Sonja’s aunt Martha and great grandparents Leopold and Julchen were arrested and deported to Gurs on October 22, 1940. Leopold was 90 at the time and died there. On August 17, 1942, Martha was taken to Drancy and then Auschwitz on SNCF Convoys. She died in Auschwitz on September 14, 1942. On October 5, 1942, Julchen was taken to Drancy and onto Auschwitz on SNCF Convoys. Martha wrote a letter to the family describing their experience:
Dear ones… over land and over sea,
To you I dedicate these words, so listen if you please:
At one in the morning, at the height of a storm,
I pour my heart out to you.
With my sisters from Baden, Pfaltz, and Saarland,
From twenty years old to eighty,
Your Marta is shackled with ropes
For days and hours on end in a wooden hut.
On Grandmother’s eightieth birthday (October 22, 1940)
We were taken with few belongings, for the time we had was short.
Twenty minutes with my two elderly relatives.
Imperative at such a time to remain fully alert.
Now we must hurry to bring warm blankets and shoes,
And also food for three days.
Grandmother was completely confused, I had to do the work,
Only albums of pain and framed pictures she wanted to take.
And for her shrouds, too, she asked the men –
God, help me.
Even today I have no idea how it happened
That I managed to maintain a certain calm,
And with the two of them, among shouts and calls,
I bade farewell to my land.
We traveled by car to the castle,
Where those from the Rhine and the Enz gathered.
At nine in the evening we began to move, The guards forced
Us to move quickly.
Amidst the confusion I lost all,
Perspiring, yet freezing from the cold.
At one in the morning they searched for me,
Grandmother monopolized the bathroom,
She vomited all the time in front of everyone.
Grandfather, too, did not sit idle,
Slapping himself on the mouth,
Acting wildly, I cannot describe it to you,
Like someone who wants to chase the people from his bed.
He walked around dressed only in a shirt,
Imagine for yourselves, how embarrassed I was.
Luckily, the train traveled rapidly,
To where? – this, no one knew.
We passed by Rastatt, Offenburg, Breisach, the border.
Where everyone – rich and poor – received two thousand francs.
Everything else remained there, not that I cared.
Belfort, Besancon, Montpellier, Avignon, Lyons,
Perpignan, Toulouse, Oloron.
Eventually we arrived,
After seventy hours we reached our destination.
The trip had sapped much of our energy.
But there was compensation,
The beautiful scenery through which we traveled,
Of this everyone agreed.
Mountains and forests, hilltops and seaside,
After all those hours, our hearts sank.
To Gurs, our new home, we arrived
In the rain, not in the sunlight.
Barrack 31 was empty and desolate,
But mattresses and straw sacks came quickly.
Warm soup, after all that suffering
Tasted better than the most sumptuous feast.
There were no tables or plates,
But we enjoyed eating with our hands out of tin cans.
We received bread and soup,
As well as coffee which perked us up,
Even with beans, tastier than malt,
Or the horrible elder plant.
Apples and cheese we got from the kitchen,
Jam, porridge, and oranges.
Elegant lady, doctor, servant – here all are equal,
Here there are no wealthy and no poor.
Can you lend me a few pairs of socks?
I’ll exchange them for a pat of butter.
If you give me some tea, to you I’ll give some meat.
Someone with cognac is considered a rich person.
Please do not think we are crying here,
God brings out the sun in its full splendor.
Washing and showering are here a great eperience,
A person feels garbed in expensive silk clothing.
And Sabbath eve, as well, with the candles and singing,
And joking and teasing, and carrying the water,
This is our current lot in life.
In the afternoon everyone lines up along the barbed wire fence
To see if one’s husband is nearby.
You cannot imagine my joy when I saw mine,
After seventeen days plus several hours.
We received a pass between 2:00 and 6:00.
Our conversation I cannot describe.
It is better that I do not.
This week I cleaned the bathrooms
In exchange for a double portion, but not just that.
They allowed me to visit with Hermann, and it was just wonderful.
Everyone envied my pleasure,
But there was only one woman who joined me in the cleaning.
Grandfather is in the Red Cross hut.
He cried during my visit, but not from pain,
On the contrary, his heart was uplifted,
He is as happy as a child.
Until we will reach New York.
Hilda, Helena, Frieda, and Nettle also send their regards,
Being together helps make life more bearable.
One gives coffee, the other porridge,
One warm water, the other tea.
Write back quickly and good night,
I did the very best I could.
Gurs Camp, November 21, 1940