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Lake Worth, Florida

September 14, 1998

Dear Professor Morgenstern,

How badly I wish that I could address you as “Freyda”! But I don’t have the right to such familiarity. I have just read your memoir. I have reason to believe that we are cousins. My maiden name is “Schwart” (not my father’s actual name, I think it was changed at Ellis Island in 1936) but my mother’s maiden name was “Morgenstern” and all her family was from Kaufbeuren as yours were. We were to meet in 1941 when we were small children, you and your parents and sister and brother were coming to live with my parents, my two brothers and me in Milburn, New York. But the boat that was carrying you and other refugees, the Marea, was turned back by U.S. Immigration at New York Harbor.

(In your memoir you speak so briefly of this. You seem to recall a name other than Marea. But I am sure that Marea was the name for it seemed so beautiful to me like music. You were so young of course. So much would happen afterward, you would not remember this. By my calculation you were 6, and I was 5.)

All these years I had not known that you were living! I had not known that there were survivors in your family. It was told to us by my father that there were not. I am so happy for you and your success. To think that you were living in the U.S. since 1956 is a shock to me. That you were a college student in New York City while I was living (my first marriage, not a happy one) in upstate New York! Forgive me, I did not know of your previous books, though I would be intrigued by “biological anthropology,” I think! (I have nothing of your academic education, I’m so ashamed. Not only not college but I did not graduate from high school.)

Well, I am writing in the hope that we might meet. Oh very soon, Frey-da! Before it’s too late.

I am no longer your 5-year-old cousin dreaming of a new “sister” (as my mother promised) who would sleep with me in my bed and be with me always.

Your “lost” cousin

Lake Worth, Florida

September 15, 1998

Dear Professor Morgenstern,

I wrote to you just the other day, now I see to my embarrassment that I may have sent the letter to a wrong address. If you are “on sabbatical leave” from the University of Chicago as it says on the dust jacket of your memoir. I will try again with this, care of your publisher.

I will enclose the same letter. Though I feel it is not adequate, to express what is in my heart.

Your “lost” cousin

P.S. Of course I will come to you, wherever & whenever you wish, Freyda!

Lake Worth, Florida

October 2, 1998

Dear Professor Morgenstern,

I wrote to you last month but I’m afraid that my letters were mis-addressed. I will enclose these letters here, now that I know you are at the “Institute for Advanced Research” at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.

Its possible that you have read my letters and were offended by them. I know, I am not a very good writer. I should not have said what I did about the Atlantic crossing in 1941, as if you would not know these facts for yourself. I did not mean to correct you, Professor Morgen-stern, regarding the name of the very boat you and your family were on in that nightmare time!

In an interview with you reprinted in the Miami newspaper I was embarrassed to read that you have received so much mail from “relatives” since the memoir. I smiled to read where you said, “Where were all these relatives in America when they were needed?”

Truly we were here, Freyda! In Milburn, New York, on the Erie Canal.

Your cousin

Palo Alto CA

1 November 1998

Dear Rebecca Schward,

Thank you for your letter and for your response to my memoir. I have been deeply moved by the numerous letters I’ve received since the publication of Back From the Dead: A Girlhood both in the United States and abroad and truly wish that I had time to reply to each of these individually and at length.


Freyda Morgenstern

Julius K. Tracey ‘48 Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, University of Chicago

