A Somber Trove of Family Letters

The Leo Baeck Institute’s Milli Frank correspondence (AR 6686) contains dozens of letters and postcards sent to Milli Frank in Brooklyn, New York, between 1937 and 1944, by her parents, aunts and uncles in Germany. Later, some of these relatives wrote to her from the concentration camps of France. None of them appears to have survived the Holocaust.

The LBI archives holds many such collections. Sadly, many older German Jews were unwilling or unable to leave Germany until it was too late, while most younger German Jews were generally able to escape. But rarely do these collections contain the associated outgoing correspondence. While this particular set of letters does not have Milli’s replies to her family’s letters, it does have her sketched notes—he appears to have been in the habit of writing outlines of her replies on the back of the envelope in which the original letter arrived. 

For example, on the envelope above, she notes the items to mention in her response: thanks for letters and postcards, a birthday, business, a person named Mehlinger. She also mentions “the speed of English,” and it’s unclear whether she means how quickly English can be learned, how quickly she learned it, or whether English is spoken quickly by the residents of Brooklyn.

Your Digital Family Album: A System for Safekeeping | Preservation Week 2014

We’re honoring National Preservation Week (April 26 through May 3) with a series of posts from our archival experts about the best way to take care of your precious artifacts at home. 

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by Moriah Amit, Reference Services Librarian and Genealogy Specialist, Center for Jewish History, and Tracey Beck, Associate Librarian for Cataloging and Periodicals, Leo Baeck Institute

If you’re like us, you’ve probably accumulated tons of digital photos and documents that you hope to continue to share with your family years from now. Unfortunately, either paper or digital photos can be lost or damaged. There are, however, some aspects of digital files that make them particularly vulnerable. 

Photos stored on hard drives can be lost if the hard drive is stolen or damaged. Documents created with one kind of software sometimes can’t be accessed by others without that software or version. Photos stored on social media websites can simply disappear if the website goes out of business.

The Library of Congress has established guidelines for archiving your digital family album by using a four-step process:

1) Identify where you have photos or documents;

2) Decide what you want to keep;

3) Organize your files;

4) Save copies in different places for safety.

From Tracey Beck: 

Creating a personal archive using the Library of Congress’s process gave me the opportunity to better preserve my own digital history. I lost many personal photos and documents after a laptop was stolen, a thumb drive was crushed, and Geocities, a website I used, went out of business. Of the CDs and DVDs I have left, some no longer work because the software I used is obsolete. I followed the Library of Congress’s recommendations to create and store my own digital album.

When you’re ready to put together your personal archive, start by identifying where you have photos and documents. In my personal archive, I have photos and documents stored on DVDs and CDs, old laptops, thumb drives and social media websites. I had almost completely forgotten about many of the CDs and DVDs I had, so collecting them all in one place made it much easier to assess the array of media I had used to store my personal files. 

Once you’ve identified where you’ve stored all your photos and documents, you can begin to sort through the files and select which are truly important to save. For example, I wanted to keep the photos of my friend’s toddler streaking past the guests at a Hanukah party, but I didn’t need the ten blurry, out-of-focus photos. Nor did I need to keep all 15 photos of trees I took while on a summer hiking trip. Although each one seemed valuable at the time, many of the duplicate or out-of-focus photos can be deleted to save storage space.

After you’ve determined which files to hold on to, you’ll need to organize your digital files into one folder. Organization is key to managing your personal archive, since it will help you locate your photos and documents long after you’ve created them. Start by creating a main folder named “personal archive” or “my digital album,” then further subdivide each folder by year. If you prefer, you can can add folders for the seasons or for type of digital media.

For example, my personal archive has folders for each year, and within each folder there are subdivisions by media type (documents, photos, etc.):

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Within each folder, there are also further subdivisions by season. These files and photos also have a consistent naming system; whenever possible, I added tags that include names and dates. (Shayna Marchese, the Center’s Digital Asset Production Associate, covers naming systems for digital images in her post “Organizing Digital Files: Getting Your Photos and Scans in Shape.”)

