"Please retrieve my daughter from the Christian family I am entrusting her with, and raise her as a Jewish woman, loyal to the Torah and to her people… in all the lands of the Diaspora, we live as if on the edge of a volcano."
Shalom-Shachna Broin-Kahane wrote these words in a letter that he sent to his relatives in the US from the Zbaraż ghetto.
Shalom Kahane and his wife, Chana-Mirel née Bertler, lived in Rzeszów, in the Lvov district, south-east Poland. In 1938, their only daughter was born and named Esther-Hadassah (after Shalom's mother). Shalom, a graduate of the university and the Jewish Institute in Warsaw, was a Hebrew language teacher in the Jewish high school in Rzeszów. He was an observant Jew and an ardent Zionist. In one of Esther-Hadassah's earliest recollections, she remembers her father teaching her the Hebrew alphabet at the age of three. After the war broke out, Shalom, Chana and Hadassah moved to Zbaraż in the Tarnopol region to live with Shalom's relatives, and the family was incarcerated in the Zbaraż ghetto. Shalom and Chana managed to send Hadassah to Tarnopol, to the home of a Christian woman named Sabina and her husband, a Czech Jew. Hadassah was equipped with forged identity papers, and she was hidden there as an Aryan child until the area was liberated by the Red Army. Hadassah was told that her parents had been murdered while the war was still going on.
Shalom's last letter, dated November 1942 and written in Hebrew to his aunts and uncles in the US, displays a broad knowledge of the Hebrew language and Jewish sources. In the letter, he asks his relatives to look after his daughter if he and his wife do not survive. He adds, poignantly:
"My daughter has an unmistakable identifying feature: her ears are not even."
In Australia in 1993, Dr. Dasia Hadassah) Black Gutman, daughter of Shalom and Chana, submitted Pages of Testimony in memory of her parents, and donated her father's last letter. Hadassah's American relatives sent her the letter after she contacted them at the war's end.
Please contact us if you have any further information about Shalom or Chana or about the documents in this exhibition.
The early hours of Tuesday, 21 Kislev 5703
Greetings to my honored relatives in America!
We would need the pen of Job to describe even a fraction of the bitterness of our lives and our sorrows. I do not believe that it is within the realm of human capability to describe to someone or oneself what we are feeling. And this is not the time or the place to expand on the matter.
On 19 Tammuz 1941, my father and teacher, Yitzhak Menachem Ben Shalom Shachna, passed away. I doubt that anyone from the family of my aunt, Chaya Weiner from Lanowce is still alive, and it is possible that my daughter and myself are the only descendants of my grandfather Shalom from Podkamień still living. It is my fervent hope that God will help us and redeem us from slavery. I have to hide my daughter until the storm has passed. It's hard for me to describe the sorrow and pain that gnaw at my heart when I look at my smiling daughter, who cannot understand why she is being kept far from her parents' arms. It is my fervent hope that my wife and I will be saved, with God's help, but it is also possible that eventually, you, my uncles Moshe Aharon, Shlomo and Meir, and my aunts Mindel, Rachel and Roizel, will be my avengers, and the only relatives of my daughter from the Broin side of the family. If that is the case, please retrieve my daughter from the Christian family I am entrusting her with, and raise her as a Jewish woman, loyal to the Torah and to her people. Let her know that it is my wish that she build her future in Eretz Israel, for no one knows better than we do that in all the lands of the Diaspora, we live as if on the edge of a volcano.
My daughter was born in the city of Rzeszów on the 7th of Adar 5698 (8/2/1938), and her name is Esther Hadassah (after my mother z"l)… As it is documented at the apothecary, my wife has a house in the city of Rzeszów at 14 Asnuka Street, and three acres of fields in the city of Mikulince, which are also registered in the name of my wife, Chana Mirel née Bertler. I also own half a house in the city of Zbaraż, and I hope that the merit of my forefathers, the Maharal of Prague and his descendants, and my predecessors going back to King David, will stand my daughter in good stead, so that she is saved from the evil edicts, and will live to see the redemption of Israel.
I also ask you to repay the Christian family that undertook to hide my daughter. As I said, it is my fervent hope that with God's help, my wife and I will be reunited with our daughter and raise her ourselves.
In July of last year, we had a message from my aunt Chaya, and my father gave her a check for a sum of money. Since then we have not heard from her.
I am ending my letter. My family and I enquire after your welfare and wish you peace and all the best.
My daughter has an unmistakable identifying feature: her ears are not even.
Your brothers' son, Zbaraż
Shalom Shachna Bar Kahane
The letter was sent to Mr. Kurz in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
I now know that my aunts Rivka and Chaya and her family were definitely murdered together with the Jews of their city on Rosh Chodesh Elul 5702 [13-14 August 1942].
Regarding my daughter, I repeat my earlier request – and while I participate in the communal sorrow, may God help us to see the community of Israel comforted.