Lake Worth, Florida

November 5, 1998

Dear Professor Morgenstern,

I’m very relieved now, I have the correct address! I hope that you will read this letter. I think you must have a secretary who opens your mail and sends back replies. I know, you are amused (annoyed?) by so many now claiming to be relatives of “Freyda Morgenstern.” Especially since your television interviews. But I feel very strongly, I am your true cousin. For I was the (only) daughter of Anna Morgenstern. I believe that Anna Morgenstern was the (only) sister of your mother Dora a younger sister. For many weeks my mother spoke of her sister Dora coming to live with us, your father and your Elzbieta who was older than you by 3 or 4 years and your brother Joel who was also older than you, not by so much. We had photographs of you, I remember so clearly how your hair was so neatly plaited and how pretty you were, a “frowning girl” my mother said of you, like me. We did look alike then, Freyda, though you were much prettier of course. Elzbieta was blond with a plump face. Joel was looking happy in the photograph, a sweet-seeming boy of maybe 8. To read that your sister and brother died in such a terrible way in “Theresienstadt” was so sad. My mother never recovered from the shock of that time, I think. She was so hoping to see her sister again. When the Marea was turned back in the harbor, she gave up hope. My father did not allow her to speak German, only English, but she could not speak English well, if anyone came to the house she would hide. She did not speak much afterward to any of us and was often sick. She died in May 1949.

Reading this letter I see that I am giving a wrong emphasis, really! I never think of these long-ago things.

It was seeing your picture in the newspaper, Freyda! My husband was reading the New York Times & called me to him saying wasn’t it strange, here was a woman looking enough like his wife to be a sister, though in fact you & I do not look so much alike, in my opinion, not any longer, but it was a shock to see your face which is very like my mother’s face as I remember it.

And then your name Freyda Morgenstern.

At once I went out & purchased Back From the Dead: A Girlhood. I have not read any Holocaust memoirs out of a dread of what I would learn. Your memoir I read sitting in the car in the parking lot of the bookstore not knowing the time, how late it was until my eyes could not see the pages. I thought “It’s Freyda! It’s her! My sister I was promised.” Now I am sixty-two years old, and so lonely in this place of retired wealthy people who look at me & think that I am one of them.

I am not one to cry. But I wept on many pages of your memoir though I know (from your interviews) you wish not to hear such reports from readers & have only contempt for “cheap American pity.” I know, I would feel the same way. You are right to feel that way. In Milburn I resented the people who felt sorry for me as the “gravedigger’s daughter” (my father’s employment) more than the others who did not give a damn if the Schwarts lived or died.

I am enclosing my picture taken when I was a girl of sixteen. It is all I have of those years. (I look very different now, I’m afraid!) How badly I wish I could send you a picture of my mother Anna Morgenstern but all were destroyed in 1949.

Your cousin,

Palo Alto CA

16 November 1998

Dear Rebecca Schwart,

Sorry not to have replied earlier. I think yes it is quite possible that we are “cousins” but at such a remove it’s really an abstraction, isn’t it?

I am not traveling much this year trying to complete a new book before my sabbatical ends. I am giving fewer “talks” and my book tour is over, thank God. (The venture into memoir was my first and will be my last effort at non-academic writing. It was far too easy, like opening a vein.) So I don’t quite see how it would be feasible for us to meet at the present time.

Thank you for sending your photograph. I am returning it.


Lake Worth, Florida

November 20, 1998

Dear Freyda,

Yes, I am sure we are “cousins”! Though like you I don’t know what “cousins” can mean.

I have no living relatives, I believe. My parents have been dead since 1949 & I know nothing of my brothers I have not glimpsed in many years.

I think you despise me as your “American cousin.” I wish you could forgive me for that. I am not sure how “American” I am though I was not born in Kaufbeuren as you were but in New York harbor in May 1936. (The exact day is lost. There was no birth certificate or it was lost.) I mean, I was born on the refugee boat! In a place of terrible filth I was told.

It was a different time then, 1936. The war had not begun & people of our kind were allowed to “emigrate” if they had money.

My brothers Herschel & Augustus were born in Kaufbeuren & of course both our parents. My father called himself “Jacob Schwart” in this country. (This is a name I have never spoken to anyone who knows me now. Not to my husband of course.) I knew little of my father except he had been a printer in the old world (as he called it with scorn) and at one time a math teacher in a boys’ school. Until the Nazis forbade such people to teach. My mother Anna Morgenstern was married very young. She played piano, as a girl. We would listen to music on the radio sometime if Pa was not home. (The radio was Pa’s.)