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I now make regular backups of this neatly organized folder. The Library of Congress recommends that you save your archive to an external hard drive. In contrast to CDs and flash drives, an external hard drive is the least vulnerable to obsolescence and has much more storage space.

But don’t rely on one backup source alone. Use the rule of “3-2-1”: Make three copies (for instance, on a CD or in the cloud via any number of programs including Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, etc.), keep two (at least one on an external hard drive), and keep one offsite. 

For more information, visit the Library of Congress’s guide to archiving your personal digital materials. And hold on to all those irreplaceable images you’re posting to social networks. They’re yours to prize and enjoy, no matter what the internet’s whims. 

More posts in our National Preservation Week series:

Start Making Sense: Ordering the Chaos of AV Material
For Delicate Books, Safe and Snug Houses
Defending Precious Artifacts from Mold and More
Organizing Digital Files: Getting Your Photos and Scans in Shape

Photo: (c) Roger Johnson, 2011. All rights reserved. 

Celebrating Archivesby Susan Woodland, Senior Archivist, American Jewish Historical Society
October is Archives Month, and the archives community in metropolitan New York celebrated the week of October 7th with an extensive list of repository tours, programs, exhibits, a symposium on Disaster Recovery inspired by last fall’s superstorm Sandy, and an award ceremony. See the website of the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York (ART) for photographs and information about the week’s activities.
The five partners of the Center for Jewish History participated in Archives Week with two events. First, on Monday October 7th, the Center was a co-host with ART of the Disaster Recovery symposium. Video from the sessions will be posted soon on the ART site.
And second, the partners joined together with Center staff to host a two-hour information session and a tour behind the scenes, free and open to the general public. The information session included Q&As on conservation treatments with common family history items like books, photographs and older documents with Felicity Corkill, associate conservator; tips on reformatting older audio-visual formats with Zachary Loeb, reference services librarian, and Sarah Ponichtera, processing archivist; and what not to do with scrapbooks with Michael Simonson, archivist at LBI, and Susan Woodland, senior archivist at AJHS.
Tours are a regular part of the Center schedule, but the Archives Week tour was special in that it highlighted work that goes on in the building to support the work of the archivists and librarians in the areas of preservation, digitization and access to information.
Center staff who spoke during the tour included Jennifer Rodewald, manager of the Gruss Lipper digital lab; Rachel C. Miller, senior manager for archival processing in the Shelby White and Leon Levy processing lab; Miriam R. Haier, senior manager for communications and publications; Laura Leone, director of archive and library services; Moriah Amit, reference services librarian, genealogy specialist; and Melanie Meyers, senior reference services librarian for special collections.

Celebrating Archives
by Susan Woodland, Senior Archivist, American Jewish Historical Society

October is Archives Month, and the archives community in metropolitan New York celebrated the week of October 7th with an extensive list of repository tours, programs, exhibits, a symposium on Disaster Recovery inspired by last fall’s superstorm Sandy, and an award ceremony. See the website of the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York (ART) for photographs and information about the week’s activities.

The five partners of the Center for Jewish History participated in Archives Week with two events. First, on Monday October 7th, the Center was a co-host with ART of the Disaster Recovery symposium. Video from the sessions will be posted soon on the ART site.

And second, the partners joined together with Center staff to host a two-hour information session and a tour behind the scenes, free and open to the general public. The information session included Q&As on conservation treatments with common family history items like books, photographs and older documents with Felicity Corkill, associate conservator; tips on reformatting older audio-visual formats with Zachary Loeb, reference services librarian, and Sarah Ponichtera, processing archivist; and what not to do with scrapbooks with Michael Simonson, archivist at LBI, and Susan Woodland, senior archivist at AJHS.

Tours are a regular part of the Center schedule, but the Archives Week tour was special in that it highlighted work that goes on in the building to support the work of the archivists and librarians in the areas of preservation, digitization and access to information.

