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Letter From Yitzhak Zimnowicz, 1938

Written to his First Cousin, Helen Simon Lewis, in America

Preface: Our Last Letter From Szczuczyn

Our family's last letter from Szczuczyn was written in Hebrew on November 15, 1938 by my first cousin, Yitzchak Zimnowicz. This letter was written at a historically significant time, within a week after the shooting in Paris of Ernst von Rath, the 3rd Secretary of the German Embassy, by Herschel Grynszpan and the subsequent Kristallnacht nightmare.

My father had over the years corresponded in Yiddish with his sister-in-law Gushie Zimnowicz, Yitzchak's mother. I don't recall when or how I began corresponding with Yitzchak. As indicated in his letter, my family had begun efforts - alas, too late - to enable him to come to the States. He refers to having heard that our cousin Gitl (Gloria Finkelstein) - had an appointment to meet with the Consul to discuss her immigration. Indeed, she did arrive in the States shortly afterward. He also refers to his (Polish) friend Zygmund who later brought regards from our family in Szczuczyn when he arrived in the States the following year.

I wish I had saved Yitzchak's earlier letters. This last letter thankfully found its way into my family photo album, and consequently survived. Its value and the emotion it evokes increase each time I reread it. The events Yitzchak describes and perceptively interprets are a prelude to the Holocaust and a permanent reminder of our family's connection to it.

Helen Simon Lewis
Baltimore, Maryland

15 November, 1938

My Dear Cousin:

Many thanks to God that your father is already well and back home. We have enough troubles, and now we can already move from [worrying about our family] to [the subject] of our enemies. Here we are all well and hope only to receive good letters that your father is well and all your family are well.

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I wanted to write this letter last week but I did not have the opportunity because I had to go away to work for 6 days because I have not yet gone to the army. The work went well for me. There were many young men there, Jews and also Poles. The work was hard but jolly. [But] just one thing was on my mind: for whom am I working? For the homeland that is already following the paths of Hitler? You have surely heard and read in the papers what Hitler (may his name be blotted out) did after the murder by the young man Grynszpan who murdered the Nazi in Paris. Young Grynszpan had no alternative since his cup of woes was full and he could not bear it. You cannot guess the distress they inflicted there on the Jews. Refugees from Germany have also come to our town and they tell of their plight. This atmosphere already existed in Poland but now it is getting much worse. The Polacks are already saying that even the Polish Jews must leave Poland while they can so that what happened with the Jews in Germany will not be repeated. If they did this with them who were not so numerous, how much more vulnerable are we in Poland where there are so many more Jews! We are living through days of shame and disgrace, not [our shame and disgrace] but [that of] the nations who are returning to the time of the expulsion from Spain and the other expulsions that the Jews have suffered. History will judge all. The day will come even for the Hitlerian murderer because the people Israel is an eternal people. In every generation they try to destroy us. But they will not succeed. We see the revenge now in Spain where they are spilling blood like water. This is all because of what Torquemada did to us. For the sins of their fathers, their sons are being judged. The end will also come to Hitler, and soon. Now, as for us, there is only one way: that we must request from the righteous people of the world such as Roosevelt, Lehman and LaGuardia that they must request that England give us now Eretz Yisrael. [May] our troubles end and the Redemption come, because until now we have not had our own sovereignty, so every time a vermin such as Hitler arises against us.

I am stopping this subject now because in the next letter I will write more about it. I only ask that when Zygmund visits you do not tell him what I am writing to you [about] Poland. Only give him my regards. Too bad that my friend who is going to America is not going to Chicago, only to New York. He received papers only after I received the papers from you, and he has already received permission to leave because he already had permission from previous years to leave and now that he has received [additional papers] it was easy for him to get permission to leave. I heard also that Gitl from Kurki, sister of Rochel and Sorke also received a paper from the Consul to appear for a visa. I do not know if it is true, but tomorrow I will ride my bike to Grajewo to meet her and I will ask if it is true. I also hope already to receive some information about the second papers which you wrote that you sent. But I ask you that as soon as you receive my letter, reply to me immediately.

From your cousin Yitzchak who hopes to hear from you a letter that all of you are well. My family also sends regards. I am sending a small picture of myself, my mother, my grandmother, my brother and my sisters. You will surely recognize [us] and if not, ask Zygmund and he will explain everything to you.

Picture taken in Grajewo, March 17, 1939
Yitzhak Zimnowicz, together with his siblings and cousin Gitl
[L-R]: Yehudit Zimnowicz, Mordechai Zimnowicz, Gitl Finkielsztejn, Yitzchak Zimnowicz, Chana Zimnowicz

Note: With the exception of Gitl, who managed to emigrate to America in 1939, the others in the photo were killed in the Holocaust. 

Translation from Yiddish by Helen Lewis.

Editor's notes are entered in [brackets].

Copyright 2002 by Helen Lewis and Jose Gutstein.
All rights reserved to the original letter, pictures and the translation.

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