Kurt Klein's Story
From July 1937, when Kurt Klein emigrated to the United States, until August 1942, when his parents Alice and Ludwig Klein were deported to Auschwitz, the family exchanged hundreds of letters. Many of them documented the older Kleins' constant struggle to join their children in America. In the late 1980s Kurt began translating this correspondence. You can read excerpts from some of these letters in chronological order below.
Chronology and Letters
1937 June -- Kurt Klein, aged 17, arrives in America. He begins working towards bringing his parents to the U.S.
1938 October 10 -- The Nazis take over Ludwig Klein's business.
Walldorf, October 16, 1938
It was gratifying to hear from you again this week, always a joyous occasion. Despite the fact that you have to work so hard, we are of course glad that you do have work. It would be far worse, were it otherwise.
With God's help you'll remain healthy; only I must often think how beautiful it would be if we could create a warm atmosphere for you that you could come back to after your daily labors. Hopefully, that day will come, although at the moment there is precious little hope as far as the American consulate is concerned...
I don't know how word got out that Father is no longer working. To be sure, it won't be long before that is the case. Our business was taken over [by Aryans] on the 10th of this month, but Father is presently busy as Mrs. S.'s private secretary. Despite all that, we would be satisfied, if things got no worse. Therefore, your worries about our finances are unnecessary for the time being...
One can't help but envy each and everyone who reaches that stage [of being able to emigrate.] Not that one imagines everything will be beautiful and worry-free abroad. After all, we don't want to delude ourselves about everything that might be in store for us there. The main thing would be to be reunited with you, to be active again and to work with you. Once we would be freed of these onerous problems [in Germany] and all the unpleasantness, we could create a life with renewed vigor and one that would be modest and without any demands.
[The letter continues with details concerning the Kleins' imminent move from their home, which they had been forced to sell. It details their anguish over certain decisions, i.e., whether to stay on throughout the winter months, mostly without adequate heat, or whether to move to shabby quarters immediately, while the opportunity still existed. They would be sharing the new premises with another couple who were also about to be evicted because a Nazi woman wanted their place. The letter includes a veiled reference to a "Mr. Darkner," meaning the dark uniform of the SS. This was the Kleins' way of telling their children that the SS would make life intolerable for the other couple if they didn't move.]
1938 November 9 -- "Kristallnacht," The Night of Broken Glass. Alice and Ludwig Klein's home is badly damaged during the pogrom. Ludwig is arrested, but released after a few days because of his age. (He is over 60.) The U.S. consulate in Stuttgart is besieged by people trying to leave Germany. Consular officials give Ludwig and Alice a waiting number indicating that 22,344 cases are ahead of them.
November 14, 1938
I want to used this opportunity to add a few lines. We hope that you got our postcard of November 12 and our excitement has subsided somewhat since then. We trust that you can do something for us over there in the near future, which would serve to calm down Mother especially. We're sure you'll let us hear something about that soon. Regards to all the relatives and many to you, straight from the heart, your Father
November 14, 1938
I want to used this opportunity to add a few lines. We hope that you got our postcard of November 12 and our excitement has subsided somewhat since then. We trust that you can do something for us over there in the near future, which would serve to calm down Mother especially. We're sure you'll let us hear something about that soon. Regards to all the relatives and many to you, straight from the heart, your
November 14, 1938
Today we want to supplement the brief postcards we sent last Saturday to repeat that, thank God, we are well and lively and -- something that is the cause of our greatest gratitude-- Father is back [after being jailed on Kristallnacht] and has taken up his current activities again. The one thing we are once more urgently asking today is that our American relatives do something for us after all....
In case we can't have our own apartment over there, then we'll simply find work. That wouldn't be too difficult, even if it means minimum rations. I'm sorry to have to write you in that vein today, but I'm still too upset. And I ask you dear Kurt, not to get excited over this; after all, there'll be another day which, God willing, will dawn soon.
[Much of the rest of the letter details the departure plans of friends and relatives who had managed to find a way of leaving Germany.]
Walldorf, November 21, 1938
My Dear Children,
So as to get this letter to reach the steamship on time, I've combined these lines to both of you. Despite all good intentions, I couldn't write any sooner and now it's late at night -- but I hope there is sufficient time to make it. I couldn't write to Kurt as much as usual either, because yesterday (Sunday) we were in Karlsruhe for a few hours and now I simply lack that time.
As long as you can see that we are OK, thank God, and besides, we trust our recent letter and card came into you possession. We missed your mail this week and presume that it's only a matter of lack of time on your part also.