Center staff who spoke during the tour included Jennifer Rodewald, manager of the Gruss Lipper digital lab; Rachel C. Miller, senior manager for archival processing in the Shelby White and Leon Levy processing lab; Miriam R. Haier, senior manager for communications and publications; Laura Leone, director of archive and library services; Moriah Amit, reference services librarian, genealogy specialist; and Melanie Meyers, senior reference services librarian for special collections.

In honor of Franz Kafka’s birthday, click here to view Hans Fronius’s Kafka-Mappe, illustrations of Kafka scenes (Wien, 1946).

This publication is made available through an in-progress effort to digitally recreate Europe’s largest pre-Holocaust Judaica library. The $300,000 collaborative project entails digitizing copies of more than 1,000 books that went missing from the library during World War II. 

The project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the German Research Foundation (DFG). The Leo Baeck Institute (one of the Center for Jewish History’s partners) will complete this work with the Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main.

Out of the Archives: Early Collaborationsubmitted by Michael D. Montalbano, M.A., M.L.I.S., Institutional Archivist / Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History
Some 25 years before the American Jewish Historical Society, Leo Baeck Institute and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research came together as three of the five partners of the Center for Jewish History, they were meeting to discuss potential for institutional collaboration on different initiatives. This invitation was found in the institutional records of the AJHS.
To search the partner collections now, click here.

Out of the Archives: Early Collaboration
submitted by Michael D. Montalbano, M.A., M.L.I.S., Institutional Archivist / Processing Archivist, Center for Jewish History

Some 25 years before the American Jewish Historical Society, Leo Baeck Institute and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research came together as three of the five partners of the Center for Jewish History, they were meeting to discuss potential for institutional collaboration on different initiatives. This invitation was found in the institutional records of the AJHS.

To search the partner collections now, click here.

Synagogue on Frankfurt am Main. 1938. Leo Baeck Institute. Link.Sundown this Saturday marks the beginning of Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av). Traditionally commemorating the destruction of the first and second temples of Jerusalem; in recent decades the day has been used to remember other Jewish tragedies, such as the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain (which fell around Tisha B’Av) and Kristallnacht (which occurred on the ninth of November). Although no photographic evidence from 70 BC exists, perhaps viewing more modern temples on the Center Flickr page, in their splendor and in their destruction, will harken back to the days of ancient Jerusalem.

Synagogue on Frankfurt am Main. 1938. Leo Baeck Institute. Link.

Sundown this Saturday marks the beginning of Tisha B’Av (the ninth of Av). Traditionally commemorating the destruction of the first and second temples of Jerusalem; in recent decades the day has been used to remember other Jewish tragedies, such as the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain (which fell around Tisha B’Av) and Kristallnacht (which occurred on the ninth of November). Although no photographic evidence from 70 BC exists, perhaps viewing more modern temples on the Center Flickr page, in their splendor and in their destruction, will harken back to the days of ancient Jerusalem.

Judisches Ceremonial

This German book contains illustrated explanations to numerous Jewish rituals spanning from birth to death, including circumcision, presentation of the first born, prayer at the synagogue, a wedding procession, purification of the bride, the washing of the brother-in-law’s feet, the feast of reconciliation, death rites, burials, and celebrations of the Sabbath, Passover, and the New Year. Published in 1716, a copy of the 1724 second edition is located at the Center and can be viewed in digitized form here. You can look see more illustrations on the Center’s Flickr Page

Images: Recha Freier; Jewish children singing at the Youth Aliyah School in Berlin, ca. 1940; a group of German children who have made it to Palestine as part of Youth Aliyah in 1934.

The following poems (in German) are taken from Recha Freier’s Auf die Treppe.  (Hamburg : Hans Christians Verlag, 1976). Freier founded the Youth Aliyah organization in 1933, which was responsible for saving the lives of 22,000 children from Nazi Germany. She is the author of the controversial publication, “Let the Children Come Home.”

These poems, as yet not officially translated into English, capture the fear and darkness of living as a Jewish child in Nazi Germany. (Click here to watch video footage of pupils at Goldschmidt Jewish private school in Nazi Germany — via the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

1

Die Zeit fließt
durch die Gärten der Nacht.
Im Gewirre der Gassen 
knospen die Mandeln.
Es klopft - !
Das war die Nacht.

