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No Way Out The Collection of Letters

What began as my attempt at simply saving a few old family letters found in a small tin box in my mother’s basement, developed into an extensive project that has taken several years to complete. In the beginning, the goal was merely to preserve, through a few letters, the story of my family’s efforts to emigrate from Germany. But with the discovery of hundreds of letters and documents, the project grew to include approximately 500 pieces of correspondence written by or to members of the Deutsch family from 1938-1947. While the letters demonstrate, on one level, a family’s wish to stay in touch, they also show the race against time to find a way out of Germany for those left behind.

My mother’s family, the Deutsches, had deep roots in Breslau, the Silesian part of eastern Germany. When Hitler came to power in 1933, my maternal grandparents, Stefan and Frieda Deutsch were living in Breslau with their four adult children, Margot, Martin, Erwin and Gerda. Life centered around the large, close extended family that lived nearby. However, by 1938 their lives had changed dramatically. Businesses closed, families scattered to all parts of the world and what had been a beautiful way of life, suddenly vanished.

My uncle Martin and my mother, Margot, emigrated to America in 1938. In early 1939 my uncle Erwin left for Bolivia. By June of that year my grandparents followed to Bolivia, leaving only Gerda behind in Germany. Although reluctant to leave, my grandparents felt some comfort in the fact that Gerda was newly married to Heinz Schottlaender, the son of a very wealthy, prominent and philanthropic Jewish family in Breslau. In the end, their money and position did not save them from the Nazis. Gerda, Heinz and their son Denny, born in June 1941, never got out. They remained in Wessig, a Breslau suburb, until their deportation east on May 3, 1942. They were never heard from again.

No Way Out documents how ordinary people tried their best to understand their circumstances amid deception and confusion, to maintain a semblance of normality during the worst of times and to make painful decisions about events that were largely out of their control. This is the seldom told story of immigration, emigration, legalized antisemitism, isolation, expropriation and, ultimately, deportation. Most importantly, it provides first hand accounts of what individuals knew or suspected and how they tried to communicate with and help one another via a censored mail system. What makes this collection especially unique is that family members outside of Germany made carbon copies of the letters they wrote, providing us with dialogue in both directions.

The final chapter of No Way Out has not yet been written. Perhaps one day we will know the whole story. In the meantime, the letters serve as a legacy for those who found No Way Out.