We heard in Karlsruhe [at my father's brother Eugen's home] that Fred was able to talk to Trude [Fred, Eugen's son, was living in Buffalo; Trude, Fred's sister, was living in London] and we fervently hope that you, also, got some of that news. We really felt compelled to go to Karlsruhe, if for a short time, in order to have a real discussion with them. There was a lot to tell each other. They are in the fortunate position, if all goes well, to go to Trude in about 3 weeks. There, they will be able to stay for 4 weeks, after which they will continue their journey to the U.S.
I hope you'll be able to see them in New York on their arrival, also because I will send a number of things with them that are meant for you. Of course, we would much prefer to go with them. As much as it is to be wished for each individual that it should become possible to leave it is equally regretful for those who must stay behind. We wonder whether we'll ever be in that enviable position!
[Much of the rest of the letter describes plans various friends and relatives have for leaving Germany.]
Walldorf, November 27, 1938
We assume you received our most recent letter, and I want to dash off a few lines so that you will not be apprehensive about us. I assure you that we are in the best of health. Gerdi let us know yesterday that Uncle Ben will send papers [an affidavit] for us by Monday, Nov. 21 and we hope that we'll receive them during the next few days. Presumably I will travel to Stuttgart this coming week in order to handle some immigration matters for Mrs. S. at the consulate which will afford me an opportunity to inquire about our state of affairs. Gerdi altogether sent us 2 post cards and a letter this weekend, from which we could gather how tremendously upset and concerned about us she was. We hope that our mail arrived meanwhile and was able to pacify her.
Yesterday afternoon, a Saturday, we were in Heidelberg where we learned that Hilde Klein [niece] already received her papers from Aunt Carrie and forwarded them to Stuttgart immediately...
Guenther Schwarz will move to Chicago meanwhile and his brother to Nice. Hans Seligmann will be on his way to New York by Dec. 28. All conversations revolve only about when and where one can go; Frischs are sitting in Prague and don't know where to go from there. Richard and Klaerle are in the same fix, and Durlachers will leave this coming week, although he is not back yet [from detention]. Also, the ladies Hess will leave here shortly. Hans will leave Walldorf on Dec. 12 and will go to their relatives in Frankfurt, for the time being...
Ruth Weil will now go to England with a children's transport, after all. What will happen to her mother after that is still a problematical riddle. This will give you some concept of how our congregation here is fast evaporating...
Everything else Mother will report to you, and so I close for today in the hope of hearing something favorable from you soon. Regards to all relatives, but especially to you,
Walldorf, Dec. 10, 1938
Although no news came from you this week, I do want to send you a few lines in order to report our well-being, so that you will not be agitated about us. On the other hand, we did have a post card from Max and Sue yesterday, from Kurt the usual letter, and from Aunt Carrie [a cousin, or second cousin of Father's who had been living in Buffalo since before the turn of the century] a very nice letter. It moves us, what empathy the latter shows for us and how actively she is trying to get all the relatives out of here.
Unfortunately things aren't moving that fast, however, even if you have the best of papers. At present, the [American] Consulate in Stuttgart is being besieged to such an extent that only those with a waiting number under 7000 are being admitted to the building. We, ourselves are no. 22, 345 and inasmuch as the consulate issues only 11,000 visas per year, you can figure for yourself how long it will take until we'll be asked to appear there. [It actually took more than two years.]
There remains only one other way out, i.e. that one does as Uncle Eugen did [obtain permission to spend the waiting period in another country]. For that one needs an additional guarantor, however, who would issue the documents for the country in question. I'm certain you'll try to achieve our leaving soonest, through all the appropriate authorities on your end.
We are eager to get your next letter and hope that you'll have received all our letters of the past few weeks by now. I hope that you are well and that everything is all right with you, always. Accept my most heartfelt greetings for today,
from your Father
Walldorf, January 22, 1939
My Dear Gerdi,
Yesterday your card of Jan. 11 came, together with a letter from Kurt, from which we were pleased to note that both of you are well...
All in all, it takes infinitely long until matters of emigration move forward. Everybody is in a state of waiting, hoping at the same time to be pleasantly surprised in that regard from this side and that. But one mustn't permit oneself to let it become discouraging. So far, we haven't forwarded our [immigration] papers to [the American consulate in] Stuttgart, because we wanted to wait for Mr. Wismann's answer. [Probably their U.S. lawyer] Aside from that, nobody was allowed to make an appearance there for the past week. However, you might accomplish something [on your end] on the basis of the enclosed document!