Forgive me, I know you are not interested in any of this. In your memoir you spoke of your mother as a record-keeper for the Nazis, one of those Jewish “administrators” helping in the transport of Jews. You are not sentimental about family. There is something so craven to it isn’t there. I respect the wishes of one who wrote Back From the Dead which is so critical of your relatives & Jews & Jewish history & beliefs as of post-war “amnesia.” I would not wish to dissuard you of such a true feeling, Freyda!

I have no true feelings myself, I mean that others can know.

Pa said you were all gone. Like cattle sent back to Hitler, Pa said. I remember his voice lifting NINE HUNDRED REFUGEES, I am sick still hearing that voice.

Pa said for me to stop thinking about my cousins! They were not coming. They were gone.

Many pages of your memoir I have memorized, Freyda. And your letters to me. In your words, I can hear your voice. I love this voice so like my own. My secret voice I mean, that no one knows.

I will fly to California, Freyda. Will you give me permission? “Only say the word & my soul shall be healed.”

Your cousin,

Lake Worth, Florida

November 21, 1998

Dear Freyda,

I am so ashamed, I mailed you a letter yesterday with a word misspelled: “dissuade.” And I spoke of no living relatives, I meant no one remaining from the Schwart family. (I have a son from my first marriage, he is married with two children.)

I have bought other books of yours. Biology: A History. Race and Racism: A History. How impressed Jacob Schwart would be, the little girl in the photographs was never gone but has so very far surpassed him!

Will you let me come to see you in Palo Alto, Freyda? I could arrive for one day, we might have a meal together & I would depart the next morning. This is a promise.

Your (lonely) cousin

Lake Worth, Florida

November 24, 1998

Dear Freyda,

An evening of your time is too much to ask, I think. An hour? An hour would not be too much, would it? Maybe you could talk to me of your work, anything in your voice would be precious to me. I would not wish to drag you into the cesspool of the past as you speak of it so strongly. A woman like yourself capable of such intellectual work & so highly regarded in your field has no time for maudlin sentiment, I agree.

I have been reading your books. Underlining, & looking up words in the dictionary. (I love the dictionary, its my friend.) So exciting to consider How does science demonstrate the genetic basis of behavior?

I have enclosed a card here for your reply. Forgive me I did not think of this earlier.

Your cousin

Palo Alto CA

24 November 1998

Dear Rebecca Schwart,

Your letters of Nov. 20 & 21 are interesting. But the name “Jacob Schwart” means nothing to me, I’m afraid. There are numerous “Morgensterns” surviving. Perhaps some of these are your cousins, too. You might seek them out if you are lonely.

As I believe I have explained, this is a very busy time for me. I work much of the day and am not feeling very sociable in the evening. “Loneliness” is a problem engendered primarily by the too-close proximity of others. One excellent remedy is work.


P.S. I believe you have left phone messages for me at the Institute. As my assistant has explained to you, I have no time to answer such calls.

Lake Worth, Florida

November 27, 1998

Dear Freyda,

Our letters crossed! We both wrote on Nov. 24, maybe it’s a sign.

It was on impulse I telephoned. “If I could hear her voice”-the thought came to me.

You have hardened your heart against your “American cousin.” It was courageous in the memoir to state so clearly how you had to harden your heart against so much, to survive. Americans believe that suffering makes saints of us, which is a joke. Still I realize you have no time for me in your life now. There is no “purpose” to me.

Even if you won’t meet me at this time, will you allow me to write to you? I will accept it if you do not reply. I would only wish that you might read what I write, it would make me so happy (yes, less lonely!) for then I could speak to you in my thoughts as I did when we were girls.

Your cousin

P.S. In your academic writing you refer so often to “adaptation of species to environment.” If you saw me, your cousin, in Lake Worth, Florida, on the ocean just south of Palm Beach, so very far from Milburn, N.Y., and from the “old world,” you would laugh.

