Letters from Dotnuva

(Dotnuva, Lithuania)

55°21' / 23°54'


Acknowledgments

Project Coordinator

Danny Tal

 

Our sincere appreciation to Norman Danzig who has kindly donated these letters

for online presentation on the JewishGen web site.

 


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Introduction I

Translated by Sara Mages

My name is Danny Tal; I'm the son of Leah (Shapira) Tal and Meir (Meirko) Tal from Kibbutz Ramat HaShofet, Israel. Before World War II my mother Leah Shapira lived with her family in Dotnuva, Lithuania. Her family included her parents Shlomo and Nechama (Lebenberg) Shapira, and their children according to their birth order: Miriam, Moshe, Freida, Shoshanna, Leah and Pesia. The father was a religious Zionist, as was the whole family. They spoke Hebrew and Yiddish at home.

Shoshanna was the first to leave home, immigrating to Israel in 1933. The second to leave home was Freida (Shulamit), who was sent in 1935 to New-York to live with her aunt Mary, her mother's sister. The last to leave was my mother Leah, who immigrated to Israel in March 1937 after receiving her pioneer training from “Hashomer Hatzir”. She was among the founders of Kibbutz Ramat HaShofet.

Her parents, brother, and the rest of her sisters were murdered by the Nazis and their helpers.

In 1998, after Freida's death in New-York, her son Norman Danzig found a collection of letters that had been sent to her; more than half were written in Yiddish and the rest in Hebrew.

In memory of the family we are publishing here the collection of letters that were sent to Freida from her family in the years 1935-1941. The last letter was sent on 30 May, 1941. The collection includes around 90 letters in Hebrew and in Yiddish.

Note that the original letters in Hebrew can be seen at http://www.dannytal.com/

  Danny Tal

Kibbutz Ramat HaShofet,

Israel

 
 
Introduction II

My mother came to America in the fall of 1935 after a visit from her Aunt Mary (Mary was the sister of her mother Nechama) and Uncle Morris. They invited my mother to come to America and live with them in Forest Hills Queens, New York. Two sisters, Shoshanna, and Leah (Danny's mother) were sent to Palestine – Shoshanna in 1933, and Leah in 1937. My mother and her sisters in Israel regularly wrote letters, but did not see each other again until the summer of 1961 when my mother went to Israel for a visit.

It is hard to imagine my mother leaving Dotnuva, her small town in Lithuania, and making her way to New York, never to see her family again. I've wondered about my mother's trip to America and, after some research, I think she must have taken the train from Dotnuva, to Kovno to Vilna and then down to Warsaw. There, she would have taken the express train, through Berlin and on to Paris; then the train up to Cherbourg where she took the S. S. Berengaria to New York.

My mother left in October, 1935. The Nuremburg laws, limiting the rights and movements of Jews, were passed on September 15, 1935.

My mother and my father, Abraham M. Danzig, were married in August, 1937, and lived in the Bronx. In 1942, my brother Myron was born. I was born in 1947 and was named after my grandparents. My full name is Norman Shlomo Danzig. The Norman is after my mother's mother, Nachama, and Shlomo after her father.

In 1986, my brother and I cleaned out my parent's apartment. I had known for years that these letters existed, and hoped that they had not been destroyed. Luckily, they were in a bag in the bottom of my mother's closet. The letters corresponded to the time my mother came here until a few months before the murder of my grandparents, uncle, and aunts.

The last letter was in May 1941. I can only imagine how desperate my mother and her sisters were, during those months when the letters stopped until they received the news that their family had been murdered. My father once told me that in the fall of 1941 my mother received a letter from a cousin who had climbed out of the killing pit and escaped into the forest. He wrote in graphic detail what had happened; the family had been rounded up, led to a pit in the forest, stood on the edge, were shot and killed, and their bodies dumped in the pit. (In the summer of 1941 the Einzatsgruppen moved into the Baltics and the systematic killing of the Jews in Lithuania began. While the SS was in charge of directing the killings, it is clear, that it was the townspeople, the very people whom my grandparents knew in town, and who went to their store, to buy vegetables, and beer, did the actual killing.

My mother, like her two sister and so many others, who either escaped or survived would not talk about her life and family in Lithuania. There was an unspoken rule in our house,“Meh ret nisht fun dem, we don't speak of these things.” It was a lesson I learned well and only rarely broke. Twice, when I was in college, during the Seder, I was able to get my mother to talk a bit about back home. The door would open, as if in anticipation of Elijah, and then slam shut.

I think that all the Shapiro grandchildren grew up trying to find some way to pull back the gates that were shut around our family, to uncover who our grandparents, uncles and aunts and their children were. And my daughters, Sarah and Esther, as I know is true of all the next generation, have absorbed and understood that history is not simply chapters in a book, but it is real and has profound consequences for all.

In October 2009, my cousin Danny and his wife Maya, stayed with me and my wife Gail in New York. We spent hours going through the letters and photos identifying everyone we could. Danny was determined to continue the project and thanks to him the letters now have a home and are being translated.