I mentioned previously that we settled in well into our new home [They had been forced out of their home by the Nazis and were now living above a former stable in an old house that belonged to a friend's parents.] and I can confirm again today that we made it real cozy for ourselves meanwhile. The housework is child's play for me and these days I do get around to doing some needlework. [Having been deprived of any gainful pursuits by that time, Mother had a lot of "spare" time.] There is always diversion of various kinds for us and we enjoy even more amenities than before. You see, Mrs. S. has a full house and there are always visitors, while at the same time she has to be out-of-town for the greater part, all of which is connected with the arrangements for her gentlemen's emigration. We can only learn from her in every way, even if one is in reduced circumstances.
We still have access to our former house for which extensive renovation is being planned. We're certain it'll look very beautiful, but the cost is not small. The [people in our] old neighborhood are still attached to us as before, such as the Foersters, Hermanns, Kempfs and others as well. They are always ready to talk to us [in sharp contrast to most of the other townspeople who didn't want to be seen 'fraternizing' with Jews] and Anna Koppert [a former maid during my childhood years] and a few others come to see us here also and bring us edibles even though we could get them anyway.
Today we sold our bathtub/hot water heater which still stand in their former room. Next are bookcase, desk, dresser and grandfather's clock. All these things are too massive to take along [when the hoped-for emigration comes]. Last Wednesday, I went to Mannheim for a change after a year's absence, where I bought a number of pretty things. Among them are 3 sets of embroidered bed linens with pillows for your quilts. I will order them monogrammed I.K. [Irmgard Klein, Gerdi's real name] right way... I await your decision, dear Gerdi, whether you'd like the pillows for your quilts to be covered with the same silk as well. Or let me know what else you might need for a dowry, because I'd like to acquire it right away and be sure that it's done American-style. I would feel badly -- and you, no doubt also -- if I would buy something that wouldn't be practical. What type of underwear shall I get for Father? I can get shirts and nightshirts through Mrs. S., from Frankfurt, first-rate material and fashioned according to American patterns.
[The rest of the letter is missing.]
1939 Winter and Spring -- Without adequate financial resources themselves, the Klein children work desperately hard to find someone willing to sign affidavits of support for their parents. Finally they find a relative to sign an affidavit, but before the visa can be approved, this benefactor dies. The Kleins have to start the process all over again.
Walldorf, February 25, 1940
My Dear Children,
Today I'm going to write a combined letter to all of you for a change, hoping that I can count on your understanding and that you, dear Gerdi and Guenther, will forward it to Max, Suse and Kurt. This time I really don't have enough material so I could write each one of you a separate sheet. Unfortunately, we're still not in any position today to answer any of your mail and nothing has happened meanwhile which would be of great interest to you. The main thing is always that, thank God, we can report our well-being, which we do with these lines also, something we know you will prefer to hear above all.
The cold spell appears to have given way to the spring-like sunshine we've been experiencing for the past few days and the severity of the weather lasted exactly 2 months; it was a winter that was quite something to cope with. But this, too, we'll hopefully have overcome by now and so we trust that dear Auntie's disease will therefore progress satisfactorily. Along those lines, we want to hope for the best, rather than to take the doctor's prognosis which has it that with the start of the warmer season, [her] suffering will intensify!!!
[Kurt's mother's reference apparently slipped by the censor, because what she meant by "Auntie" of course was the code word for the Nazis' behavior toward Jews. Thus, the "disease" was anti-Semitism and the prognosis of the "doctor" really referred to rumors of a worsening situation for the Jews, once spring came.]
1940 Winter -- By the end of 1939, the affidavits the Klein children have secured for their parents have expired. By June they manage to secure new affidavits from Lucille Walker, an American-born cousin of Ludwig Klein's.
Walldorf, February 26, 1940
I hope you came into possession of our most recent letters, whereas we still are lacking any kind of news from you. In case you didn't receive our last communication, I would like to ask you again to see to it that we get the new papers as soon as possible. The consulate has already notified us to furnish them.
Other than that, I hope that all of you are well which is the case here. In anticipation of hearing from you real soon, I remain with heartfelt regards, also to all the relatives, your
Walldorf, June 2, 1940
My Dear Children,
We hope you came into possession of our most recent letter which, although addressed to Max, was meant for all of you and we want to confirm once more that we finally received the affidavits [of support], which pleases us immensely. This is especially so, inasmuch as we can get an idea from your papers what all you have striven for and achieved, for which we owe you all due respect. Father was able to read nearly everything, except for an occasional word that he looked up and it is simply astonishing how good those documents are when it comes to vouching for us. This was already reflected in the certification the Consulate sent us. Of course, we are extremely glad about that and want to express our most heartfelt thanks to you once more, in particular also to Lucille Walker and her husband. If only it had been God's will that they would have spelled success for us earlier, but we want to be satisfied with this state of affairs also, as long as we can remain in good health and generally all right. We would like it very much if it still comes to the point where you can accept our personal thanks for this!...
