Monday, May 10, 2010

Researcher Seeking Descendents of Letter-Writers

German letters written in 1938-39 should be returned to their descendants, says a Buffalo-area writer and researcher who acquired 300 letters from a local home on E-Bay.

Mary G. Roseberry, a Professor of English at Niagara County Community College, hopes to find grandchildren who would cherish handwritten notes composed by ancestors who were facing Hitler’s virulent attacks against German and Austrian Jews. She has developed a website that lists the letter-writers, some with only given names, some with surnames and the city from which the letter was written. The archive, which Roseberry purchased through an estate sale in Hamburg, New York, near Buffalo, in 2005, also contained pre-war photos and official documents from the period.

The website is www.somebodysstory.com.

“Among the 300 letters are more than 60 from friends to one Minna Peiser Breitbarth in March 1939 when her husband Harry died in Holland, where they had fled,” says Roseberry. “Several were from Breslau (now Wroclaw) and Berlin, but others were sent from cities in Holland, from Prague, London, Rome and the U.S.” The letters chronicle a community facing destruction, and Roseberry has been able to determine that at least a few of the writers later perished in Nazi hands.

“Some writers refer to the troubled times they were living in,” says Roseberry; “however, their significance is not necessarily in the content but in the power of the handwritten word to bring someone to life for us 60 years later.”

Several correspondents fled to Britain in 1938-39, including Suzanne Hammerschlag, Charlotte Lewin, Karl Reiser, and Hans Schneider. Minna Breitbarth’s journey took her from Breslau to Holland, London, and then to the U.S. Her daughter Ursula married Peter Margulies (who changed his name to Marlis) and settled in the buffalo area. Two of Peter Margulies’ siblings escaped to Argentina.

Roseberry has completed a non-fiction manuscript that traces her efforts to reconstruct the story of the couple that came to the Buffalo area in 1941. “There are all those other letters that Ursula’s mother kept,” Roseberry noted, “and it would take a lifetime to trace the writers and find descendants. So I am hoping the website will lead me to at least a few of them who would welcome that connection to their past.” For more information, Please contact Mary G. Roseberry at 716-542-1909.

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