As part of the Gathering the Fragments campaign, Rachel Shapira Dotan donated a letter that was sent to her father, Moshe Shapira, in 1944.
Moshe (Misha) was born in 1913 in Skłonia, Serbia, the third of Rachel and Yitzchak Shapira's five children.
The eldest son Shalom immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1932 with the first Maccabiah. Moshe and his two younger siblings, Leib-Aryeh and Sara, fled eastward to Russia and survived. Their parents, Rachel and Yitzchak, and their third son Gershon (Grisha) were murdered together with other family members in a gas van in Tarnow, Poland on 18 October 1943. The surviving siblings were notified of the murder by a letter from a female relative called Nura (they don't recall her surname). The letter was sent to Moshe in Russia in 1944, but by the time the letter reached his sister Sara, Moshe had already left Russia on his way to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine).
My dear Aunt Liza and Uncle Moshe,
Yesterday I received a postcard from Misha, today I received one from you. As you see I am hurrying to reply. I will tell you how our relatives’ lives ended… A sealed iron van arrived, everyone was ordered to undress and to enter the van but people resisted and refused to board the van. Then the police called the Germans to help and they started hitting the people with braided whips in order to force people into the van. Just six men were left outside to bury everybody. When they forced the people into the van, they screamed at first, but when the doors were closed, the voices slowly died down. They were taken two kilometers from the village and thrown into a pit like dogs, one on top of the other. I was told all of this but I didn't believe it, and I waited for them in the hope that I would see them or hear something about them. But much time has passed and I haven't heard anything…
With the liberation of the region by the Red Army, the bodies were exhumed from the pit and buried in a grave. Nura identified her family amongst the corpses, and the faint hope that had kept her going was shattered.
… on the 18th of October 1943 at 11:00 in the morning, exactly one year since the tragic end of our relatives. On that sad day I will go to their grave. Now that I have finally accepted that they are no longer alive, I no longer shed quite so many tears. But beforehand, everywhere that I went, no matter what I did, I could always see them lying there in that terrible pit, and the tears in my eyes would not dry. I will stop writing here. Goodbye and kisses.
Nura was sixteen years old when she wrote the letter to her relatives in Russia. She herself was taken for forced labor and thus survived, the sole survivor of her family. After the war the Shapira siblings lost contact with her.
Moshe married in the DP camp and immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1947. His sister Sara immigrated to Israel in 1971.