The 180-word letter, dated July 11, 1945, spoke of his desire to reunite with his brother, but also his conclusion not to go back to his native Poland because no one would be left for him. It also talks of his hope for building a new life, and desire to go on.
A few sentiments, but that was all from the dizzying period immediately after the war.
Or so Kriegel thought.
A few short years ago, his cousins suddenly discovered a trove of letters from Kriegel’s father, written again to his brother. She and some volunteers have gone about translating the letters from poetic Biblical Hebrew into English. And the sentiments he expressed as a recent Holocaust survivor have been illuminating.
“One of the things that our translating group has found to be quite striking in these letters is the combination of sadness and hope, of a loss of faith and yet a faith in the future,” said Kriegel, the featured speaker at the regional Yom HaShoah V’HaG’vurah (The Day of Remembering the Holocaust and the Bravery) ceremonies, held this year at Ahavath Torah, Stoughton April 23. “We have found ourselves amazed by my father’s incredible resilience in spite of and perhaps because of what he had endured.”
Both her late father and her mother, Sarah Wiener, survived the Holocaust. Her mother’s family survived because a family of Righteous Gentiles hid them in an underground bunker for 2 ½ years. Her mother still shares her own story, and spoke to a day school in New Jersey earlier this week.
Her father was in the middle of his medical studies at the Jagellonian University when the war changed his life.
As example, Kriegel read one of the more recently discovered letters dated Purim 1946 from her father, who survived several labor and concentration camps. He related how the holiday helped him survive the Shoah:.
“That ancient story that is not forgotten and that encouraged me. It didn’t fail to encourage me even in those moments when the sharp sword was on my neck and the sharp hatchet blade was over my head. My cheek was being slapped and my body was being cut. (and this is not something I would recommend ) but I just remembered the fate of Haman and how his end was to fall. And those things happened. ”
He later writes of the happy memories of growing up, and then the change as the Nazis took over. He recalls of an uncle sentenced to death for baking Matzahs. And he talks about his own aspirations and inner conflicts:
“And I, what will be my end? Have I eliminated my path? Why have I started now to study? Is it possible that I made a mistake? No and No. I will always find the correct path. In spite of the religious education that I got, to my sorrow my faith in the survival of the soul is gone. (I am so completely lacking in that faith). My parents are no longer living. But they are living within us. Like then as now, I hear their voices. And they are for me guides in the solitary, destitute path that I have set out.”
Wiener, perhaps guided by his parents like he wrote, did continue on the path on which he originally intended and became a physician – as did his daughter years later.
“I believe there is much we can all learn from those who were able to pick themselves up after their lives were shattered and build a new life in a new country,” Kriegel said. “Of course there were those who were not able to do this but so many did. Both of my parents and so many of the survivors that I have met are incredible role models of grit and resilience to their families, friends and communities.”
The theme for the ceremony this year’s Yom HaShoah v’HaG’vurah program, which filled the synagogue with more than 400 people, was Righteous Gentiles. Seven students read about the courage and sacrifice of non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Prayers, songs and inspirational readings were performed by several rabbis and cantors, candles were lit by anyone who wanted to remember those lost, and the Temple Israel of Sharon-based singing group Shir Rhythm sang.
The observance was sponsored by Temple Beth Emunah in Brockton; Temple Beth Abraham and Temple Beth David of the South Shore of Canton; Temple Chayai Shalom of Easton; Temple Ahavath Torah of Stoughton; and Adath Sharon Sisterhood, Temple Israel and Temple Sinai of Sharon.
Yom HaShoah is observed as Israel’s day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews and five million others who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accessories, and for the Jewish resistance in that period.