1940 June 26 -- Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long outlines ways in which consulates can indefinitely postpone granting visas. "We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas."
Walldorf August 25, 1940
A few days ago, we received the following notice from the American Consulate in Stuttgart:
"Due to a change of circumstances, it is now necessary to reassess those immigration applications that had already been approved, as being insufficient. In many cases, this approval will, undoubtedly, have to be rescinded. We are therefore advising you not to make any preparations for such a trip or, if you have already made such steamship reservations, to cancel them until you hear from this consulate again. That should avoid financial losses for you or your guarantors.
American Vice Consul"
As you can see, our emigration will not go as fast as imagined and we regret you will be disappointed. In any case, the journey via Russia - Japan [which was one escape route they had considered] will no longer be possible. It is totally uncertain whether or when such a possibility will exist again. The steamship lines via Lisbon or Pyraeus are no longer open from here, inasmuch as there are no transit visas through Switzerland and Italy at the moment...
1940 Fall -- After no word from his parents for several weeks, Kurt learns from Swiss relatives that his parents Alice and Ludwig have been deported at an hour's notice to unoccupied France. They are being housed in separate barracks in a detention camp called Gurs. In his first letter to his children, Ludwig Klein urges his sons and daughter to send food or money.
[This was Ludwig Klein's first letter to his children after he and his wife were deported to Camp de Gurs.]
Camp de Gurs, Basses Pyrenées
Ilot E, Baraque 26
October 30, 1940
News of the fate that has overtaken us must have reached you. The fact is, we are so far still quite well and hope that it will remain that way. If it would at all be possible for you to send us some money or food, it would be most welcome. Mother will surely write you separately; she is also quartered here in the vicinity and we can see each other and talk from time to time.
This letter is also meant for Max and Kurt so please forward it to them. It is still uncertain whether and how long we will stay here, as is everything that the future holds for us. We trust that all is well with you. I will write soon again. Take my most heartfelt regards for now,
PS Uncle Bernhard, Heinrich and Sigmund, along with their families, are also here.
Ilot E, Baraque 26
Camp de Gurs, Basses Pyrenées, December 13, 1940
Your lines of Nov. 15 reached us only now, but they gave us enormous pleasure. Many thanks for the two remittances of Ffrs. 431 each (of which 418 were actually paid out.) Also, my heartiest thanks for the announced packages. I can only hope they'll arrive soon. There is also supposed to be a package in transit, about which we received word from an address in Geneva not known to us. Unfortunately, people from Switzerland can only send food packages of the type that contain unrationed items. Here in France, everything is rationed, too, and you can only buy such items as chestnuts, figs, apples, etc., but neither butter nor cheese and meat and sausage are in very short supply. What they are giving us is barely sufficient.
No doubt you received our most recent letters meanwhile and gleaned all details from them; and I'm sure you'll have taken all necessary steps toward our emigration. Getting out of here will be a slow process, however. Everything takes much too long and is too complicated. On one hand, they are always holding out hope to us, on the other, we are prisoners here for the time being without any real idea of how to get out of this situation.
Dear Max, you ask what exactly we need money for, and I want to comment in that regard that our food consists of the following: in the morning, a little bit of black, so-called coffee. At noontime, a thin soup, mostly made of carrots and beets. In the evening, coffee or tea again and 260 grams of bread which must last the entire next day. That's not enough for anybody to subsist on, quite aside from everything else we are lacking. In view of that, it is understandable that we do have expenses.
By the way, for the time being you needn't send us any more money, at least until we ask for it. Because there is a general shortage of medical supplies, we have a great deal of illness here and we therefore have to take special care not to fall ill. Thank God we're all right, healthwise, so far and hope to continue to get through the short winter here the same way.
Do take good care of yourselves, too, and send us a sign of life soon again. Regards to all the relatives, as well as to yourselves,
1940 November -- The Kleins hope that the paperwork for their visa application will be forwarded from the consulate in Stuttgart to the one in Marseilles, but they worry that they may have to begin the application process all over again.
Camp de Gurs, Basses Pyrenées
Ilot E, Baraque 26
15 November, 1940
In reply to your cable of Nov. 10, I answered today, as follows: [In French] "ask Consulate in Stuttgart to send affidavits to Marseilles."
Because we no longer can write to Germany, I am asking that you do it for us. The Jewish Aid Society has initiated its activities here, however nothing will move that quickly and we will be glad if our case will come up by next spring, providing the authorities in the U.S. will issue the proper directives. Otherwise all will be in vain. [Perhaps a reference, among other obstacles, to the fact that their affidavits would expire by spring.]