Palo Alto CA

1 December 1998

Dear Rebecca Schwart,

My tenacious American cousin! I’m afraid it is no sign of anything, not even “coincidence,” that our letters were written on the same day and that they “crossed.”

This card. I admit I am curious at the choice. It happens this is a card on my study wall. (Did I speak of this in the memoir, I don’t think so.) How you happen to come into possession of this reproduction of Caspar David Friedrich’s Sturzacker-you have not been to the museum in Hamburg, have you? It’s rare that any American even knows the name of this artist much esteemed in Germany.


Lake Worth, Florida

4 December 1998

Dear Freyda,

The postcard of Caspar David Friedrich was given to me, with other cards from the Hamburg museum, by someone who traveled there. (In fact my son who is a pianist. His name would be known to you, it’s nothing like my own.)

I chose a card to reflect your soul. As I perceive it in your words. Maybe it reflects mine also. I wonder what you will think of this new card which is German also but uglier.

Your cousin

Palo Alto CA

10 December 1998

Dear Rebecca,

Yes I like this ugly Nolde. Smoke black as pitch and the Elbe like molten lava. You see into my soul, don’t you! Not that I have wished to disguise myself.

So I return Towboat on the Elbe to my tenacious American cousin. THANK YOU but please do not write again. And do not call. I have had enough of you.

Palo Alto CA

11 December 1998/ 2 A.M.

Dear “Cousin”!

Your sixteen-yr-old photo I made a copy of. I like that coarse mane of hair and the jaws so solid. Maybe the eyes were scared, but we know how to hide that, don’t we cousin.

In the camp I learned to stand tall. I learned to be big. As animals make themselves bigger, it can be a trick to the eye that comes true. I guess you were a “big” girl, too.

I have always told the truth. I see no reason for subterfuge. I despise fantasizing. I have made enemies “among my kind” you can be sure. When you are “back from the dead” you do not give a damn for others’ opinions & believe me, that has cost me in this so-called “profession” where advancement depends upon ass-kissing and its sexual variants not unlike the activities of our kindred primates.

Bad enough my failure to behave as a suppliant female through my career. In the memoir I take a laughing tone speaking of graduate studies at Columbia in the late 1950s. I did not laugh much then. Meeting my old enemies, who had wished to crush an impious female at the start of her career, not only female but a Jew & a refugee Jew from one of the camps, I looked them in the eye, I never flinched but they flinched, the bastards. I took my revenge where & when I could. Now those generations are dying out, I am not pious about their memories. At conferences organized to revere them, Freyda Morgenstern is the “savagely witty” truth-teller.

In Germany, where history was so long denied, Back From the Dead has been a bestseller for five months. Already it has been nominated for two major awards. Here is a joke, and a good one, yes?

In this country, no such reception. Maybe you saw the “good” reviews. Maybe you saw the one full-page ad my cheapskate publisher finally ran in the New York Review of Books. There have been plenty of attacks. Worse even than the stupid attacks to which I have become accustomed in my “profession.”

In the Jewish publications, & in Jewish-slanted publications, such shock/dismay/disgust. A Jewish woman who writes so without sentiment of mother & other relatives who “perished” in Theresienstadt. A Jewish woman who speaks so coldly & “scientifically” of her “heritage.” As if the so-called Holocaust is a “heritage.” As if I have not earned my right to speak the truth as I see it and will continue to speak the truth for I have no plans to retire from research, writing, teaching & directing doctoral students for a long time. (I will take early retirement at Chicago, these very nice benefits, & set up shop elsewhere.)

