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Fate Did Not Let Me Go

A Letter from Valli Ollendorff to Her Son

Letter

By: Valli Ollendorff

Date: August 24, 1942

Source: Ollendorff, Valli. "Fate Did Not Let Me Go." Tenafly, N.J.: Ollendorff Center for Religious and Human Understanding, 1942.

About the Author: Valli Ollendorff (1874–1942) was born in Breslau, Germany as Valli Alexander, a woman of Jewish descent. She married Doctor Arthur Ollendorff in 1936 with whom she had three sons, Gerhard, Ulrich and Wolfgang. Arrested by the Nazis in August of 1942, Valli Ollendorf was sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp and was killed on October 16, 1942. Her second son, Ulrich, was the only member of the family to survive the holocaust.

INTRODUCTION

The letter below was written by Valli Ollendorff to her middle son, Ulrich, on August 24, 1942, during the Second World War. Ulrich had previously fled Nazi Germany to the United States, while his mother remained behind with other family members. Just days after composing these words, she was sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where she died on October 16, 1942. The letter was lost in transit and eventually was found, forty-three years later in South America, and delivered to Ulrich Ollendorff when he was seventy-nine years old. Upon Ulrich's death in 1998, the Ollendorff family asked that the letter be read publicly at his funeral. The touching words of love from mother to son, in the midst of war and hatred, were an inspiration to those who heard them. Recognizing the extraordinary power of the letter and its story, Valli Ollendorff's descendents established the Ollendorff Center for Religious and Human Understanding and published the letter in a book for public access. Proceeds raised by the sale of the book go to non-profit agencies working for the promotion of human rights and religious tolerance around the world.

PRIMARY SOURCE

Tormensdorf—24th day of August, 1942.

My beloved, my good boy, within two days we are going away from here, and the future lies so dark in front of us that the thought comes up that the new place will be the last one which we reach on our migration. And if you my boy will hold this letter in your hands, then we are not chased from place to place, then all the suffering will have an end. Also, the restlessness and peace will be around us and in us.

Be happy that I have this rest and this peace, my good boy, and don't be too sad. Believe me, this is the best that could happen. I was, anyway, at the end of my life and the mother which you knew, my beloved son, was not any more the same.

Too much suffering, too much psychological pain and stress came over me, and I cannot get over Wolfgang's death which will be one year on the 27th of August. The suffering gets bigger day by day. The letters that I received from his friends speak of him with so much honor, friendship, respect and affection.

The letters show me only what he became and still could have become and achieved, and how much joy, spiritual wealth and wisdom he had and passed onto others. His letters to his father and me contained touching gratitude for his childhood and youth.

Also, you, my beloved boy, can carry the knowledge through your life that you through all your life were a source of purest joy for your parents, and that you, even in the times in which you like other boys of the same age were difficult, never gave your character cause for annoyance or hurt feelings. I wish your life will go from success to success, my beloved boy, and that you stay so good, so modest, and so grateful for all the good and beautiful things like you did already as a child. We wish for you to have with your child as much joy as we had with you. May the blessings, which I pray for you, come.

And I wish to your Anne, your loyal life partner, with whom you brought us a beloved daughter in our home, and your child a happy and joyful life together. The fact that I could not be a witness to your life in America was much more sad for me than you believed it my boy. All your letters born by a deep child's love called me to you and the joy of seeing you again, and the echo of the longing, and the possibility of living with you caused that I did all that was necessary to come to you.

If I did not write so often from all of my longing for you, it was done from love to you, because I believed it was better for you. Also, today I repeat to you and I know that you will understand me, I was and I am daily happy even longing very much for you and your life.

However, fate did not let me go. I was a necessity for Aunt Ella and I think that will console you. I wish it so very much. And now my beloved boy, I will take leave from you. I will thank you a thousand times for all the love, for all the gratitude, for all the joy and sunshine which you brought into your father's and my life, starting from the day of your birth. May the memory of your parent's house and your childhood shine like a bright lucky star over you, my beloved, good, precious boy.

                                             Mother.

SIGNIFICANCE

In the period from 1939 to 1945, six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis as a part of Adolph Hitler's "final solution" to exterminate Europe's Jewish population. Hitler's victims faced the terrible conditions of concentration camps, starvation, cruel experiments, beatings, executions and the separation of families. The Holocaust, or Shoah, is generally regarded as the single largest genocide in modern history and it has left its mark on thousands of survivors, their families and descendents.

Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933. Almost immediately, the persecution of Jews and revocation of their civil rights began. Jews were prohibited from owning land (1933), denied national health insurance (1934), prohibited from serving in the military (1935), banned from employment in a range of professional occupations such as medicine, dentistry, accounting, teaching and law (1937–1938). The Nazis also implemented a range of policies to ensure that Jews could be easily identified, including the requirement for Jewish women to add the name 'Sarah' and Jewish men to add the name 'Israel' to their given name on legal identification and passports (1938), stamping a large red 'J' on the passports of Jews (1938) and requiring all Jews over the age of ten to wear a yellow star on their clothing (Polish Jews in 1939 and German Jews in 1941).

Germany invaded and occupied Poland in September of 1939, subjecting Polish Jews to the same restrictions of freedoms and revocations of citizenship rights. In early 1940, Hitler began the deportation of German Jews into occupied Poland, stripping them of their possessions, forcing them to live in ghettos and participate in hard labor. By 1941, France, Holland, Belgium, Croatia, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary were under the Nazi regime. Concentration camps had been established across Germany and Poland. In 1941, the Nazi government established the first death camp at Chelmno, Poland. Jews in concentration camps were forced into hard labor, many died of disease, starvation, or maltreatment. The death camps, however, were established for rapid and immediate execution. Most who arrived at the death camps were dead a day after their arrival. The largest of the extermination camps was Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. Mass executions of Jews and other minority groups at the Auschwitz facility began in earnest in January of 1942 by means of asphyxiation using Zyklon-B gas. By the time Auschwitz was liberated in January of 1945, an estimated two million people had been executed at the camp.

The voices and stories of many Jewish victims have been silenced forever, lost to history—many survivors and descendents have no idea how their family members died, what they were thinking and feeling and what they endured. The voices of women, with the notable exception of Anne Frank and her famous diary, are particularly absent in historical accounts of the Holocaust. For example, it is known that some Jewish women were forced into brothels at concentration camps, but what exactly happened to them and how they were treated, is largely unrecorded. Valli Ollendorff's letter to her son is particularly poignant in its candid description of her emotional experience as she faced impending death at the hands of the Nazis. The letter offers a snapshot of one victim's journey as a testament to the suffering of many and stands as a memorial for Holocaust victims and as a rebuttal to those who deny its reality.

To honor the memory of Valli Ollendorff, her grandson Stephen A. Ollendorff established the Ollendorff Center for Religious and Human Understanding. The organization is dedicated to promoting religious tolerance and human rights and the elimination of anti-Semitism. One notable undertaking of the Center is the Menorah Project, which endeavours to rebuild relations between Jews and Christians and to unite people of all faiths in remembering the events of the Holocaust. Monuments, crafted by Israeli sculptor Aharon Bezalel, in the shape of the Menorah (a ceremonial candelabra) have been erected at Catholic Centers across North America, recognizing the efforts of Pope John Paul II (1920–2005) to fight anti-Semitism through rebuilding diplomatic relations with Israel and issuing a statement emphasizing the non-culpability of the Jewish people in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Ollendorff Center also provides resources to educate children about the Holocaust and about the dangers of prejudice.

In the aftermath of the tragic events of the Second World War, the international community has made efforts toward preventing further abuses of human rights. The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created in 1948 as a direct response to the Holocaust and the Nazi dehumanization of Jews. The Nuremburg Trials were also held to prosecute Nazi officers who were instrumental in perpetrating the genocide of European Jews.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Dwork, Deborah, ed. Voices & Views: A History of the Holocaust. The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, 2002.

Headland, Ronald. So Others Will Remember: Holocaust History and Survivor Testimony. Véhicule Press, 1999.

Ofer, Dalia and Lenore J. Weitzman, eds. Women in the Holocaust. Yale University Press, 1998.

Tec, Nechama. Resilience and Courage: Women, Men, and the Holocaust. Yale University Press, 2003.

Periodicals

Levy, Daniel and Natan Sznaider. "The institutionalization of cosmopolitan morality: the Holocaust and human rights." Journal of Human Rights. 3(2) (2004): 143-157.

Popkin, Jeremy D. "Holocaust Memories, Historians' Memoirs: First-Person Narrative and the Memory of the Holocaust." History & Memory. 15(1) (2003): 49-84.

Web sites

United Nations. "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." December 10, 1948. 〈http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html〉 (accessed May 5, 2006).

Fate Did Not Let Me Go

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