It is to be hoped you received my letter of last week, as well as those from Mother. I have not seen the latter in about 2 weeks, but news from her reaches me almost daily...May God compensate you for all the sacrifices you are compelled to bring in our behalf...
So far I have not been able to meet Uncle Sigmund, whereas I saw Bernhard twice up to now. [Concluding phrases and wishes.]
1941 The Kleins work furiously throughout the year to obtain the paperwork they need to emigrate to the U.S. To be granted an American visa, the Kleins have to have proof of passage to America in addition to the affidavits of support. Three times in 1941 they book their passage. Each time they are unable to secure their visas before the ship departs.
1941 April -- Ludwig Klein is transferred to the concentration camp Les Milles, which is closer to Marseilles and makes it easier for him to work on his visa application.
Ilot I, Bar. 12
Basses-Pyrenées March 10, 1941
My Dear Children,
We hope you came into possession of our various letters, especially the ones of last week, because they contained the confirmation that the documents went to Marseilles and that passage has been booked. I am repeating this because one never knows whether all of those letters arrived. The most recent ones from you are of Jan. 24 and 29 and we are now again awaiting further news from you. We are also expecting the decision from Marseilles [American consulate] and, as we found out, those papers are allegedly already here at the camp headquarters [Kommandantur]. Therefore, it can only be a matter of 8-10 days until we'll get the call [to go to Marseilles]. Father was already put on the list [of men going to Marseilles] yesterday. Almost daily, people are able to leave here, partly on an individual basis, i.e. those who intend to go to the U.S.A. The women go to Marseilles and the gentlemen to Les Milles! Children's transports, as well as childless couples, are also being delayed for another 8-10 days. Thus, progress is being made only very slowly.
From what we hear, the camps--or whatever other sites exist for ladies--are supposed to be overcrowded to such an extent that there isn't going to be any room until further notice. At the same time, the ban on parcel and money remittances is only going to be lifted a few days from now, according to reports. Therefore, we are in hopes that the $15 of which you notified us already a few weeks ago, will finally be paid out. Most of the people are bemoaning the delay, as is also the case with the many food shipments which have already been expected from the U.S. for such a long time. Not only that we are badly in need of all that, but we regret as well that you have to sacrifice so much hard-earned money, whereas we unfortunately may never have the benefit of it. The surest way is still via Lisbon, from where daily shipments are arriving. Perhaps you can try this route once more, although by the time this reaches you and something is actually sent off, we hopefully won't be here anymore. Father was already twice on the list of men to go to Les Milles--regrettably without me--and the women will have to go to Marseilles, as I mentioned. I feel doubly bad that in such a case I won't be able to take care of Father any more the way I'm doing it from here.
In recent times, I've been able to send him some meals I prepared which naturally taste very good to him. We also were allowed to visit each other 2 to 3 times, something that will be impossible there because of the distances. In spite of that, we are glad to get one step closer and, God willing, the rest will then fall into place, so that we may soon begin to think of early emigration.
How is Aunt Carrie and all the other relatives? Please extend our regards. Dear Kurt, please do write again about your activity and how you are spending the rest of your time. Everything will be of interest to us. The same goes for you, Gerdi, Guenther, Max and Suse. Do give our regards to all your friends and acquaintances, especially to Aunt Alma, Erich and Margot. If only the Munich and Frankfurt families, along with all others, can go to the U.S., instead of having to set off on another type of journey. [i.e. one that would take them to Auschwitz.]
Inasmuch as Father also wants to add to this, I'll close for now and remain with my most deeply-felt regards and kisses, your loving
As Mother already mentioned, I have the prospect of moving on to an emigration camp near Marseilles, although the outlook for a departure [to the U.S.] is minimal. The [American] consulate is swamped and the processing goes very slowly. In addition, all ships' bookings are taken up until the end of July. According to regulations, only people with passports can travel via Lisbon, while the others would have to go by way of Martinique which requires travel of 6 to 8 weeks duration. Dear Max, can you not intercede with the steamship line to request that their Marseilles representative instigate everything that is necessary for an early departure at the consulate? At the moment, only those who have received a summons from the consulate can even ask for information along those lines.
Yesterday, I visited Mother, where I also met with Uncle Bernhard and his ladies. The latter make a frightful appearance and completely let themselves go. Both of us are in good shape, thank goodness, and hopefully, the same holds true for you. Yesterday, I was notified by a French bank that Ffrs. 431 [$10] are on the way again, for which we send our very best thanks. For now, take my warmest regards, to all of you, as well as the relatives, from your,
1941 June -- American Consul in Marseilles cabled to the State Department that the Kleins' visa case is approved, but it's too late to reach the liner that is sailing in July.