Thanks to Jewish Gen for doing this work; it is part of what I and my brother have struggled with for a very long time. While these letters don't, and can't explain anything--how could they--they open the gates a crack to show us what my grandparents, uncle, and aunts were like and the world they lived in before it was destroyed.

  Norman Danzig


Letters from Dotnuva

 

 

Note: Reizale and Shoshana are the same person [the daughter who went to Eretz Israel]. Shulamit and Freida [the daughter in America] is also one person and Pessie, who writes Hebrew and is apparently proud of it, hebraized the name.

List of all names of persons appearing in the letters
 
Letter details Date Month Year
To Freida from Pessie & Miriam 11th November 1935
To Freida from Shlomo & Pessie 19th November 1935
To Freida (Shulamit) from Pessie 22th November 1935
To Leah from Freida 5th December 1935
To Freida from Pessie 6th December 1935
To Freida from Shlomo, Miriam & Nechama 7th December 1935
To Freida from Moshe 21th December 1935
To Freida from Pessie & Miriam 9th January 1936
To Freida from Nechama 9th January 1936
To Freida from Pessie & Shlomo 9th January 1936
To Freida from Nechama 19th January 1936
To Freida from Nechama 24th January 1936
To Freida from Pessie 1st February 1936
To Freida (Shulamit) from Shoshana 12th February 1936
To Freida (Shulamit) from Dvora 25th February 1936
To Freida from Shlomo & Nechama 1st March 1936
To Freida from Pessie, Nechama & Miriam 4th March 1936
To Freida from Shlomo & Pessie 26nd March 1936
To Freida from Moshe, Pessie & Lea 7th April 1936
To Freida from Shlomo, Pessie & Nechama 12th April 1936
To Freida from Shlomo, Pessie & Lea 16th April 1936
To Freida from Pessie & Nechama 25th April 1936
To Freida from Shlomo, Pessie & Nechama 19th May 1936
To Freida from Shlomo, Nechama, Pessie & Miriam 21st June 1936
To Freida from Shlomo, Nechama, Pessie & Miriam 5th July 1936
To Freida from Leah, Moshe & Pessie 26st July 1936
To Freida from Moshe 11th August 1936
To Freida from Nechama 15th August 1936
To Freida from Nechama & Shlomo 29th August 1936
To Morris & Freida from Shlomo 4th September 1936
To Freida from Shlomo & Miriam 7th September 1936
To Freida from Pessie 12th September 1936
To Freida from Shlomo & Pessie 16th September 1936
To Freida from Shlomo & Miriam 20th September 1936
To Freida from Shlomo & Pessie 25th September 1936
To Shulamit (Freida) from Shoshanna 22nd September 1936
To Freida from Moshe (Morris) 30th September 1936
To Morris from Freida 30th September 1936
To Freida from Shoshanna 27th October 1936
To Freida from Shlomo & Pessie 3rd November 1936
To Freida from Nechama, Shlomo & Pessie 6th November 1936
To Freida from Miriam and Moshe 15th December 1936
To Freida from Miriam and Nechama 20th December 1936
To Freida from Leah, Pessie and Moshe 24th December 1936
To Freida from Pessie 18th January 1937
To Freida from Pessie and Nechama 31st January 1937
To Freida from Shlomo & Nechama 14th February 1937
To Freida from Leah 27th February 1937
To Freida from Moshe 28th February 1937
To Freida from Shlomo & Nechama 16th March 1937
To Freida from Shlomo, Nechama & Pessie 11th May 1937
To Freida from Shoshanna and Leah 17th May 1937
To Freida from Moshe and Pessie 27th May 1937
To Frieda and Avraham from Moshe 12th August 1937
To Leah from Freida and Avraham 14th August 1937
To Morris from Shlomo, to Freida and Avraham 10th September 1937
To Freida and Avraham from Moshe and Pessie 14th September 1937
To Freida and Avraham from Shlomo, Nechama, Pessie & Miriam 6th April 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Moshe 21th April 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Pessie 24th April 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Shlomo & Nechama 5th May 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Shlomo & Nechama 17th June 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Moshe 28th June 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Shoshana 20th July 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Sfrom Shlomo & Nechama 27th July 1938
To Shoshanna and Lea from Freida and Avraham 23rd August 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Shoshanna 23rd September 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Miriam and Moshe 22nd October 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Miriam 25th October 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Miriam, Moshe & Pessie 7th November 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Miriam 15th December 1938
To Freida and Avraham from Moshe 1st January 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Pessie 15th January 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Pessie 2nd March 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Pessie 2nd May 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Moshe 3rd May 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Miriam and Moshe 5th May 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Moshe 21st May 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Moshe 21st May 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Moshe 27th May 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Miriam and Moshe 29th May 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Leah 23rd July 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Moshe 31st July 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Moshe and Pessie 3rd September 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Miriam and Pessie 22nd November 1939
To Freida and Avraham from Miriam and Moshe 9th January 1940
To Freida and Avraham from Shlomo and Pessie 4th March 1940
To Freida and Avraham from Shlomo and Pessie 19th March 1940
To Shoshanna and Leah from Nechama and Pessie 2nd February 1941
To Freida and Avraham from Moshe 30th May 1941


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Contact person for this translation Danny Tal
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