Let­ters from the Lost: A Mem­oir of Discovery

Helen Wald­stein Wilkes
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By – September 8, 2011
At the age of six­ty, Helen Wald­stein Wilkes opened a box that con­tained let­ters her par­ents had received when she was a child. Writ­ten by mem­bers of her extend­ed fam­i­ly who remained in Europe after Wald­stein Wilkes and her par­ents left Strob­nitz, and lat­er Prague, to join her aunt and uncle in Cana­da in 1939, this deeply per­son­al col­lec­tion of let­ters describes the effects of Nazism on every­day life, the con­straints of cen­sor­ship, and the attempts at emi­gra­tion that were under­tak­en by those who stayed behind. Strik­ing­ly, the post-war cor­re­spon­dence in the col­lec­tion, a series of five let­ters writ­ten by one of Wald­stein Wilkes’ only sur­viv­ing rel­a­tives, describes life in There­sien­stadt and Auschwitz, the fates of the indi­vid­u­als whose voic­es are pre­served in the pre­vi­ous cor­re­spon­dence, and his attempts to rebuild his life. Let­ters from the Lost includes tran­scrip­tions of the let­ters in the box, which range from April 1939 to Sep­tem­ber 1945, as well as fam­i­ly pho­tographs, imag­ined accounts of the thoughts and actions of the author’s deceased fam­i­ly mem­bers, and accounts of her jour­neys to the places where the let­ters were writ­ten. In this way, Wald­stein Wilkes exam­ines not only what can be learned from the voic­es that have been passed down to us, but also the immense scope of what was lost.

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