Die Zeit stockt
in den Gassen des Herzens,
in den Dornen im Graben, 
im Gewirre der Nacht.
Es klopft - !
Das war mein Herz. 

2

Durstiges Echo taumelt
Wartende Wände entlang.
Bäume ächzen und krachen.
Suchende Lichter tasten
an horchenden Kammern vorbei.
Blitze zerreißen den tobenden Damm.
Rufende Hunde umklammern 
den vergehenden Puls des Turmes.
Wassersturz und glühender Schein
ersticken die Glut in der Asche.
Leer der Turm
Die Kammern leer.
Hohl und bleich die Gestirne.

-

Submitted by Michael Simonson, Leo Baeck Institute. 

Your Golden Hair, Margarete, 1980Anselm Kiefer (German, born 1945)Watercolor, gouache, and acrylic on paper
The artist Anselm Kiefer (who was recently awarded the Leo Baeck Medal) was inspired by Paul Celan’s poem “Death Fugue” (“Todesfuge”) to create more than 30 paintings, painted photographs and watercolors, each of which somehow refers to the poem. You can see that the above painting — which is one of this series — contains a line from the poem, translated as: “Your golden hair, Margarete.” (Click on the painting for an enlarged view.)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art website explains the connection between the above work and the poem that inspired it:

Celan’s “Death Fugue,” widely read and anthologized in postwar Germany, is set in an extermination camp. Its narrative voice, in the first person plural, is that of the camp’s Jewish inmates who suffer under the strict watch of the camp’s blue-eyed commandant. Singing “your golden hair, Margarete / your ashen hair, Shulamith,” the narrators contrast German womanhood, as personified by Margarete, to whom the commandant addresses letters at night (she is named after Goethe’s heroine, Gretchen, in Faust), and Jewish womanhood (Shulamith was King Solomon’s dark-haired beloved in the Song of Songs). Here, as in most of Kiefer’s Margarete works, the German heroine is depicted only by the synecdoche of her “golden hair,” in the form of sheaves of wheat in the countryside.

Note: The Google Art Project offers high resolution views of three additional artworks by Anselm Kiefer. You can access them by clicking here. (Be sure to try out Google’s zoom function so that you can examine the artworks’ astonishing details!) Two of these paintings are held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the other can be found in The Toledo Museum of Art.
In honor of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and as part of our ongoing National Poetry Month series, we now turn to the chilling poem that inspired the above work of art.
Paul Celan (born Paul Antschel) was a Holocaust survivor who wrote in German and whose work has had a strong influence on both poetry and the visual arts in postwar Europe. The poem “Death Fugue” is sometimes cited in the ongoing debates around Theodor Adorno’s famously quoted (and often misquoted) comment that it is “barbaric” to write poetry after Auschwitz.
Death Fugueby Paul Celan translated by Jerome Rothenberg 
Black milk of morning we drink you at duskwe drink you at noontime and dawn we drink you at nightwe drink and drinkwe scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lieThere’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writeswho writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margareta he writes it and walks from the house and the stars all start flashing he whistles his dogs to draw nearwhistles his Jews to appear starts us scooping a grave out of sandhe commands us to play for the dance 
Black milk of morning we drink you at nightwe drink you at dawn and noontime we drink you at duskwe drink and drinkThere’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writeswho writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margaretayour ashen hair Shulamite we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lieHe calls jab it deep in the soil you lot there you other men sing and playhe tugs at the sword in his belt he swings it his eyes are bluejab your spades deeper you men you other men you others play up again for the dance
Black milk of morning we drink you at nightwe drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you at dusktimewe drink and drinkthere’s a man in this house your golden hair Margaretayour ashen hair Shulamite he cultivates snakes 
He calls play that death thing more sweetly Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschlandhe calls scrape that fiddle more darkly then hover like smoke in the airthen scoop out a grave in the clouds where it’s roomy to lie 
Black milk of morning we drink you at nightwe drink you at noontime Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschlandwe drink you at dusktime and dawntime we drink and drinkDeath is a gang-boss aus Deutschland his eye is bluehe shoots you with leaden bullets his aim is truethere’s a man in this house your golden hair Margaretahe sets his dogs on our trail he gives us a grave in the skyhe cultivates snakes and he dreams Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland 
your golden hair Margaretayour ashen hair Shulamite
-
You can read more about Paul Celan’s life and work by clicking here.
Submitted by Renate Evers, David Brown and Michael Simonson, Leo Baeck Institute.

