Introduction to the Judaica Center’s Online Archive of World War II Letters

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More than 60 years passed since the end of World War II ended, and the time has been mercilessly erasing the war memory. The participants and witnesses of the events are passing away, and the documents of the distant time are disappearing. Among these documents, letters from the frontline and back are the most moving and tangible pieces of evidence.

These are old and yellowed sheets of paper of various size preserving the “smell” of the past, moods and feelings of people, the conditions almost impossible to survive. It is these documents that can help us to add missing details to the picture of that terrible time, which must be preserved in the memory of generations.

Such a task is very difficult because so few witnesses and documents of those times have left to this day. Moreover, they are so scattered, and many people do not even remember that they had them somewhere in their houses. So even to collect the letters is not easy, not to mention the fact that they should be copied, processed by means of modern digital technologies, deciphered and described, and so turned into a publicly accessible online archive.

Still, someone had to do it!

It was Judaica Center that was ready to engage into this project and received a grant from the Claims Conference for its implementation.

Today, the Center has a digital array of letters containing nearly 2,500 units, and it is going to expand.

This is just a start of large and complex work as only an initial array of documents, which need to be deciphered and possibly commented, are available now. But it is a quite a serious start!

The letters are different in shape (“triangles,” pieces of paper, handmade envelopes, “official” cards etc.) and contents (short messages with “I’m alive and feel good”; tender declarations of love; long “political information,” accounts of the situation on the frontline and portraits of friends, always with censored, and much more).

Whatever they are, they always contain unique details of terrible war reality: longing for loved ones, thoughts, and hopes of victory (not dictated by the commissars, but real!).

They cannot be read without emotional involvement and “immersion” into the era, into the circumstances described, and into the fates of the authors. They engulf, excite, and disturb you. They engage you completely.

What a joy you feel reading: “My dear! Don’t write more to this address. I’ve got the account and go home.” And how terrible you feel stumbling upon a death notice!

To collect letters means to save from oblivion the memory of many people who wrote them and of those who were dear to them!

So we want to thank all the individuals and organizations who have handed us (and hopefully, will hand in the future) with documents for the Archive.

We know that the work on the collection and processing of letters is being done at the Russian Research and Educational Holocaust Center, in Israel, at the Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center of Tel Aviv University, by Dr. Leonid Smilovitsky, and also, probably, in many other places. We know about Ilya Altman’s continuing publication Save My Letters. And we do hope that, in due time, all these projects will “converge” and will become the basis for a serious publication.

The center is ready for cooperation with everyone interested.

When using the materials presented, please use the copyright:

© The Center for the Studies of History and Culture of East European Jewry.

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