This is my translation of a letter which my father wrote (in German) in 1939 to his mother, his brother (Willy), and his sister (Erna Proskauer) in Breslau. It is the only letter of his which I have, and thus is a great family heirloom. Later, the Proskauers went to America and lived in New York. The letter was kept by them, and when their younger son Paul died at the age of 90, it was found by whoever went through his papers. It was sent to me by Norbert Conrads (in 2013). This letter was written five months after we arrived in Melbourne. My grandmother (Grossmutti Cohn, mother of my father) was unwell and died peacefully in September 1939. Willy, Trudi, and their two little girls were “transported” (murdered) in November 1941. I have included below some explanations in parentheses.
My Father’s Letter to the Breslau Family 30 June 1939
I have a bad conscience that I have not written for such a long time. It is to be excused by our hard work (long hours). I work every night until 11.00 p.m. and the day begins at 6.45 a.m., without pause. You cannot conceive how hard it is to make a living here (earn money). But it goes forward slowly; we are making progress.
The previous week I was for one week on business in Sydney as I could use my unused ticket from Melbourne to Sydney.
Melbourne is indeed a nice city, but Sydney is a town that, in the beauty of its landscape is incomparable, surpasses any European city. Numerous small bays, with delightful houses, rise from hills out of the deep-blue sea. From every spot, there is a fabulous view. The whole town breathes the sunny nature, as also the inhabitants, who have or follow the Australian lifestyle of “take it easy”.
I could tell you for hours about this journey. I travelled by steamer on the way to Sydney, the same ship that the Duke of Kent will travel in next October. I have eaten well (on the ship) at the expense of the ticket we had bought in Germany. On the return trip, I travelled by the pride of the Australian railway system, the Spirit of Progress, a magnificent streamliner.
Yes, you may think that here one sees kangaroos and wild animals, but it is not so. Also, so far, we have not seen a single aboriginal (the original inhabitants).
As I have mentioned, we have to work very hard for all these attractions, and I cannot say that we are yet over the hill. I have received some new agencies, though this means more work. But I cannot afford to forego such opportunities and must take what is available.
(He was trying to build up a business as a manufacturer’s agent, that is as commercial traveller, and some (or all?) of them were manufacturers based in Sydney. I think women’s handbags (and ladies’ accessories) was the main product.)
Katel (my mother Kate) is busy with her collars and buttons as we wish to launch a new collection soon.
Gerhart has just done his first exam. We don’t yet know the result, but I am not worried. The boys are really a great support; they help in everything. Enough about us.
I am very sad that you, dear Mother, suffer from pains. I hope they will pass soon. For your good wishes, just received, I thank you 1000 times. On this day (her birthday?) I shall think of you with longing, and many memories of better days and worry-free times come to me. But what does it help? One has to look to the future.
Dear Willy and dear Trudi, thank you for your informative letter that shows me that you have not forgotten your Latin (he then quotes a Latin sentence). I hope that your plans will develop and come true. I don’t think that your idea to write for Jewish newspapers is likely to be successful. But write me two letters to Australian newspapers (to the Australian Jewish Herald and the Australian Jewish News), which I will forward.
The letters from you, dear Proskauers, have made me very sad. I have not forgotten you. In Sydney, I exchanged recollections (memories) with the Sterns. But I don’t agree that we will never meet again. Once you are in America, it is not so far. Raise your head high, it will be OK. I have written an urgent letter to Julia to help you with entry to England. (They were worried about their future. He is trying to help them get entry to England, I think. Actually, it worked out alright; they settled eventually in New York.)
Now I am so tired my eyes are closing, I can’t keep awake.
(All this is typed. He ends in handwriting, with love and so on. Also, there are hand-written illegible greetings from my mother at the end. She writes in German script, of the kind that I learnt at school).