Camp de Gurs
Ilot I, Bar. 12
June 4, 1941
My Dear Children,
I was quite convinced to be able to report pleasant news of our early emigration today, but instead we find that the prospects for that are ever diminishing. You too will have become aware of that through Father's cable and I'm sure you're better informed than we about the present situation. Unfortunately, today's report by Father is nothing less than hopeless. For that reason, there is absolutely no use to wallow in great expectations, all of which would only lead to new disappointments over and over again. None of us can alter one iota of the entire situation and we must accept it as it comes. We cling to the thought that with God's help the day of a reunion may yet come soon; we already have so much behind us that we will, God willing, overcome this too in good health.
As you may be aware, we have a notice to appear at the [American] consulate on June 24, and can only hope that after that the possibility of a departure will still exist. We are anxious to hear what your cabled answer will be, dear Max. People stop by daily, all of them in the same situation, and all of them believing that they'll be able to attain their goal sooner through your intervention [at the travel bureau where he worked]. And one person clings to the next, asking for advice. All the while, we don't even know how to help ourselves. How happy it would make us to be at that point ourselves!...
I got still another letter from Mr. Thalheimer who notified me that I can expect remittance of Ffrs, 900 [approx. $20] Do take our most heartfelt thanks for it, dear Children! It would be of interest to us to find out by what route you made this remittance. Thus far, nothing has been delivered on this end and it is too bad that these days only Ffrs 400 are being paid out every two weeks. I am also still in the dark about the previous two remittances of $10 each. Did you remit them via the same route as well -- or how else, dear Gerdi? I hope [their arrival] will still be announced while I'm here [in Gurs]. You see, no matter how thrifty we are, the money runs through our fingers all too quickly, because everything is so expensive. In spite of all that, I can still save on many an item that I would otherwise have to buy, thanks to Frieda and Mrs. S. At the same time, it does depress me a lot to always have to be on the receiving end without being able to return the favor for the time being.
If, God forbid, we should still have to remain here for a longer period, the most practical approach would be to have food packages sent to us through Mr. Thalheimer, via France. That would take us much further than having to buy every single thing for exorbitant prices. Once in Marseilles, we'll need Ffrs. 1000 for both our visas and medical exams for which we applied. But it looks like, additional funds will be needed, much of which we couldn't have anticipated; unfortunately none of your many clothing packages ever reached us. That meant we had to acquire miscellaneous items. We held off with that until it simply had to be done; after all, one can't walk around in total rags. I obtained a nearly new summer suit for Father from Aunt Franziska which is urgently needed and of course I'm not asking for it for nothing. As to shoes and a topcoat, I'll have to see where I can get those because Aunt Franziska needs the topcoat for herself [Uncle Sigmund having passed away recently.]
You might think how unimportant everything is that I'm writing, yet it's quite important for us. You can't imagine how many things are being altered, sewed or knitted in this place; also by people who packed well [at the time of deportation]. Dresses, blouses and aprons, etc. are being fashioned from nightgowns, shirts or a variety of other things! We are thoroughly fed up with that and everything else, to the point where we just don't want to hear any more or talk about it!
I'd much rather have a conversation with you, dear Kurt, and want to avail myself of the opportunity now already to express my heartiest congratulation on your upcoming birthday. What I feel for you and ardently wish you, I would much prefer to tell you in person. Who would have thought that on the completion of your 21st year we must still be separated? However, by no means do I want to spoil this day for you with maudlin sentimentalities. Rather, may you be privileged to spend it in the most pleasant manner. Be assured that our thoughts are constantly with you and all the others. If only we can keep our health, so that we may once more experience some pleasant hours in your company. Even now, we look forward with delight to getting your details about it all...
I almost forgot: about a week ago, I received 1lb of coffee, half a pound of cocoa, and a nearly empty tin of cookies via Lisbon, for which I thank you, dear Children, so very much. In case we should have to be here for a prolonged period, we'd be most grateful for some butter.
