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The Burned Letter

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Helene Ritchie
June 2023
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A New Zealander’s Holocaust Mystery. “Every day, I am in Auschwitz,” she would say. Even though she never had been. During the Holocaust, Lidi, as a teenager, flees from Hitler and the Nazis. Forced to leave behind everyone whom she loves, she eventually arrives in New Zealand as a Jewish refugee, with her mother. Alive in their new country, but labelled again, they immediately are called ‘enemy aliens’, monitored by the police, their letters censored, their lives and movements restricted. Five years later in 1945, a few months after the liberation of Auschwitz, Lidi burns the letter written to her that tells her what happened to those she loved most dearly. She hopes that in turning the letter to ashes, her survivor guilt and trauma would disappear too. But her efforts are in vain. “They - all those relations - just perished,” Lidi says over and over again. Nearly 70 years later, just before she dies at the age of 92, Lidi said she regrets burning the letter. Too late. “They” remain a mystery to Helene, Lidi’s daughter. As does their fate. For 50 years, she travels the world, searching for her grandparents and her “just perished” family. It was as if “they” all just disappeared in a puff of smoke. But she does find traces in the killing centres, ghettos and death marches across Poland, Czechoslovakia and Germany, discovering murder, suicides, theft, and tragic love affairs.