Your Golden Hair, Margarete, 1980
Anselm Kiefer (German, born 1945)
Watercolor, gouache, and acrylic on paper

The artist Anselm Kiefer (who was recently awarded the Leo Baeck Medal) was inspired by Paul Celan’s poem “Death Fugue” (“Todesfuge”) to create more than 30 paintings, painted photographs and watercolors, each of which somehow refers to the poem. You can see that the above painting — which is one of this series — contains a line from the poem, translated as: “Your golden hair, Margarete.” (Click on the painting for an enlarged view.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art website explains the connection between the above work and the poem that inspired it:
Celan’s “Death Fugue,” widely read and anthologized in postwar Germany, is set in an extermination camp. Its narrative voice, in the first person plural, is that of the camp’s Jewish inmates who suffer under the strict watch of the camp’s blue-eyed commandant. Singing “your golden hair, Margarete / your ashen hair, Shulamith,” the narrators contrast German womanhood, as personified by Margarete, to whom the commandant addresses letters at night (she is named after Goethe’s heroine, Gretchen, in Faust), and Jewish womanhood (Shulamith was King Solomon’s dark-haired beloved in the Song of Songs). Here, as in most of Kiefer’s Margarete works, the German heroine is depicted only by the synecdoche of her “golden hair,” in the form of sheaves of wheat in the countryside.

Note: The Google Art Project offers high resolution views of three additional artworks by Anselm Kiefer. You can access them by clicking here. (Be sure to try out Google’s zoom function so that you can examine the artworks’ astonishing details!) Two of these paintings are held by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the other can be found in The Toledo Museum of Art.

In honor of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and as part of our ongoing National Poetry Month series, we now turn to the chilling poem that inspired the above work of art.

Paul Celan (born Paul Antschel) was a Holocaust survivor who wrote in German and whose work has had a strong influence on both poetry and the visual arts in postwar Europe. The poem “Death Fugue” is sometimes cited in the ongoing debates around Theodor Adorno’s famously quoted (and often misquoted) comment that it is “barbaric” to write poetry after Auschwitz.

Death Fugue
by Paul Celan 
translated by Jerome Rothenberg 

Black milk of morning we drink you at dusk
we drink you at noontime and dawn we drink you at night
we drink and drink
we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lie
There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes
who writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margareta 
he writes it and walks from the house and the stars all start flashing he whistles his dogs to draw near
whistles his Jews to appear starts us scooping a grave out of sand
he commands us to play for the dance 

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at dawn and noontime we drink you at dusk
we drink and drink
There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes
who writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lie
He calls jab it deep in the soil you lot there you other men sing and play
he tugs at the sword in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue
jab your spades deeper you men you other men you others play up again for the dance

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you at dusktime
we drink and drink
there’s a man in this house your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite he cultivates snakes 

He calls play that death thing more sweetly Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland
he calls scrape that fiddle more darkly then hover like smoke in the air
then scoop out a grave in the clouds where it’s roomy to lie 

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at noontime Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland
we drink you at dusktime and dawntime we drink and drink
Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland his eye is blue
he shoots you with leaden bullets his aim is true
there’s a man in this house your golden hair Margareta
he sets his dogs on our trail he gives us a grave in the sky
he cultivates snakes and he dreams Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland 

your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite

-

You can read more about Paul Celan’s life and work by clicking here.

Submitted by Renate Evers, David Brown and Michael Simonson, Leo Baeck Institute.