From the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre

Mauer Zarkower Family Correspondence, by Cornelia Strickler

The Mauer and Zarkower family correspondence is a collection of letters and postcards written between 1939 and 1948 by members of three Polish families, who were all related by marriage.

When I was first asked to sort those letters, two questions came to my mind: first, are these personal letters really interesting historically and second, how will I sort them when I don’t understand the slightest word of Polish?

Soon, my questions were answered.  The file contained translations of some of the letters. I read them and learned about the story of different family members, some who had immigrated to Canada or the United States before the war, some who lived in Poland and one who had left Poland only to go back months before the beginning of World War II.

I learned what happened to the families during the Nazi occupation of Poland; how some members of those families had been shot in the head during “actions” (round-ups of Jews), while others had succeeded to escape and survive.

Step by step I acquainted myself with the different handwritings, signatures and some Polish word such as “Kochani” (My dears) or “Lipca” (July).  I felt a little bit like a graphologist and every time I could identify the sender without a signature it was a small victory.  It wasn’t always easy.  For example, for more than an hour I sorted letters according to what I thought was the name of the sender… before realizing it was a Polish word meaning “Yours”!

Some of the letters were marked with a letter and number, signs that someone had attempted to organize the correspondence.  Unfortunately, this classification did not follow a specific order.  It was neither chronological, nor did the numbers match any specific name.  Finding no logical previous order, I decided to organize the correspondence according to the names of the senders.  I classified letters, first by the last name of the sender, then by first name and finally chronologically.  In the end, I had five letter folders: the Mauers; the Perlsteins; the Zarkowers, one with various senders and one with unidentified senders.  A second series contains postcards that are also organized by name and date.

This mission was like an investigation; it took a lot of observation to find and understand names, dates and places.  The letters give us a glimpse of the personal stories and dilemmas of Jewish families living on two continents during dangerous and hopeless times.  By 1945, only a handful of family members were still alive in Europe and were able to be reunited with their relatives in North America.

 Cornelia Strickler is a volunteer at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre.  She helps with cataloguing and documentation of new accessions.

2 Comments to “From the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre”

  1. Marion says:

    What an experience to try to sort through the signposts of so many connected souls. It must have been surreal at times.On the one hand you did’t know what they were telling each other yet you treated their letters with reverence and a deeply felt sense of mission that the stories showing through all of these messages must be preserved for those who can understand the words only too well.

  2. Outstanding article once again!! Thanks a lot!

Leave a Comment