This piety of the Holocaust! I laughed, you used that word so reverentially in one of your letters. I never use this word that slides off American tongues now like grease. One of the hatchet-reviewers called Morgenstern a traitor giving solace to the enemy (which enemy? there are many) by simply stating & re-stating as I will each time I am asked, that the “holocaust” was an accident in history as all events in history are accidents. There is no purpose to history as to evolution, there is no goal or progress. Evolution is the term given to what is. The pious fantasizers wish to claim that the Nazis’ genocidal campaign was a singular event in history, that it has elevated us above history. This is bullshit, I have said so & will continue to say so. There are many genocides, so long as there has been mankind. History is an invention of books. In biological anthropology we note that the wish to perceive “meaning” is one trait of our species among many. But that does not posit “meaning” in the world. If history did exist it is a great river/cesspool into which countless small streams & tributaries flow. In one direction. Unlike sewage it cannot back up. It cannot be “tested”-“demonstrated.” It simply is. If the individual streams dry up, the river disappears. There is no “river-destiny.” There are merely accidents in time. The scientist notes that without sentiment or regret.

Maybe I will send you these ravings, my tenacious American cousin. I’m drunk enough, in a festive mood!

Your (traitor) cousin,

Lake Worth, Florida

15 December 1998

Dear Freyda,

How I loved your letter, that made my hands shake. I have not laughed in so long. I mean, in our special way.

It’s the way of hatred. I love it. Though it eats you from the inside out. (I guess.)

Its a cold night here, a wind off the Atlantic. Florida is often wet-cold. Lake Worth/Palm Beach are very beautiful & very boring. I wish you might come here & visit, you could spend the rest of the winter for its often sunny of course.

I take your precious letters with me in the early morning walking on the beach. Though I have memorized your words. Until a year ago I would run, run, run for miles! At the rain-whipped edge of a hurricane I ran. To see me, my hard-muscled legs & straight backbone, you would never guess I was not a young woman.

So strange that we are in our sixties, Freyda! Our baby-girl dolls have not aged a day.

(Do you hate it, growing old? Your photographs show such a vigorous woman. You, tell yourself “Every day I live was not meant to be” & there’s happiness in this.)

Freyda, in our house of mostly glass facing the ocean you would have your own “wing.” We have several cars, you would have your own car. No questions asked where you went. You would not have to meet my husband, you would be my precious secret.

Tell me you will come, Freyda! After the New Year would be a good time. When you finish your work each day we will go walking on the beach together. I promise we would not have to speak.

Your loving cousin

Lake Worth, Florida

17 December 1998

Dear Freyda,

Forgive my letter of the other day, so pushy & familiar. Of course you would not wish to visit a stranger.

I must make myself remember: though we are cousins, we are strangers.

I was reading again Back From the Dead. The last section, in America. Your three marriages-“ill-advised experiments in intimacy/lunacy.” You are very harsh & very funny, Freyda! Unsparing to others as to yourself.

My first marriage too was blind in love & I suppose “lunacy.” Yet without it, I would not have my son.

In the memoir you have no regret for your “misbegotten fetuses” though for the “pain and humiliation” of the abortions illegal at the time. Poor Freyda! In 1957 in a filthy room in Manhattan you nearly bled to death, at that time I was a young mother so in love with my life. Yet I would have come to you, if I had known. Though I know that you will not come here, yet I hold out hope that, suddenly yes you might! To visit, to stay as long as you wish. Your privacy would be protected.

I remain the tenacious cousin,

Lake Worth, Florida

New Year’s Day 1999

Dear Freyda,

I don’t hear from you, I wonder if you have gone away? But maybe you will see this. “If Freyda sees this even to toss away…”

I am feeling happy & hopeful. You are a scientist & of course you are right to scorn such feelings as “magical” & “primitive” but I think there can be a newness in the New Year. I am hoping this is so.

My father Jacob Schwart believed that in animal life the weak are quickly disposed of, we must hide our weakness always. You & I knew that as children. But there is so much more to us than just the animal, we know that, too.

Your loving cousin,

Palo Alto CA

19 January 1999


Yes I have been away. And I am going away again. What business is it of yours?

I was coming to think you must be an invention of mine. My worst weakness. But here on my windowsill propped up to stare at me is “Rebecca, 1952.” The horse-mane hair & hungry eyes.

