Mrs. Kirschner and her husband, Sidney, had raised three children in Monsey, N.Y. He was a G.I. when he spotted his future wife in the women’s balcony at a Rosh Hashana service soon after the war and brought her to the United States as a war bride.

In the Nazi camps, Mrs. Kirschner hid the letters in barracks niches or buried them in soil, risking punishment if they were discovered. She had held onto them, she said, because they were her only link to a family that she believed she might never see again.

“If I was lonely, I would take out these letters and read them over and over again,” Mrs. Kirschner, a soft-spoken woman with lively blue eyes, told The New York Times in 2005. “It was my way of feeling close to them.”

She later kept them hidden from her children because she was afraid that her full story of the Holocaust — her parents were gassed at Auschwitz, and four siblings were killed in the war — would wound them emotionally.

“I wanted to raise them in a normal way and not have them take on the burden of their mother,” Mrs. Kirschner said.


Mrs. Kirschner, then Sala Garncarz, at age 12.

The Germans, needing slave labor in their drive to gobble up Europe, herded Jews into a constellation of camps — some in urban factories, some at sprawling sites like Auschwitz-Birkenau, known more for their gas chambers and crematories.

Mrs. Kirschner was first sent to a camp in Geppersdorf, Germany, where the male inmates built a stretch of autobahn while the women peeled potatoes and sewed swastikas onto German uniforms.

Although life in the camps was miserable, with starvation diets, outbreaks of typhus and clothes unfit for the bitingly cold winters, some offered liberties that would have startled survivors of more hellish camps; the Germans at first wanted the world to believe that the camps were routine work sites. In her first camp years, Mrs. Kirschner was allowed to send and receive mail, and for a few months she received a small salary.

“When Mother received your postcard, she was the happiest person in the world,” an early letter from her sister Raizel informed her.

Letters from the ghetto period and even before then were peppered with gossip and sketches of the family’s clinging to Jewish rituals in the face of brutal restrictions.

Another letter from Raizel referred to the onset of deportations from the ghetto, describing one roundup in coded language as a “big wedding here to which I wasn’t invited.”


Ann Kirschner’s book about her mother was published in 2006.

Free Press

“Be happy, be glad and thank God a thousand times every day that you still have somebody to whom you can write with the way things are going here,” Raizel wrote in May 1942, a few months before she and her sister Blima were themselves dispatched to labor camps.

“Don’t worry about us,” Raizel wrote. “But we’re worried about our dear precious parents. We don’t know what happened to them. May God give us some great news.”

Mrs. Kirschner’s diary records her affectionate friendship with an older “guardian angel” in Sosnowiec, Ala Gartner, who was later hanged at Auschwitz for her part in an uprising.

In the camps, there were clandestine notes exchanged among inmates, including flirtatious ones from a handsome Czech Jew, Harry Haubenstock, who told Mrs. Kirschner, “You look very cute in your pajamas,” but lamented, “I hardly recognize myself any longer.”

“I have changed so much,” he wrote, “and if someone were to see me now, they would hardly believe that I should be capable of such a deep and sincere love.”

The totality of the Germans’ destruction of Jewish life in Europe is apparent from one fact: None of Mrs. Kirschner’s letters to her family and friends survived the war.


Sala and her husband, Cpl. Sidney Kirschner, in 1946, the year they were married.

New York Public Library, Dorot Jewish Division/Sala Garncarz Collection

Sala Garncarz was born near Sosnowiec on March 5, 1924. Her father, Joseph, was a rabbi and teacher; her mother, the former Chana Feldman, raised 11 children, three of whom died before the war.

Sala, the youngest, was one of the first girls to attend school in the pioneering Beth Jacob movement, started by Sarah Schenirer with the aim of educating Jewish girls. When the Germans occupied Poland, Raizel was conscripted to work, but Sala, shrewd and resourceful, felt her older sister was too bookish to weather the camp and volunteered to take her place.

Mrs. Kirschner was liberated by the Soviet Army in May 1945 and hitchhiked home to Sosnowiec, only to learn that her family had vanished. But she discovered that Raizel and Blima had wound up in Sweden, and after a time they joined Sala in America.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Kirschner is survived by her husband; a son, David; eight grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. A second son, Joseph, died in 2004.

Holocaust survivors have dealt with their nightmarish memories in various ways. Mrs. Kirschner was encouraged by her husband to put the past behind her. When her children asked about the war, Ann Kirschner said, “her eyes would fill with tears, and it was clear she wanted that door shut.”

But she never forgot the precious letters she kept in that cardboard box.

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