February 12


November 2002, and I was on a 4-day trip to Manchester, undertaking recruitment and fund-raising for Polack's, the Jewish boarding house at Clifton College in Bristol, the current-parent and prospective-parent and community meetings timed so that I could also attend a Jewish educators' conference that was taking place on one of the four days. So I sat in a seminar at the Whitefield shul on "Teaching The Holocaust", listening to Shulamit Imber from Yad Vashem - the classic Israeli, teaching by energy and charisma instead of the dry ennui of the English. At various points she invited questions, and always asked questioners to introduce themselves: name, school or community organisation, just to give the question its personal context. So I had asked a question, and introduced myself. So a man named Mayer Hersh knew enough to approach me over coffee when the seminar was ended.

"Do you know what your name means?"

I told him that I did, and the somewhat implausible family legend of how we acquired it, and he replied:

"I come from Praszka."

He was in his 80s and had survived the camps. We exchanged addresses and agreed to write, me to send him my tale about the second-in-command of the Judenrat in the Lodz Ghetto, a relative named Boruch Praszkier, he to send me photocopies of some family documents that he had, and which he thought would interest me. They did.

On November 14th he wrote, enclosing a second letter with his own:

Dear David,

As promised I am enclosing a letter from my dear Uncles & Aunties who came from Praszka. They were all deported to Krzepice [
*1] (which is between Praszka and Czestochowa). This was their last letter to my dear late Uncle Maurice in France. He was in the partisans near his town Romilly-Sur-Seine [*2]. He supplied vital information about a military airport, to the British Intelligence. He was a very courageous and capable man. His detailed information about the fuel dumps at the airfield and the numbers of planes leaving it almost daily to bomb Britain most probably saved many lives here.

His wife and baby were seized by the Germans in February 1944 and gassed in Auschwitz. My uncle Maurice also was born in Praszka and lived there till 1927. He then emigrated to France. He survived to live to the age of 88.

I am sure you and all the other participants gained a lot from the seminar in our shul. We had excellent speakers especially the very capable Shulamit Imber, Esther Held, David Arnols and Rabbi Guttentag. The only regret I have got is that the attendance was not larger. One of the reason was that it was not sufficiently publicised. Those who were absent missed a great opportunity.

It was very nice of you making this special effort to come from Bristol.

Hoping you are keeping well.

Best regards, Mayer (MAYER HERSH)

P.S. This is a copy of the original. This letter was written in Krzepice in Feb 1941 after their deportation from Praszka. My grandmother who cheated the gassing van died there. Her maiden name was SHAINDEL NEISNER. Married name HERSZKOWICZ. Other relatives were NEUMAN or spelled NOJMAN.

The letter was written in German/Yiddish, though some words were in Polish spelling. (To make it easier for German censors in latter times the letters were written in Yiddish, Hebrew alphabet.) This was translated into French by my late Uncle MAURICE HERSZKOWICZ. My Father’s Brother, Maurice, was the youngest of 7 children. He was the only survivor.”

The asterisks inside Mayer's letter are both mine:

[*1]  A note on the Lochamei Ha Geta’ot website says it was pronounced Kshepitse, as though the ‘r’ were silent. I’ve put a map at the end of this blog-page

[*2]  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romilly-sur-Seine

My English Translation of Maurice's French Translation...

Krzepice, 20th February 1941

Dear brother and sister-in-law, Maurice and Szprynca,

I have happily received your postcard for which I thank you with all my heart; I can also write to you that I received your parcel yesterday. Believe me, my dears, the joy that I have just expressed on this scrap of paper is very profound. I truly cried. I am so happy that you sent me in the parcel a shirt, a dress, a pair of socks and a pair of black stockings; that will always remain in my thoughts.

Nacha has also received some things for herself and her children from Sahra. We are living in a neighbourhood, she no longer possesses anything. Dear brother, I thank you for the parcel that you sent to my dear husband. This week, I have received a letter from him in which he asks me for bread; once again, my dear brother, I thank you for everything.

Now, my dears, I am going to write to you about our dear mother. She has caught a most terrible cold in the barn and her heart was always weak. At first, we were at Szlama’s and afterwards in the country. She has said to me that she will never return to Praszka, but I begged my mother not to talk that way, and not to cry, because everything is going to be for the best, and every day I have been calling the doctor. Afterwards, I made her go back into hospital. Unfortunately, she did not stay there very long. I visited her very frequently and brought her food. As soon as she saw me, she was the happiest creature on earth, she said to me: “Esther, my darling child, don’t cry and keep the food for yourself; you’ll see, everything will get better.” That’s how she spoke to me on Saturday, and she begged me to get all the children back together; she is always calling out for Maurice. Paola, Leja, Szlamek and my brother-in-law helped me carry her to hospital on Saturday, and Sunday at noon I went to see her. As soon as she heard my voice, she sat up and, to please me, ate the apples and some other things that I had brought. I stayed close to her, but she begged me to fetch little Jacques who she wanted to see. Until the last moment, she was conscious. And then Monday morning at 6 o’clock, the sister came to wake me up and told me that our beloved mother had died; she was 65 years old. I ran to the hospital, she was at the morgue.

My dears, what strength it takes to write all this to you. She was do changed that she was unrecognisable. I prayed for all of you. I have been out several times to her grave. Szlamek was also at the funeral as well as many residents of Praszka. My dear brother, do you know the address of our brother Levy in order to write to him about all this. She died eight days ago. I am sick with weeping; all my thoughts go towards our dear mother. Make a note that she died on the 8th of Chebhât.[*3]

I greet you, and hug you, as does my son Jacques. My dears, do not forget to write to us. My sister Paola has sent some things for my son. I will send you some photos of him.

I hug you with all my heart; your sister Esther at Jacques. Please reply at once. My best wishes to my sister-in-law and to your child.

Your sister.

[*3] Which we would write as Shvat.

The map above has Krzepice in the centre and Praszka at 10 o'clock; click here for an enlargable version and you will see Praszka in the centre with Krzepice only a handful of miles away, at 4 o'clock. 

The deportation was presumably the first stage of the mass round-up of Jews, whose second phase was the creation of the Lodz ghetto. According to websites that I have browsed, about 40% of the population of Krzepice at that time was Jewish. Mayer Hersh is not family, merely a fellow descendant of those few of Praszka's Jews who outlived the Holocaust. I have placed this on this date because, as far as I can make out from the letters, this was the date on which their mother, Mayer's grandmother, Shaindel Herszkowicz (nee Neisner) - 
זיכרונה לברכהdied.

The final pages of the original letter, in Polish, and Maurice's translation, are below:

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