I saw this today on MyHeritage – Signed, Your Father in a Nazi Prison: An Extraordinary Collection of Letters – MyHeritage August 5, 2020: https://blog.myheritage.com/2020/08/signed-your-father-in-a-nazi-prison-an-extraordinary-collection-of-letters/. It’s a long article which is why I cut it down so much. Definitely worth reading.
by Esther August 5, 2020
The BBC recently published a piece about a remarkable story the MyHeritage Research team stumbled across in 2015. At the time, the team was hard at work searching for Jews from the island of Corfu, as part of a project to reconnect the descendants of a Jewish family of Holocaust survivors with the residents of the island that had given them refuge.
Sometimes, you search for one treasure and dig up another. That is what happened when Roi Mandel, head of the MyHeritage Research team, met Dario and Vittorio Israel — and they pulled out an astonishing collection of letters their father had smuggled to them from a Nazi prison during the Holocaust.
Dario and Vittorio lived in Trieste, Italy with their parents when the Germans occupied the country in 1943.
Their father, Daniele, was concerned about the safety of his wife and children and sent them out of the city, hoping things would calm down eventually. When Daniele was arrested in his upholstery shop on December 30, 1943, Dario, Vittorio, and their mother Anna returned to the city and went into hiding in a woodshed that belonged to Anna’s brother-in-law, who was a Catholic carpenter. The woodshed was cramped and had no light or water — just a small skylight in the roof. The family spent the next 8 months of their lives in this tiny space.
During this period, Daniele and Anna maintained a secret correspondence by sewing letters into the collars and cuffs of Daniele’s shirts as they were taken back and forth from the laundry. Anna carefully saved each and every letter he sent — all 250 of them.
The letters bring to light a detailed and heartwrenching account of the 8 months Daniele spent in the Coroneo prison in Trieste.
Smuggling the letters
Daniele was an upholsterer, and therefore very skilled with a needle and thread. Whenever he had a dirty shirt to send to the wash, he would tear the seams, carefully conceal the letters, and sew them up again. Two of Daniele’s non-Jewish former employees would pick up his laundry and deliver it to Anna at great personal risk. Anna would search for the letters, unstitch the collars and cuffs, take out the letters, and read them aloud to her sons. Then she would wash the shirts, write her own replies, and stitch them in before sending the clean shirts back with her husband’s former employees. Sometimes, she would also send ink, paper, or food that Daniele had requested.
Dario and Vittorio, who were 8 and 9 at the time, anxiously awaited each letter.
Maintaining a correspondence under the noses of the Nazis was no simple matter. The German authorities knew that Daniele had a wife and two sons and they regularly pressured him to reveal their whereabouts. They drilled him about it every week, and sometimes even tortured him in attempt to get him to tell them where his family was hiding, but Daniele insisted that he had no contact with them. If they had learned about his correspondence with Anna, all of them — and the people who were helping them — would have been in grave danger.
To ensure that they were not discovered, Daniele burned Anna’s letters immediately after reading them. He even warned Anna to only use paper that burned quietly, for fear the guards might hear the crackling and investigate.