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Sunday, July 04, 2004
Letter to the Stars, and it's not what you think it is

Here's an odd find: an Austrian school project with the English name "Letter to the Stars", in which high school students write letters to specific Austrian victims of the Holocaust, tie the letters to ballons and launch them into the sky — i.e. "to the stars", although the word "Himmel" means not only "sky", but "heaven", so enjoy the overtones. As my father and his immediate family fled Vienna in spring of 1939, unfortunately not before his uncle and grandparents were arrested, this is of particular interest to me. What's of particular particular interest is that one of the people chosen to receive a letter has the same first and last name as my father, which is extra creepy. Here's the letter to my father's namesake, slightly cleaned up from a Google translation:
When I read of your fate, I was deeply shaken. It must have been cruel and hard for you, when you were deported to Auschwitz in 1944. Unfortunately it is to be regretted that your life ended here. In addition it must have been difficult for you as a [defense fighter?] and social-democratic local council to work as a physician in Spittal A D Drau since many patients refused to visit your practice and pay their debts. Despite many searches we unfortunately could not find your death date out!
This was written by 4 16-year-old girls; that's old enough to bring an appropriate moral imagination to the task, but as you can see, the letter is a summary of their research. Although what do I expect? "Sorry about that, and let me just check with Grandpa to see what he was up to back then?" (At this late date, even the grandparent of teenagers is probably young enough to be off the hook.)

But the whole thing is a well-intentioned idealistic effort, and has Elie Wiesel's name attached. Note the sequel/attached project, Part II, available on their page in English, in which students correspond with survivors both inside in outside Austria.

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