A local public school in North Carolina, U.S.A concluded an intensive year-long research project where students worked diligently to return a Holocaust-era letter to living relatives of the writer.
Professor Todd Singer's American History class at the East Henderson High School embarked on a year-long journey to find a living relative of Betty Erb, who together with her fiancé, Martin Selling, were murdered in Auschwitz. More than 75 years ago, Betty wrote a desperate letter to a John B. Erb in the United States, in hopes that they were related, requesting help to be able to escape Germany and immigrate to Bolivia. As a Jew in Germany in the 1930's, she understood that her life and that of her fiancé were in danger. The letter survived, but, like too many, Betty and Martin did not.
Todd Singer asked his class to help him research and find out what happened to Betty. The class worked persistently to search for information, and also to search for a living relative, to whom they would present the letter. Malka Weisberg, from Yad Vashem, assisted their continued search and using the ITS Tracing Service, a living relative was found in Australia - Andrew Blitz - who then connected the class with his sister, Suzanne, in Florida.
"The search for a living relative of Betty Erb, who together with her husband, Martin, was murdered in Auschwitz, began as Todd Singer taught his class about the Holocaust," noted Weisberg. "Todd showed the class a letter, which Betty wrote to an Erb in the United States asking for his help. She did not know if they were related but she tried anything as her situation became desperate. From there, the class embarked on a journey of discovery. They used the Yad Vashem website and found out that Betty and Martin had been murdered. They then decided to find a relative, to whom they would present the letter. They wanted to make sure the memory of Betty and Martin would survive. They unraveled information about an individual, but through this learned about an entire nation, hunted down and murdered because they were Jews. Anyone can search our database, as we continue to digitize the 179 million pages of documentation contained in our Archives. The students at East Henderson High School found Betty's information through our website. They could not find Pages of Testimony filled out about them, because tragically, there was no one close to them who survived to fill them out. They turned to us and we continued the search where they left off."
The culmination of this memorable project took place yesterday as the students, who vowed to remember Betty Erb and Martin Selling, filled out Pages of Testimony in their memory that will be kept at Yad Vashem.
Blitz, Erb's relative, said, "We are now able to gift the legacy of remembrance to Betty Erb…When we commemorate the victims of the Holocaust we will incorporate memorial prayers to her, recall her plight, and stand in honor of her testimony. (The students') gift to us is not just history, but the recovery of memory itself that would otherwise have been lost from our world."
The original letter was presented to Betty's relatives, who have generously decided to donate the letter to Yad Vashem's Archives, where it will be preserved for generations to come.