As much as I'd like to continue this conversation with you, I do have to conclude now. I really meant for these lines to go to your address, dear Max and Suse, but inasmuch as I cannot send another special letter to Kurt on his birthday, this will go directly to him. We gladly look forward to your next letter and I ask you to extend our best regards to all within the family. To you, dear Kurt, once again, my most ardent wishes for happiness, a day of fun and most heartfelt regards and kisses, to all of you from your loving
June 6, 1941
...As mentioned in my previous letter, I hope to receive the preliminary visa on June 24. That will enable me to apply for Mother's transfer to Marseilles [from Gurs], because she has to be present at the time the actual visas are issued. The date for that to happen depends on my furnishing proof of suitable passage. The [necessary] Portuguese transit visas can only be applied for after the real American visas have been issued and will take approx. 2 - 4 weeks, despite telegraphic application through the Portuguese consulate in Marseilles. In that case, also, BUDD [Jewish aid organization] cannot be counted on for help, however HICEM [Jewish aid organization] may be able to do something on our behalf in Lisbon.
The Spanish transit visa and the French exit visa can be obtained within a few days without any difficulties. You can see from the foregoing how complicated everything is here and how much time it all takes. Aside for that, you encounter every conceivable kind of difficulty wherever you go and you soon learn that you must never lose your patience if you expect to achieve anything at all. Otherwise I am all right, something that Mother also confirms about herself in her letters which usually take about 8 - 10 days. We have to get used to the prevailing tempo of life here...
1941 July -- New visa procedures delay immigration further. The "relative rule" forces applicants with relatives still in Germany, Italy or Russian territory to pass extremely strict security checks to obtain a visa. Also an elaborate system of interdepartmental government committees are established in Washington to painstakingly screen each immigrant application. The effect of the new rules is that immigration is cut to 25% of the quota.
Camp de Gurs 7/13/41
Ilot [Block] I, Bar. 12
In a few days it will be 9 months since we arrived here.
My Dear Children,
This time there was a long, and involuntary pause in our correspondence which unfortunately wasn't our fault. But, thank God, we received mail again as of today which caused great joy all around. From Father, I received 3 letters simultaneously and inasmuch as today, Sunday, and tomorrow are big holidays here, we'll have to be patient until Tuesday in order to possibly count on mail from you once again, dear Children. We are infinitely sorry that you might have had the greatest concerns about us because of the silence, but I can assure you that we are all in good health which Father also confirmed about himself again today.
We were enlightened today about the new decrees and it is redundant for me to go into lengthy detail; I presume that Father has informed you of all that's noteworthy. Regrettably, everything has now become invalid and we are back to aleph [square one]. You'll have to start anew in regard to our emigration. It is even more regrettable for those people who had everything "shipshape," but one single hope remains for us and that would be if we could get a special visa (via Washington) that would let us get out of here more quickly. If only we don't have to go through yet another disappointment along those lines!
Above all, I must apologize that I committed the major mistake of failing to send timely congratulations on your birthday, dear Guenther, and I make up for it today in the hope that you will not be cross with me; but perhaps you're not surprised that my memory has suffered considerably. So do take my belated most heartfelt good wishes. God willing, we'll be permitted soon to exchange our mutual sentiments and wishes in person and I do believe that would make all of us completely happy. Even though it may have been disappointing for you not to have received the looked-forward-to birthday letter up to now, it is nevertheless our hope, dear Gerdi and Guenther, that you were able to spend nothing but pleasant hours on that day, about which we trust you'll report soon!
Everything about you, even to the tiniest detail, will be of interest to hear and this would never have happened to me if Father had been here. At the moment, the worst thing is that we are compelled to be separated for such a long time already and that I still am forced to sit here. That also means that much of what I was able initially to be enthusiastic about is no longer of any consequence to me. If, as Father reports, a new camp is being constructed for wives of the men at [Camp] des Milles, near Marseilles, then the situation ought to improve somewhat. Most of all, that would give us renewed hope for a reunion with you...
1941 October 28 -- The Klein's visa case is approved by State Department.
1941 November -- The Kleins are summoned to the consulate in Marseilles. They are promised a visa by December 3rd.
1941 December 6 -- Ludwin and Alice Klein plan to travel to the U.S. on December 26th from Lisbon. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a day after this letter was written, sends them back to the beginning of the application process.
Ludwig Klein December 6, 1941
Camp des Milles, France
My Dear Children,
You must be in receipt of our cable from Marseilles, sent to Max last week. As you will have gathered from it, we were at the American consulate on Dec. 3, at which time our [main] visas were supposed to have been issued. Although everything was in readiness, they could not be handed over to us because no more German quota numbers were available [that day or week.] However, they ought to be available again within a few days, at which time the visas can be picked up. So you can see, nothing goes as quickly as expected.
Once we do get the visas, we'll have to apply for the Portuguese transit visa, after that the Spanish one which will take approx. two weeks to get and once that is accomplished, we'll have to request the French exit visa [visa de sortie] which will lead to our "liberation." Only then will we be able to get out of Lisbon by Dec. 26, presumably making it necessary to leave on a ship sailing the beginning of January ['42].
