World War II:
Letters from Onchan

My grandparents, Louis (Lutz) and Frieda Bissinger, escaped from Germany a few weeks before the outbreak of war, and came to Britain. In the spring of 1940 they were able to move to London, but in June 1940 the regulations changed and so even though they had both been vetted by a tribunal and declared “Class C” – i.e., legitimate refugees from the Nazis – my grandfather was interned in the Onchan Camp on the Isle of Man. He was there through Sept. 1941, when he was released to work in Cumberland for the War Agricultural Executive Committee. Shortly after that, he was reunited with my grandmother.

In 1993, when my grandmother passed away, my mother was clearing out the basement storage area associated with the apartment, and found that my Oma had kept all the letters from my Opa while he was interned. Due to water damage, they had congealed into a solid block of paper fibers. My mother donated the letters to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, hoping that the museum’s conservationists would be able to figure out a way to salvage them.

In late 2014, I found the accession record for this artifact in the USHMM website, and sent them an email asking if they’d ever been able to get anywhere with the letters. With recent advances in restoration techniques, they have been able to salvage many of the letters. They are continuing to work on the others, but the archivist sent me photographs of what they have recovered to date.

These web pages contain my attempt at transcribing and translating the letters. My German is not very good, so I’m sure there are errors on both parts. I have added bracketed notes to the translation to explain references to people and places.

Additional context can be found in this PDF of background material.

If you click on any of the images on the left side of the page, you’ll be taken to a full-size image. As the transcript of the original German text is not useful to most readers, it will be displayed only briefly when you first view each page. To display it again, click the “Show German text” link in the lower left corner of the page. (The “page numbers” in the following descriptions refer to the pages in the PDF that the USHMM archivist sent me, and are there only for convenience in cross-referencing the original images.) I have taken the liberty of adding paragraph breaks to the translation; internees were limited to 24 lines per letter and so it would have been a waste to put those divisions in the German.

My mother and I are deeply grateful to the USHMM for their efforts to salvage these letters. We hope that my grandfather’s words will help to illuminate a small corner of that terrible time.

Andrew Greene
4 May 2015

Update: In Dec. 2015 the USHMM sent me the complete set of 153 letters. I am now looking into hiring someone to transcribe them. If you're interested in helping, or if you want to see the raw files, please see here.

July 1940:
It has happened very quickly