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Letter Written by 12-year-old Ephraim Gutsztejn, 1939
- While studying for his Bar Mitzvah at Grodno Yeshiva
- Written to his Aunt in Israel
- Click on image to view the original letter in Hebrew*

June 7, 1939, Grodno, Poland

To my dear, sweet aunt!

My dear aunt! I haven't written to you for a long time and I ask for forgiveness, but it has been difficult for me to write.

Ephraim Gutsztejn
in 1936
Killed in the Holocaust


Ephraim's aunt
Chana (nee Gutsztejn)
Went to Israel, 1932


I am no longer at home and soon it will be a year since I started studying at Grodno Yeshiva.

At first I thought that I would study only until my thirteenth year, which should have been Shabbat Nachamu [name of the Haftorah reading on the first Shabbat immediately after Tisha B'Av, which that year occurred on July 25, 1939; thus his Bar Mitzvah was on July 29, 1939] but at this time the two giants are preparing for war and especially Judaism and humanity, above whom dark clouds cover, and the world stands at a crossroad, questioning whether to go forward and continue civilization or return backward to the Middle Ages, where he who has power governs.

We have to return to the wellspring from which our forefathers obtained comfort, and for which our forefathers were killed or burnt in Germany and France and even killed each other and their wives and children during the Crusades. And our forefathers continued under the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. We have to return to the Torah, and the tradition that has been like rays of sun during the dark days of exile, and still continues the chain of gold of our forefathers.

I don't have enough words to express the feeling of my heart at this time, but each time I hear about the content of the White Paper, the masters should know that it won't be easy for them to do what they're thinking. They should know that the time that we used to go like sheep to the slaughter has passed, we who run away from the sound of a falling leaf. The time has passed and will never return that we only be killed sanctifying G-d's name.

The time has come that we shall kill and be killed sanctifying G-d's name, and if the oppressors wish to do us evil and steal from us our land then we shall fight like lions for freedom and show the world that our Hasmonean blood is still running. Soon I shall have my thirteenth birthday and we shall have a party.

The children of Jankiel Gutsztejn, 1936
[L-R]: Ephraim, Yitzhak, Rywka
Yisrael and Menachem
All were killed in the Holocaust

How are you doing? How is Yisraelke [Israel is the name of his aunt's first child, born in 1936] and how is the uncle? I send my greeting of peace to all of you.

Your nephew,


P.S. I am asking that when you write a letter to my father, write to me too.

[In a different handwriting, perhaps added by his father, written in Yiddish] On Shabbat Nachamu he will be Bar Mitzvah.

Note: Ephraim was the oldest of five children of Jankiel Gutsztejn from Radzilow. Jankiel was one of my grandfather's (Moshe Gutsztejn) brothers. The entire family was killed in the Holocaust: Jankiel (age 40, died 1940), wife Yocheved (died 1941), and children, Ephraim (age 14, died 1941), Menachem (age 12, died 1941), Yisrael (age 10, died 1941), and twins Yitzhak and Rywka (age 8, died 1941). Ephraim is seated on the left.

*Translation from Hebrew.
Editor's notes or definitions are entered in [brackets].
Copyright 1998 by Jose Gutstein.
All rights reserved to the original letter, pictures and the translation.

Ephraim's grandfather

Yisrael Mejer Gutsztejn
Died in Lomza, 1927

Ephraim's grandmother

(nee Zimnowicz) Gutsztejn
Killed in Radzilow, 1941, at age 71

Ephraim's uncle

Moshe Gutsztejn,
Left Radzilow, mid-1920's, went to Kovno, Lithuania, then to Cuba

Ephraim's aunt Sara;
Ephraim's cousin
(related to him on both sides)

Sara (nee Gutsztejn)
and Yankiel Zimnowicz
Both killed in Radzilow, 1941,
along with daughter Shulamit, age 8

Additional Material:
The Gutsztejn-Zimnowicz house and fabric store
Moshe Gutsztejn's Letter from Cuba to Israel
Photo of Moshe Gutsztejn in Cuba
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