My Dear Good Rosi: Letters From Nazi-Occupied Holland, 1940-1943

The forthcoming book, My Dear Good Rosi: Letters From Nazi-Occupied Holland, 1940-1943 is the story of Hugo and Clemy Mosbacher, my husband Tony’s grandparents, who were killed in Auschwitz in 1943. The story is based on the 200 letters and postcards they wrote and sent from Nazi occupied Amsterdam to their only child, Rosi who lived in London and later New York.

Nuremberg, Germany had been the family home for many years until Hitler came to power and began persecuting Jews. Tony’s mother, Rosi was young and healthy enough to be able to leave Germany and work as a domestic in England for a family that took in refugees. When her quota number came up in 1940 she was able to immigrate to the the United States.

Hugo and Clemy planned to wait in Nuremberg for their quota numbers to immigrate to the United States to join Rosi in New York. Unfortunately, this never happened. They said goodbye to one another for the last time in 1939. Their only contact after that was through the many letters they exchanged. Rosi saved every piece of correspondence from her parents for almost 70 years.

Shortly after we were married Tony told me about his grandparents — that he had never known them and they had been killed. My mind could not wrap itself around this reality. I’d been very close to my grandparents all my life and couldn’t imagine living without their love and attention. I had to know about Tony’s grandparents before their tragic deaths. What did they enjoy about life? What and who did they care about? What kind of people were they? What did they do with their time?

I’d been doing family history for many years so was used to asking questions to uncover stories. And fortunately Tony’s mother was open and willing to answer my many questions about her parents. It was as if she’d been waiting for someone to ask her about them. I believe that most people are out there waiting to be asked about their lives and need to hear “Tell me” from someone.

More and more of our phone conversations and visits with her in New York were devoted to discussing her parents. During one memorable visit she pulled out albums and loose photos of family members, identified them and asked Tony to write the names on the back of the photos. She also for a very brief moment showed us the file of letters from her parents she had saved. We looked at one and the only thing she told us was that the salutation was usually My Dear Rosi. She was willing to give us the photos but the letters – her last link with her parents – were too precious to let go of.

As she aged it became clear she needed more care and she chose to move to San Francisco to an assisted living center. Sorting through almost 60 years of living in her New York apartment was difficult and at times chaotic. She didn’t know what to take and what to throw away. We had no idea what would get to San Francisco with her.

After several years it was necessary to move her to a higher level of care in the same facility. She was unable to help with the move so Tony, his brother and wife and I handled the move for her. One of my assignments was clearing out her desk. I looked in one section of the desk and saw the familiar file folder that contained the letters she showed us in New York. They made it through all the chaos of the move. Here they were and we could now look at them and decide what to do with them. It was like finding gold!

We told Rosi we found the letters and she told us “Don’t throw them away!” Of course not we said and to assure her we brought some of the letters to our next visit with her. She recognized her parent’s handwriting immediately and asked if we wanted her to translate. First she read it in German and then as best she could in English. I cried but saw no tears from her. It must have been completely overwhelming for her. We told her we were going to have them translated.

The letters were translated and for the first time Tony and his brother Steve got to know their grandparents. Their letters revealed their anguish over being separated from Rosi and their loved ones, their humor, wisdom, frustration with endless forms and documents for immigration, their doubts and questioning their decision to flee Germany. They wished most fervently to be reunited with their family again. Rosi had always told us she wished we had known her parents. They were such good people.

Rosi was right and we are very fortunate to get to know these good people through their letters.

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