From the very beginning of the deportations, the Jewish Council tried to collect as much information as possible on the fate of the deportees. Some officials of the Council were tasked to analyze letters sent by deportees. The following is such an analysis, written in January 1943. It shows how ignorant people in the Netherlands were concerning the final fate of the deportees.
Amsterdam, 22 January 1943
To the Chairmen of the
Jewish Council of Amsterdam
Mw. Keizersgracht 58,
We have the honor to present to you in the following our impressions from 308 letters, including 178 from Monowitz, and 135 from Birkenau, which we received at the beginning of this week from the Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Amsterdam.
The general impression from these letters was not unfavorable. The form of the letters was almost identical; usually they mentioned eating, sleeping, working, and some information concerning clothing and family affairs. Several [people] were writing a second time, and some of them wrote more than one letter. Envelopes and paper were identical, and thus must have been given to the writers. The date of these letters was the same as the one we mentioned in our report of 18/12/42, i.e., the third and fourth week of November. The writers of the letters have been leaving [the country] in difficult transports, although most of them were sent from the labor camps to Germany on October 2.
The oldest one who wrote a letter was, according to what we could check, 63, while generally almost all the others were less than 50. Most of them were of the lower classes, which explains why most of them did not write the letters themselves and only signed them, although even here on the one hand some wrote the whole letter themselves while [on the other hand] some did not even sign [their letter].
The letters reveal that they had got permission to write, and that this permission was given first of all to the Dutch; apparently, except for the Dutch, also people of other nationalities are staying in these camps.
The letters mention almost never the continued coherence of the family cell. No communications were received either from children or women with children, nor from the elderly. Many are asking in their letters about the fate of their wives or children who have left together with them. On the other hand, there are some cases in which a father and a son, or two brothers, or two sisters are staying together.
To this we have to add the following. Some letters were received from Dutch men who—as they wrote themselves—were arrested in France, and of people who arrived there by way of [the prison in] Scheveningen or Dachau or Buchenwalde [sic!]. One lady who received a letter informed us that she had not received before this any message from her husband for a year and a half, ever since he was brought to Germany.
From MONOWITZ only men were writing. Almost no new information was added to what we already know as compared to our latest report. People write about three beds put one upon the other, straw mattresses, as well as two blankets; that means good sleeping conditions. In conformity with this they make mention of central heating, warm and cold water, as well as bathing facilities. It seems as if between 150 and 170 people are put in each barracks.
Concerning food, the mentioning is equivocal: “sufficient” in all letters. However, it must be mentioned that on the other hand mention is made of “regards from Aunt Akhile,” as well as “blanes” and “rongev.” One, i.e., the oldest (63 years old) told that his weight is now just 61 kg. According to his family, his weight was in the past 81 kg., which means that he has lost 20 kg. One of the veteran inmates of the Westerbork camp write that he gets 3500 grams of bread per week. Bread, cheese, jam, sausage, butter or margarine are mentioned [as being served] for dinner, and warmed lunch is brought to the working place. On the day that they were allowed to write, the people got apparently an additional ration of bread and sausage.
Clothing and shoes are provided—apparently—by the camp administration. We have mentioned this already in our former report.
Concerning the labour, not much news can be reported. They write about laying cables, administrative work, repairing of typing machines, road construction, carpentry, installation of heating, a clearing commando, etc. Concerning working hours we were able to find out that they wake up early in the morning, go to work, and return not too late in the afternoon. The labour is defined as being hard but bearable. On Sundays they are showered and have a haircut.
The letters from BIRKENAU are usually much shorter than those from Monowitz. Most of them write that they arrived in good health and they have not yet begun working. Other people write that they are working there already for weeks or months, without saying much about the work itself. Concerning the food, the clothing as well as sleeping conditions, no new information was added.
We would like to draw your attention to the fact that the senders of two letters which were received from Birkenau and which had on them the date of the end of November have already died, according to a communication of the Security Police [to us] at the end of December.
Source: Archives of the Jewish Council, “Afd. Vitzending Buitenland,” ds. 25, Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation, Amsterdam.
Source: Yad Vashem