“This is an important book, a book we all need to read to remind ourselves that the victims of these kinds of horrors which continue today are made up of people like us: children, grandparents, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends, who all deserve better in the name of humanity.”
– Sharon Budnarchuk, owner, Audrey’s Books in Edmonton.
“I have now had occasion to read your book Letter from the Lost and want to tell you that I am full of admiration for your achievement in this all-too-brief memoir.”
– John Conway, Professor of History (Emeritus), UBC
“What a wonderful evening this was! you were articulate, clear, interesting, present. thank you so much for all you are and your willingness to do what it took to bring those frozen voices to life.”
– Carol Ann Fried, Motivational Speaker
“I have just finished reading your memoir. there was much which was very emotional as well as horrifying in the story on the one hand and uplifting on the other. but what I believe is especially unique is your perspective.”
– Maurice Bloch, Professor of Clinical Psychology, UBC
“I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I enjoyed your book launch and how quickly I consumed your book. I have been telling many people about it.”
– Jennifer Kramer, Curator, Museum of Anthropology, UBC
“Thank you again for your gracious presentation and discussion with us yesterday. You amazed everybody, because you never stop growing, creating and challenging yourself. I can see that you are exploring new horizons, possibilities and challenges. You are definitely an inspiration.”
– Jacqueline von Rumel
“I finished Helen’s book yesterday and want you to let her know how impressive I found it. She was right that most of know about the camps from books and film but not so much about daily life leading up to that.
I found most moving the parts where she revisits the places in Europe where her family members had been born or lived especially when she encountered hostility or coldness from those living there now. Her rage, sorrow, tears, incomprehension were very real to the reader.”
– Eileen O’Connor
Letters from the Lost is a vivid reminder of the power that letters have to evoke the past. Not only did your letters tell us what happened, they did so personally. “My dear ones,” they often began. And they survived because someone cared. Nothing is easier to destroy than a letter, so the fact that these fragile records were preserved is in itself a testament to the value placed on them.
Though the circumstances of the correspondence between your relatives in Czechoslovakia and your parents in Canada between 1939 and 1941 were tragic, I think it is wonderful that you could draw on it to bring your aunts, uncles, and grandparents back to life. You have made them so vivid. I can easily see your Uncle Emil, well-informed, sensible, the dispenser of advice, a man who used his faith in reason to shield himself from the madness around him. “Given the proximity of a larger city (Hamilton), you have a good market for agricultural products, and you are in the best part of Canada.” I was touched by that packet of books he sent to your parents, books he hoped would help them in their new and unfamiliar endeavour–farming. It reminded me of my own father who tried to teach me that books must always be treated with care and respect. There too is your grandmother Fanny, alert and caring. I saw how she could articulate what was happening around her much more easily than Emil. “There are many sorrows here. People are running about like chickens with their heads cut off.” And your uncle Arnold, with his faith in work. “You see how well I hit it by choosing a technical profession—technicians are in great demand these days and are also well paid.”
When the rush of words stopped in 1941, I felt the silence–cold and empty. And then in July l945, there was another letter. My heart leapt: Arnold survived! But, as we discover from his detailed description, so many of your relatives and their friends did not. Helen, I really admired the determination you showed in visiting Europe, retracing steps your relatives had taken, and looking for what traces remained of them. Your conversations with some of the people you encountered were both moving and unsettling. I shivered to read about Alois, who was a former member of the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) and yet, strangely helpful to you.
I was glad to see that at the end of all these journeys, you are finding peace. As you said, Helen, “I am also putting down roots that draw ever more strongly upon the nutrients of Judaism… Life feels effortless and sometimes it even feels joyful now that I am no longer paddling against the current.” I found your book completely engrossing and I am sure others will too.
Claudia Cornwall is the author of Letter from Vienna: a Daughter Uncovers her Family’s Jewish Past. (Douglas & Mcintyre, 1995.) She also teaches a course on memoir writing at Simon Fraser University.
“This is excellent news, at last a real closing of the circle, giving those who read it in Germany, two generations later, a vivid sense of the pain and anguish caused to numberless, innocent, ordinary people who were once their neighbors.
If only one could believe that this painful history has become a lesson learned, never to be repeated!
I’m sure I speak for all of us in saying how much we respect and admire all your good work. Congratulations — and may all your good efforts help make a better future!
– Eva Neubauer Jacob