"Sixty-seven members of my family—my mother, her father, my three sisters, three of my brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins—were murdered at Auschwitz."
As Rudolph Tessler's mother stepped from the train in Auschwitz, shortly before she was sent to the gas chamber, she heard "Hello, Esther." In a polite tone, a young German SS officer greeted her as he would any old friend. His family lived down the road from the Tessler family in Viseu, their hometown in northern Romania. They, like the rest of the town, admired Esther for her wonderful cooking, particularly the delicious cakes she brought them each Christmas. Now he ushered her and six of her children to their deaths.
Throughout Letter to My Children, Tessler offers vivid glimpses of the senselessness that surrounded him during World War II. Of the thousands packed in trains and transported from Viseu to Auschwitz, just a small group survived to see liberation. Among the survivors were Tessler, his father, and two of his brothers. This is the amazing story of their experiences as Hasidic Jews caught in the chaos and terror of the Holocaust.
Tessler's upbringing had emphasized community and family devotion—traits not forgotten in the concentration camps, where he and his family members often rescued one another from certain death. Few fathers and sons survived the concentration camps together. In spite of the odds, Tessler and his brother Buroch managed to stick together, sharing their father's labor assignments to protect him from death, preserving not only their family bond but also their spirituality. Tessler's father, always a source of strength and guidance to his family, provided counsel to many prisoners in the camp and eventually assumed the role of rabbi.
Despite an environment in which their captors tried to reduce them to animals, Tessler's remaining family and seven other Jews from Viseu made a special effort to observe their faith. Bending rules in ways that risked their lives, they worked together to smuggle wheat, grind it into flour, and bake matzos to distribute for Passover. The group also secretly gathered to pray on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. These religious observances offered some comfort in the camp.
In addition to vividly portraying the daily struggles of camp life, Letter to My Children follows Tessler beyond liberation, recounting his days as a displaced person struggling for a new life in the midst of the devastation of postwar Europe, as an American immigrant striving to rebuild his family and succeed in business, and as a philanthropist for education and health care. Recalling the age-old way of life in Viseu that was erased by the Holocaust, this inspiring story conveys the hope, determination, and perseverance that made Tessler a survivor.