Letters and postcards from the Holocaust period and regarding it

Language of Description
1 Jan 1920 - 31 Dec 1955
  • French
  • German
  • Hungarian
  • Polish
  • Romanian
  • Russian
  • Yiddish
  • Hebrew
  • Cyrillic
  • Hebrew
  • Latin

Scope and Content

In the Records Group there are personal letters collected by Yad Vashem since its founding. The letters were written before, during and after the Holocaust period in the Nazi occupied countries in ghettos, camps and hiding places and in the countries to which the Jewish refugees from Europe succeeded in escaping to before and during the Holocaust. The letters were sent to family members, relatives, acquaintances, friends and close friends in European countries and countries across the sea.In the collection there are letters written outside the boundaries of Europe and sent to Jews living in the Nazi occupied countries. The letters constitute a variegated human mosaic of Jews and non-Jews of different ages, from various countries, speaking different languages, writing of a wide range of subjects. From the letters and postcards, one can learn about the daily life of the Jews in many countries during the period before the war, their lives in the ghettos and camps, their personal feelings, their distress and the persecutions against them.Some of the letters have the characteristics of a testimony. In these letters, the writer tells of his/her experiences and those of his/her family, details regarding historical events and people s/he met and their fate. These letters were written during the war and afterwards by survivors, and in them, the survivors tell of their experiences and those of their family to relatives, friends and fellow townspeople who were not in Europe during the Holocaust. They describe the destruction of their city or town and the murder of the Jews. A unique group within the Records Group is the letters written on special forms provided by the International Red Cross and sent from the occupied countries. The residents of these countries were not able to maintain normal postal contact with the countries that were at war with Germany (such as Britain). In these letters, they allowed to write a limited of words, usually in a pre-determined style, such as"We (listing of the names of the senders) are well; we hope you are, too, and so on". However, sometimes there is also additional information in the letter, such as"We must leave..."which hint of imminent deportation or other coded information, which only the relatives can understand. This group of letters points out, among other things, the many hardships faced by the family members, relatives and friends who wanted to receive information regarding their dear ones from whom they were forced to part, and to maintain contact with them. More than once these letters, which were sent by the Red Cross, weare the final signs of life received from the deportees who were murdered afterwards.Another group of letters in the Record Group is"Final Letters". These are letters from writers who were aware of their imminent deaths and wanted to say goodbye to their loved ones. Many times these letters contain a will, usually a spiritual will with special values. Due to the censor which was imposed during the war years, the writers were careful about writing openly regarding the terrible living conditions and the persecutions, therefore one should also read between the lines. This is true mainly for letters and postcards sent from the camps, when the writers knew that true details would be disqualified by the censor. Sometimes the writers sent coded messages that would only be understood by the recipients.In the"personal letters"subjects come up that are not mentioned in official documentation sources. These are subjects such as family relations, parenting, motherhood, relations between siblings, separation and longings, information regarding the fate of relatives and friends, concern over the fate of family members and friends, daily problems of existence faced by the Jews living in the Nazi occupied countries, requests for material help and assistance to leave Europe, difficulties in sending and receiving mail and parcels and attempts to overcome these difficulties. These subjects are likely to interest the researcher in areas of knowledge such as social history, history of the family or gender and more. Reading the letters can be a moving experience also for someone interested in knowing the private person who lived during the Holocaust from the point of view of the writer.

Finding Aids

  • Description of most of the files are available on IDEA ALM system at Yad Vashem Archives reading room and on the Yad Vashem website

Existence and Location of Originals

  • YV archives and private people

Archivist Note

Description of the files are available on IDEA ALM system at Yad Vashem Archives reading room and on the Yad Vashem website

Dates of Descriptions