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Yad Vashem: Last Letters from the Holocaust

Yad Vashem has launched a new online exhibition entitled “Last Letters from the Holocaust: 1944” which displays and documents the final written communications sent by Jews facing the Nazi genocide machine from around Nazi-occupied Europe to their loved ones. The exhibition includes 13 letters, with accompanying photos, many of which were donated to Yad Vashem as part of its national “Gathering the Fragments” campaign.

The various letters and missives were sent from homes, hiding places, ghettos, camps and even thrown from deportation trains in an attempt by their authors to express their desires to be closer to their families during the terror of World War II and the Nazi Holocaust. One letter included in the online exhibition was written by Anna Ventura, an Italian Jew from Rome, to her husband and children in Italy. Ventura and her family were in hiding in village close to Milan but in 1943 she was caught by Italian police and sent to the Fossoli concentration camp in northern Italy, from where she was ultimately deported to Auschwitz in February 1944.

She succeeded in sending 18 letters and postcards to her husband and children, the last of which is displayed in the new Yad Vashem exhibition. “My very dear ones, my spirits are very high. We will see each other soon. Lots of kisses to all of you. All my thoughts are of you. Nina,” she wrote on February 22, 1944, the day she was deported from Fossoli to Auschwitz. Ventura wrote these words on a postcard which she threw from the cattle car she was being transported in whilst being deported, at the moment the train left Italian soil and crossed the border into Austria. She wrote “Please send this postcard by mail” on the postcard, in the hope that someone would find it and post it, which they apparently did.

Fearing that the secret police may not allow the postcard to reach its destination if they thought that it had been thrown from a train of Jews being sent to their death, Anna used a common Christian name as that of the sender. “This exhibit – the fourth and final chapter in a special series on last letters in which all the writers were murdered in the Holocaust – shows us the shared fate of Jews in the year 1944,” said Yad Vashem’s Online Exhibitions Coordinator Yona Kobo.

“1944 was the year in which the Nazis were already heading to defeat and their army was retreating towards the German borders. Despite that, the destruction of European Jewry continued at full pace. The last Jews of Greece, Italy, France, Holland and Slovakia were being murdered in 1944 and the Nazis began the mass deportation of 500,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz for extermination.

“The letters presented in the exhibition were found in the collections of documents housed in the Archives at Yad Vashem. They were written 75 years ago on small pieces of paper or the back of postcards, which sometimes are stained with the tears of both the sender and the recipients. Through the prism of these letters, we tell the story of the individual in the Shoah, and restore the names and faces to the victims.”

Jeremy Sharon