1940-41 letters describe destruction of Polish Jewry

Notes written on envelopes by Polish postmen read: "The Jews have been expelled."

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February 1, 2018 04:55
2 minute read.
A LETTER, with a handwritten message on the envelope, was returned to Michal Weichert.

A LETTER, with a handwritten message on the envelope, was returned to Michal Weichert in wartime Poland.. (photo credit: MICHAL WEICHERT ARCHIVE/NATIONAL LIBRARY OF ISRAEL)

 
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The National Library of Israel published this week handwritten messages about the destruction of Poland’s Jews scrawled on envelopes sent via the Polish postal service between September 1940 and May 1941.

The letters were brought to the National Library six months ago by Joseph Weichert, the son of Michal Weichert, who was in the Warsaw and Krakow ghettos during World War II. From 1940 to 1942, he headed the Jewish Social Self-Help committee which organized social assistance for Jews in camps and ghettos.

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While many documents that had been in Weichert’s possession have been stored at the library’s archives for years, the letters are relatively new to them. The library released them to the media in a week when the subject of the Polish people’s role in the Holocaust has made waves, after Poland advanced legislation to criminalize statements suggesting the country bears responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by Nazi Germany.

“Now is the time to give you this historic item,” Weichert’s son told archivists. “It is important for the world to know the story and remember, and also to know that the Poles were partners in atrocities of the Germans during the Holocaust and knew about the atrocities.”

He gave the archivists an album of 59 envelopes sent between September 1940 and May 1941 to various branches of the committee. All the letters Michal had sent out were returned to sender, with various notes written on them. According to translations of the texts by Josef Weichert, these included messages reading: “The Jews have been expelled” and “The Jewish Council no longer exists.”

“There is no doubt that the Polish postmen were well aware of the fate of the recipients, whose letters were returned to sender,” remarked National Library archivist Dr. Gil Weissblei.

Josef related to the archivists that his father had been shocked by the return of all the letters, knowing that each comment on each envelope signaled the end of that community.



Some envelopes had Polish stamps on them, reading: “German victory on all fronts!” which in Weichert’s eyes expressed cooperation and identification of Poles with the Nazis’ actions.

He hid the envelopes together with additional documentation of those days, which he took out of a hiding place at the end of the war.

The Nazis dissolved the Jewish Social Self-Help committee in July 1942, after which Weichert obtained their consent to operate it as the Jewish Aid Office, subordinate to, and run under the close supervision of, the Gestapo.

The ties between the aid organization and the Nazis led to postwar charges against him of collaboration with the Nazis, and though he was exonerated in a trial in Krakow in 1946, he remained a controversial figure.

In 1958, Weichert left Poland for Israel, together with his wife and son.

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