Cousin, you are so faithful! It makes me tired. I know I should be flattered, few others would wish to pursue “difficult” Professor Morgen-stern now I’m an old woman. I toss your letters into a drawer, then in my weakness I open them. Once, rummaging through Dumpster trash I retrieved a letter of yours. Then in my weakness I opened it. You know how I hate weakness!

Cousin, no more.

Lake Worth, Florida

23 January 1999

Dear Freyda,

I know! I am sorry.

I shouldn’t be so greedy. I have no right. When I first discovered that you were living, last September, my thought was only “My cousin Frey-da Morgenstern, my lost sister, she is alive! She doesn’t need to love me or even know me or give a thought of me. It’s enough to know that she did not perish and has lived her life.”

Your loving cousin,

Palo Alto CA

30 January 1999

Dear Rebecca,

We make ourselves ridiculous with emotions at our age, like showing our breasts. Spare us, please!

No more would I wish to meet you than I would wish to meet myself. Why would you imagine I might want a “cousin”-“sister”-at my age? I like it that I have no living relatives any longer for there is no obligation to think Is he/she still living?

Anyway, I’m going away. I will be traveling all spring. I hate it here. California suburban boring & without a soul. My “colleagues/friends” are shallow opportunists to whom I appear to be an opportunity.

I hate such words as “perish.” Does a fly “perish,” do rotting things “perish,” does your “enemy” perish? Such exalted speech makes me tired.

Nobody “perished” in the camps. Many “died”-“were killed.” That’s all.

I wish I could forbid you to revere me. For your own good, dear cousin. I see that I am your weakness, too. Maybe I want to spare you.

If you were a graduate student of mine, though! I would set you right with a swift kick in the rear.

Suddenly there are awards & honors for Freyda Morgenstern. Not only the memoirist but the “distinguished anthropologist” too. So I will travel to receive them. All this comes too late of course. Yet like you I am a greedy person, Rebecca. Sometimes I think my soul is in my gut! I am one who stuffs herself without pleasure, to take food from others.

Spare yourself. No more emotion. No more letters!

Chicago IL

29 March 1999

Dear Rebecca Schwart,

Have been thinking of you lately. It has been a while since I’ve heard from you. Unpacking things here & came across your letters & photograph. How stark-eyed we all looked in black-and-white! Like X-rays of the soul. My hair was never so thick & splendid as yours, my American cousin.

I think I must have discouraged you. Now, to be frank, I miss you. It has been two months nearly since you wrote. These honors & awards are not so precious if no one cares. If no one hugs you in congratulations. Modesty is beside the point & I have too much pride to boast to strangers.

Of course, I should be pleased with myself: I sent you away. I know, I am a “difficult” woman. I would not like myself for a moment. I would not tolerate myself. I seem to have lost one or two of your letters, I’m not sure how many, vaguely I remember you saying you & your family lived in upstate New York, my parents had arranged to come stay with you? This was in 1941? You provided facts not in my memoir. But I do remember my mother speaking with such love of her younger sister Anna. Your father changed his name to “Schwart” from-what? He was a math teacher in Kaufbeuren? My father was an esteemed doctor. He had many non-Jewish patients who revered him. As a young man he had served in the German army in the first war, he’d been awarded a Gold Medal for Bravery & it was promised that such a distinction would protect him while other Jews were being transported. My father disappeared so abruptly from our lives, immediately we were transported to that place, for years I believed he must have escaped & was alive somewhere & would contact us. I thought my mother had information she kept from me. She was not quite the Amazon-mother of Back From the Dead…Well, enough of this! Though evolutionary anthropology must scour the past relentlessly, human beings are not obliged to do so.

It’s a blinding-bright day here in Chicago, from my aerie on the fifty-second floor of my grand new apartment building I look out upon the vast inland sea Lake Michigan. Royalties from the memoir have helped pay for this, a less “controversial” book would not have earned. Nothing more is needed, yes?

Your cousin,

Lake Worth, Florida

April 13, 1999

Dear Freyda,

Your letter meant much to me. I’m so sorry not to answer sooner. I make no excuses. Seeing this card I thought “For Freyda!”

