Correspondence among a mother confined to a Nazi labor camp, her children, and friends outside.
A cache of letters from Lilli Jahn, a physician born in Germany in 1900 who died in Auschwitz in 1944, recently came to light. Her grandson Doerry, editor in chief of Der Spiegel magazine, prints them here along with letters sent to her by her children and a few friends, weaving it all together with his own running commentary. The text begins with selections from Lilli’s correspondence with her future husband, Ernst Jahn, so constantly in need of encouragement and bracing up that readers will wonder what she saw in him. They’ll wonder even more when, after 16 years of marriage and 5 children, the protestant Ernst divorces his wife in 1942, the worst possible moment for a Jewish woman to be left unprotected. Denied pursuit of her profession, she is arrested by the Gestapo for using the word “Doctor,” and not “Sara,” on her doorbell’s nameplate. After she’s interned in the Breitenau “corrective labor camp,” the correspondence’s pace and volume increases. Most of it is from her son and daughters; Jahn was permitted to write only once a month, though she surreptitiously sent additional letters concealed on the back of labels or on packing paper. In them, she inquires after her children's welfare and asks for some simple supplies, “my slippers and a pair of old black shoes, and also, just occasionally, if you can, some bread and a little salt.” The children’s descriptions of bombing firestorms in Kassel and other war-related disasters are heartbreakingly mingled with accounts of their daily lives: “On Saturday we had some math homework. It was very difficult. . . . Yesterday afternoon I baked a cheesecake with short pastry.” Always, they want to know: When is she coming home? She isn't.
A glimpse of everyday life under circumstances so surreal as to be almost incomprehensible, described with distressing immediacy. (Two 16-page b&w photo inserts, not seen)