How Survivors Began Their Lives Again in the Wake of the Holocaust

November 10, 2015 | Yardena Schwartz
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A few years ago, researchers at Yad Vashem began a project to collect and examine letters and other items sent by survivors in the immediate aftermath of the Shoah. Yad Vashem will publish a book with translations of these letters next year. Among them is a poignant missive from one Tzipora Shapiro, liberated from Auschwitz in 1945. Yardena Schwartz writes:

“At long last,” Shapiro wrote on February 15, 1946, in her first letter as a free woman, “I’m hurrying to send you a living word from a dead world.”

After telling her cousin, Ruzhe, that she had survived while her parents and the rest of her family had died, Shapiro wrote:

How could I justify to you that I left the lions’ den intact, that I saw fiery furnaces, red flames in the skies? That I saw thousands of people led daily to the gas chambers, not knowing what awaited them in ten minutes; that I saw sheaves of sparks and tongues of fire, and sometimes even part of a roasted hand bursting forth from a gigantic chimney; that I stood naked daily at roll call for the Selektion, and the SS man, as if to anger me, sent me back to the camp and didn’t take me to the oven . . . and [I offered] a huge prayer, a stubborn prayer for divine benevolence, for death.

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