Next time I will write more. Soon I promise.

Your cousin

Chicago IL

22 April 1999

Dear Rebecca,

Rec’d your card. Am not sure what I think of it. Americans are ga-ga for Joseph Cornell as they are for Edward Hopper. What is Lanner Waltzes? Two little-girl doll figures riding the crest of a wave & in the background an old-fashioned sailing ship with sails billowing? Collage? I hate riddle-art. Art is to see, not to think.

Is something wrong, Rebecca? The tone of your writing is altered, I think. I hope you are not playing coy, to take revenge for my chiding letter of January. I have a doctoral student, a bright young woman not quite so bright as she fancies herself, who plays such games with me at the present time, at her own risk! I hate games, too.

(Unless they are my own.)

Your cousin,

Chicago IL

6 May 1999

Dear Cousin: Yes I think you must be angry with me! Or you are not well.

I prefer to think that you are angry. That I did insult you even in your American soft heart. If so, I am sorry. I have no copies of my letters to you & don’t recall what I said. Maybe I was wrong. When I am coldly sober, I am likely to be wrong. When drunk I am likely to be less wrong.

Enclosed here is a stamped addressed card. You need only check one of the boxes: angry not well.

Your cousin,

P.S. This Joseph Cornell Pond reminded me of you, Rebecca. A doll-like girl playing her fiddle beside a murky inlet.

Lake Worth, Florida

September 19, 1999

Dear Freyda,

How strong & beautiful you were, at the awards ceremony in Washington! I was there, in the audience at the Folger Library. I made the trip just for you.

All of the writers honored spoke very well. But none so witty & unexpected as “Freyda Morgenstern” who caused quite a stir.

I’m ashamed to say, I could not bring myself to speak to you. I waited in line with so many others for you to sign Back From the Dead & when my turn came you were beginning to tire. You hardly glanced at me, you were vexed at the girl assistant fumbling the book. I did no more than mumble “Thank you” & hurried away.

I stayed just one night in Washington, then flew home. I tire easily now, it was a mad thing to do. My husband would have prevented me if he’d known where I was headed.

During the speeches you were restless onstage, I saw your eyes wandering. I saw your eyes on me. I was sitting in the third row of the theater. Such an old, beautiful little theater in the Folger Library. I think there must be so much beauty in the world we haven’t seen. Now it is almost too late we yearn for it.

I was the gaunt-skull woman with the buzz cut. The heavy dark glasses covering half my face. Others in my condition wear gaudy turbans or gleaming wigs. Their faces are bravely made up.

In Lake Worth/Palm Beach there are many of us. I don’t mind my baldie head in warm weather & among strangers for their eyes look through me as if I am invisible. You stared at me at first & then looked quickly away & afterward I could not bring myself to address you. It wasn’t the right time, I had not prepared you for the sight of me. I shrink from pity & even sympathy is a burden to some. I had not known that I would make the reckless trip until that morning for so much depends upon how I feel each morning, it’s not predictable.

I had a present to give to you, I changed my mind & took away again feeling like a fool. Yet the trip was wonderful for me, I saw my cousin so close! Of course I regret my cowardice now, its too late.

You asked about my father. I will tell you no more than that I do not know my father’s true name. “Jacob Schwart” was what he called himself & so I was “Rebecca Schwart” but that name was lost long ago. I have another more fitting American name, & I have also my husband’s last name, only to you, my cousin, am I identified as “Rebecca Schwart.” Well, I will tell you one more thing: in May 1949 my father who was the gravedigger murdered your aunt Anna and wished to murder me but failed, he turned the shotgun onto himself & killed himself when I was thirteen struggling with him for the gun & my strongest memory of that time was his face in the last seconds & what remained of his face, his skull & brains & the warmth of his blood splattered onto me.

I have never told anyone this, Freyda. Please do not speak of it to me, if you write again.

Your cousin

(I did not intend to write such an ugly thing, when I began this letter.)