The $50 which you paid to HIAS [Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society] will not do us any good because $100 is necessary for the trip to Lisbon. We can obtain that [amount] at the local official rate. That's why I cabled you to withdraw the former amount from HIAS. I already obtained Ffrs. 3,000 from Camille Beermann, as well as Ffrs. 1,600 from Thalheimer. Whatever other funds will still be needed, I'll be able to get from the local sources, so that you should not remit anything further. At any rate, I thank you much for you remittances. It's totally unclear to me why you made this remittance through HIAS, inasmuch as our passage was not booked and paid for at that agency which therefore has no interest in us at all. The fact is that their passengers all travel via Oran-Casablanca-Cuba-Mexico-New York. Such a ship will depart with 300 passengers from Marseilles on the twelfth of this month, including some people from here [Les Milles.]
You'll no doubt have had direct news from Mother in Marseilles and I received your most recent letter of Nov. 3 and one from Kurt, dated Nov. 4. All of them made us very glad and we hope to be able to bring you up-to-date soon on everything else in person. Even if we shouldn't reach the ship by Dec. 26 any more, the brief waiting time will also pass. I'm sure you have no idea how much red tape we encounter here and how difficult it is to comply with all the formalities. We'll more than happy once we reach that point.
Other than that, we are all right, thank goodness, and were so glad to hear the same about you. In particular, I wish you, dear Gerdi, an easy time [until her confinement] and hope you all continue to be well. Best regards to all relatives and friends and accept my most heartfelt greetings,
P.S. Mother sends regards, but can't add her own lines today because this letter has to get in the mail.
[The day after this letter was sent, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, rendering all of this null and void once more.]
1942 Early 1942 -- Communication between the Klein parents and their children becomes more difficult. Many of the letters sent from France are never received.
May 11, 1942
My Dear Children,
I can only hope that you did come into possession of the many letters we sent you since January and which should have furnished clarification about our state of health and everything else that's noteworthy. In your recent letters, Kurt, you indicated that you were without news from us for a long time and we are infinitely sorry about that. It would serve to calm us down considerably if you could report real soon that the opposite is the case...
I wish you could see once how it is when mail from America comes to our rooms early in the morning; most of all, the delighted surprise which an announcement of immigration approval causes. Unfortunately, such authorizations have reached this hotel only very sporadically so far. What is conspicuous about those notices -- of which one came this morning -- is the fact that so far only single ladies seem to have hit the jackpot! But, God willing, your next report will perhaps contain something more encouraging along those lines...
In recent times there was a ban on exit passes at Camp des Milles, so that Father was only able to be here last week after a 5-week hiatus. Of the two days, we spent half a day at the sea; that meant taking a 45-minute streetcar ride to a beach where we sat for several hours and soaked up the sunshine. I hardly know what was more to be admired, the wonderful panorama along the coast, the marvelous play of the waves which, thanks to the sunlight, took on constantly changing hues; or, looking toward the other side, the wildly romantic view of magnificent villas and cafes, in addition to the peace and quiet. Without doubt it was the most beautiful day we've lived through in Marseilles...
I am as always your ever-loving
1942 September -- Kurt's letters to his parents are returned. The envelope is stamped "Return to sender, moved, no forwarding address."
1942 November 4 -- The U.S. State Department authorizes its consul in Marseilles to issue Ludwig and Alice Klein with immigration visas. The good news is too late for the Kleins; they were deported to Auschwitz ten weeks earlier.
Department of State
In reply refer to
VD 811.111 Klein, Ludwig
The Honorable Walter G. Andrews, House of Representatives.
With reference to your interest in the visa case of Mr. Ludwig Klein and his wife, Alice, I take pleasure in informing you that after further consideration of the case in the light of existing conditions, the Department has given renewed advisory approval to the appropriate American officer at Marseille for the issuance of immigration visas to the applicants. Notification of this action has been transmitted by telegraph.
Very truly yours,
Chief, Visa Division
1942 November -- Kurt is drafted into the U.S. Army.
1945 April -- Kurt is among the U.S. troops that liberate Volary, in Czechoslovakia. The America soldiers find 120 young Jewish women in an old factory where they have been abandoned by their SS guards. One of the women, Gerda Weissmann, later becomes Kurt's wife. In 1957 she publishes an account of her story titled "All But My Life." The book is now in its 43rd printing.
1946 March 26 -- The Tracing Service for Deported and Dispersed Jews informs the Klein children that their parents were sent from France to Auschwitz on the 19th of August 1942 -- i.e., ten weeks before the State Department finally approved their visa application