Hidden letters reveal desperation, and now a Florida family keeps Holocaust stories alive

Carli Teproff
·3 min read

Nov. 18, 1939: “...staying here is not an option because no one is staying here.”

Louise Frank’s words grew more frantic as she tried to get out of Germany and into the United States with her sister Jenny Bermann. She communicated with her daughter Matilde Lewis in handwritten letters sent by airmail as it became harder for Jews under the Nazi regime. Frank had chosen to remain in Germany, even though her daughter went to the United States.

Those letters are now part of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s collection, thanks to Frank’s granddaughter, Hilde Breitbart and great-grandson Steven Breitbart.

Steven Breitbart, who became involved with the museum in 2014, said he feels an obligation to keep the stories from the Holocaust alive so that history does not repeat itself.

To that end, the Cooper City man and his wife, Susan, are co-chairing the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s 2021 “What You Do Matters” Southeast Virtual Event, which will underscore why the choices we make matter.

“We have been very passionate about what the museum does about preserving the evidence of the Holocaust and education of the public in general,” he said. “The event is to raise awareness of the museum and the mission they have of eliminating hate in the world.”

This year’s annual museum fundraiser — which was moved online because of the pandemic — will feature Morgan Freeman, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jason Alexander and Ray Allen. It will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 11.

The museum, located in Washington, D.C. ,is a living memorial to the Holocaust, with educational programs that confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity.

“Participants will see firsthand how the Museum has adjusted to these extraordinary times by bringing Holocaust education and awareness to audiences virtually, and how the critical lessons of the Holocaust — lessons about the fragility of freedom, the nature of hate and the consequences of indifference — remain vital,” Robert Tanen, the Museum’s Southeast regional director, said in a statement.

Breitbart said it wasn’t until he began volunteering with the museum that he learned his mother had tucked away the letters in a folder. He said they were on the way to a museum luncheon, when she mentioned the letters.

What he found was a treasure trove of “artifacts” that depict a terrible time in history. The letters, which have since been translated, reveal the struggles of his great-grandmother attempting to leave Germany. Frank and her sister were murdered at a “killing center” named Chelmo.

In 2015, members of Breitbart’s extended family gathered in Zell for a special ceremony where “stumbling stones” were placed in front of the former residence of his great-grandmother and great-aunt. The stones are part of an effort by artist Guenther Demnig to remember those lost in the Holocaust.

Breitbart said his involvement with the museum has opened his eyes to finding out more about where he comes from.

“This is part of my story.”

For more information

To register for the event, which costs $118 per household, visit ushmm.org/2021-southeast. For information, contact the Southeast Regional Office at 561-995-6773 or southeast@ushmm.org.