A few weeks later, one last letter arrived from Mr. Landecker, but only the envelope has survived. It shows that he was interned in block III 416/2 in Izbica, a ghetto serving as a transfer point for the deportation of Jews to the Belzec and Sobibor death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Mr. Landecker, a World War I veteran and successful accountant, had been a loving father. After his wife, a Catholic, died in 1928, he looked after their three children by himself. Emilie, the eldest, was 6 at the time.
The Nazis took over in 1933. Two years later, the Nuremberg laws, which institutionalized the Nazis’ race theories, stripped Jews of their citizenship rights. Around that time, Mr. Landecker did two things that would prove prescient. He made sure his children were baptized Catholic, like his late wife. And he officially transferred to them his main possessions, including the family apartment, so that they could not be expropriated.
But Mr. Landecker could not protect his family from an atmosphere that rapidly escalated from hostile to life-threatening — a shift he chronicled in a series of letters to his younger daughter, who was unwell and staying with his wife’s sister in the Bavarian countryside at the time.
“My dear child,” he wrote in December 1938, a month after Kristallnacht had seen synagogues and Jewish homes across Germany vandalized and burned. “The times have changed and with them the people.”
“We fought for five years only to have an age like this,” he wrote, referring to World War I. “I hope you, my dear children, remain well-behaved and good, and keep loving me, even if you suffer because of me.”
Mr. Landecker was searching for a way to flee Germany — perhaps for the United States, where he had a brother and sister-in-law. “Aunt Pauline has written from America,” he wrote that December. “She is trying for us, maybe things will work out.” But there wasn’t enough money. Mr. Landecker was not allowed to work, which meant that Emilie, still a teenager, became the family’s only earner.