Chicago IL

23 September 1999

Dear Rebecca,

I’m stunned. That you were so close to me-and didn’t speak.

And what you tell me of-What happened to you at age thirteen.

I don’t know what to say. Except yes I am stunned. I am angry, & hurt. Not at you, I don’t think I am angry at you but at myself.

I’ve tried to call you. There is no “Rebecca Schwart” in the Lake Worth phone directory. Of course, you’ve told me there is no “Rebecca Schwart.” Why in hell have you never told me your married name? Why are you so coy? I hate games, I don’t have time for games.

Yes I am angry with you. I am upset & angry you are not well. (You never returned my card. I waited & waited & you did not.)

Can I believe you about “Jacob Schwart”! We conclude that the ugliest things are likely to be true.

In my memoir that isn’t so. When I wrote it, forty-five yrs later it was a text I composed of words chosen for “effect.” Yes there are true facts in Back From the Dead. But facts are not “true” unless explained. My memoir had to compete with other memoirs of its type & so had to be “original.” I am accustomed to controversy, I know how to tweak noses. The memoir makes light of the narrator’s pain & humiliation. It’s true, I did not feel that I would be one of those to die; I was too young, & ignorant, & compared to others I was healthy. My big blond sister Elzbieta the relatives so admired, looking like a German girl-doll, soon lost all that hair & her bowels turned to bloody suet. Joel died trampled to death, I would learn afterward. What I say of my mother Dora Morgenstern is truthful only at the start. She was not a kapo but one hoping to cooperate with the Nazis to help her family (of course) & other Jews. She was a good organizer & much trusted but never so strong as the memoir has her. She did not say those cruel things, I have no memory of anything anyone said to me except orders shouted by authorities. All the quiet spoken words, the very breath of our lives together, was lost. But a memoir must have spoken words, & a memoir must breathe life.

I am so famous now-infamous! In France this month I am a new bestseller. In the U.K. (where they are outspoken anti-Semites which is refreshing!) my word is naturally doubted yet still the book sells.

Rebecca, I must speak with you. I will enclose my number here. I will wait for a call. Past 10 P.M. of any night is best, I am not so cold-sober & nasty.

Your cousin,

P.S. Are you taking chemotherapy now? What is the status of your condition? Please answer.

Lake Worth, Florida

October 8

Dear Freyda,

Don’t be angry with me, I have wanted to call you. There are reasons I could not but maybe I will be stronger soon & I promise, I will call.

It was important for me to see you, and hear you. I am so proud of you. It hurts me when you say harsh things about yourself, I wish you would not. “Spare us”-yes?

Half the time I am dreaming & very happy. Just now I was smelling snakeroot. Maybe you don’t know what snakeroot is, you have lived always in cities. Behind the gravedigger’s stone cottage in Milburn there was a marshy place where this tall plant grew. The wildflowers were as tall as five feet. They had many small white flowers that look like frost. Very powdery, with a strange strong smell. The flowers were alive with bees humming so loudly it seemed like a living thing. I was remembering how waiting for you to come from over the ocean I had two dolls Maggie who was the prettiest doll, for you, and my doll Minnie who was plain & battered but I loved her very much. (My brother Herschel found the dolls at the Milburn dump. We found many useful things at the dump!) For hours I played with Maggie & Minnie & you, Freyda. All of us chattering away. My brothers laughed at me. Last night I dreamt of the dolls that were so vivid to me I had not glimpsed in fifty-seven yrs. But it was strange Freyda, you were not in the dream. I was not, either.

I will write some other time. I love you.

Your cousin.

Chicago IL

12 October

Dear Rebecca,

Now I am angry! You have not called me & you have not given me your telephone number & how can I reach you? I have your street address but only the name “Rebecca Schwart.” I am so busy, this is a terrible time. I feel as if my head is being broken by a mallet. Oh I am very angry at you, cousin!

Yet I think I should come to Lake Worth, to see you.

Should I?

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