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Letters to Sala

Letters to Sala


“If it weren’t for these dire straits, things would be different, Sala, believe me!”
“If it weren’t for these dire straits, things would be
different, Sala, believe me!”

At Geppersdorf, a labor camp in the Falkenberg district of Germany, hundreds of Jewish men worked on the ReichsAutoBahn (R.A.B.), the ambitious highway construction project initiated under Hitler. A handful of women worked in the kitchen and laundry. Sala, one of the youngest women in the camp, had certain privileges—more food and a private room—because of her friendship with Ala, who worked in the camp’s office.

One week after Sala arrived, she began to receive mail through the German Reichspost. Most of the letters were from her sister Raizel and close friends in Sosnowitz. By the end of 1940, all correspondence had to be written in German to pass Nazi censors, who stamped approved mail with the letter “Z,” for zensiert (German for “censored”). With Yiddish as her mother tongue, Raizel learned German rapidly. Almost all of her one hundred letters send blessings from their parents and sisters, and their gratitude for Ala’s guardianship. They also reveal the family’s constant search for employment, since working papers were their only protection against deportation.

“Do you know why I write so much? Because as long as you read, we are together.” — Raizel Garncarz to Sala, Sosnowitz, April 1941

After almost a year in the camp, Sala and Ala were allowed to return to Sosnowitz for a “vacation.” Ala secured a job with the local Judenrat run by Moshe Merin, which extended her leave indefinitely. Torn between her family and friends, Sala savored every moment at home. She was warned that if she did not return to the camp, no one else would be allowed to go home for a visit.

Sosnowitz Ghetto, probably 1943
Sosnowitz Ghetto, probably 1943
Reproduced courtesy of the Zaglembie Landsmanschaft

As she left to return to Geppersdorf, her father blessed her for what would be the last time. Sala never saw her parents or Ala again. Her only solace was the letters that continued to arrive from home.

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