The censors make their shadowy presence known

Posted on April 25th, 2018 by

Curators have to make choices: not everything can make it into an exhibit, and there’s seldom enough space to share every interesting fact about the things that are on display. That’s where social media comes in! Here’s a closer look at another  letter in the Hollander family collection. Written by JMM Director of Collections and Exhibits and The Book of Joseph: Giving Voice to the Hollander Family curator Joanna Church. To see more Book of Joseph extras, click here.

In this April 23, 1941 letter from Joseph’s nieces Genka (top portion) and Lusia (bottom portion), both girls described their circumstances in not-terribly-hopeful terms. Genka’s note was more despairing than her sister’s, telling her uncle “I didn’t change much outside but inside I feel like I am a quarter of a century older.” Even cheerful Lusia, after assuring Joseph she is “healthy, joyful and full of good hopes,” could only summarize the family’s overall situation with “it’s going somehow.”

Noteworthy about this letter are several things:

Genka provided the Wimisner family’s Berlin registration numbers; at the bottom, one of the girls added their “current address,” now that they’ve moved to the Podgórze neighborhood… that is, the new Cracow ghetto; and, inside the envelope, added by a Nazi censor, is this small printed notice:

Im Interesse der Sache ist es dringend erwünscht, daß Name und Adresse des Briefempfängers und Absenders nicht nur auf den Umschlag, sondern auch auf eine jede Briefeinlage gesetzt werden.
                                                                   Die Auslandsbriefprüfstelle.


In the interest of the matter at hand, it is strongly desired that the name and address of the recipient and sender be set not only on the envelope, but also on each letter enclosed.

                       The foreign letter inspection office.

The girls added their uncle’s address by hand to the top of the letter itself, as requested – probably doing this after the letter was returned to them for their failure to follow a rule of which they may have been unaware. The rules for letters changed frequently and arbitrarily, adding to the uncertainty of communication with the outside world.

Genka and Lusia Wimisner to Joseph Hollander. Polish, typed/handwritten. April 23, 1941.

The translation of this letter appears in Every Day Lasts a Year on pages 243-244.

On loan from Rich Hollander and his family, Baltimore. JMM L2018.003.014.045

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The Book of Joseph: Moving Forward

Posted on April 22nd, 2018 by

Playwright Karen Hartman and author and native Baltimorean Richard Hollander were kind enough to sit down with us and talk a little about their experiences with creating “The Book of Joseph” and bringing the story of Richard’s family to life.

In this clip Karenand Richard share their advice about family stories and secrets.

Interview by JMM Marketing Manager Rachel Kassman. Filming and transcription by Carmen Venable. This interview was filmed on April 11, 2018 at the Everyman Theatre in downtown Baltimore, MD.

“The Book of Joseph” runs at the Everyman Theatre May 9 –June 10, 2018. It’s companion exhibit, “The Book of Joseph: Giving Voice to the Hollander Family,” is on display at the Jewish Museum of Maryland April 22 – June 3, 2018.


RK: What would you tell, to maybe someone else who has found something in their attic, or has heard tell of family secrets, after going through this experience, what would you advise someone?

RH: [To Karen] You can start with that one, because you had a similar situation in your family.

KH: I did. But I want to answer Rachel’s question directly first, which is– I am a little more like Craig in the play; I want to encourage people to be braver, to be more intimate, to live more truthfully. I mean, that’s my mission as an artist, and this– so to be invited into a story that is so much about that, so much about, “Well, I feel like I’m protecting my family by not asking the hard questions, but what does that really serve long term, does it really serve them to leave this earth without their story being told? Or does it serve them, or does it serve me, to ask those questions, so that we can carry forward more?” Someone can always say. “I don’t want to talk about that,” but then at least you know, “Well, I asked, you know, I tried. I exhibited interest.” There’s an opportunity for that story to come down, whatever it is, because part of what’s universal about the play is this sense that we all have a briefcase, we all have those mysteries and questions, and in the case of this story, tragically, you know Rich finds the briefcase after his parents passed away. But for most of us, there are people who we want to ask. So, I would say: ask.

RH: I would agree with that. You know, one of the cruel ironies of reality is that when my parents were killed, I was a journalist. I’m supposed to be the person asking the questions. But all of a sudden, when I am a participant in this, I didn’t do it. I didn’t ask the questions, and so it took, years later, when I was able to play journalist, and ferret out the story of my father and there’s a powerful immigration story that emerges, there are the story about– war story that emerges, there’s a love story that comes about, but I found these things out after the fact and after I missed the opportunity, not only to talk to my father, but as the play points out, there were many people alive in nineteen eighty-seven, eighty-eight, eighty-nine, and so forth, who could have enhanced and added to the narrative. But I didn’t go there at that point.

RK: Fantastic. Richard, what is the biggest message you hope people take away from seeing this play, and from getting to go and visit and see some of the letters on display at the Museum?

RH: Well, it’s a tough question because there are so many entry points for the audience in this play. And, I suspect if you walk through the lobby after the play, you will hear people say, “It was about this!” “No, it was about immigration!” “No, it was about family secrets!” “No, it was about father-son relationships!” “No, really it was about children– the Craig character with his father.” So, it’s so hard to pinpoint one theme, and I really don’t want to do that, because I want the audience to have that compelling theatrical experience where you leave and say– and can debate, and talk, and it generates conversation. And– but certainly, as Karen said earlier, there’s a theme there, it says do it now, we don’t know what tomorrow is, and ironically, when your parents in a matter of a second or two, it really strikes the survivors that an opportunity was missed. So, the message– if there’s one message, is: don’t miss an opportunity to have that conversation.

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