Through the Lens of History
Mini Exhibits from the Yad Vashem Collections

Pierre Wolkowicz's Violin and Last Letter

Pierre Wolkowicz, late 1930s   More Photos   View the Letter

Pierre Wolkowicz lived with his mother, Berthe and his father, Max in Paris, France.  During the infamous Vel d'Hiv round-up of 16-17 July 1942, Max was summarily taken to the concentration camps of Pithiviers and Drancy, and then deported to Auschwitz.  Pierre and his mother were incarcerated in the Velodrome d'Hiver (Winter Stadium) for five horrific days and were then sent on to Pithiviers.  The fifteen-year-old Pierre was eventually forcibly separated from his mother, and Berthe was taken to Drancy.  Pierre was sent there shortly afterwards, and on 26 August 1942, mother and son were both deported on Convoy #24 to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.

Although Max Wolkowicz was the first of the family to be deported to Auschwitz, he survived the Holocaust thanks to his training as a plumber.  He was attached to groups of skilled workers who moved between different camps and benefited from slightly better living conditions because of their professional status.

Throughout his imprisonment at Auschwitz, Max had no inkling of what had befallen his beloved wife and son.  Only after the war did he discover the bitter truth.  Upon returning to his home in Paris, the concierge handed him a letter that Pierre had written to her on 13 August 1942, after Berthe's departure, and sent from the Pithiviers camp.  In this last letter, he describes the terrible conditions in the camp, and begs her to send him food and clothes. 

These heartrending last words, and Pierre's violin, which had remained intact in the family home, were the only surviving remnants of Max's beloved son.

Pierre Wolkowicz's Last Letter:

Pithiviers, 13 August 1942

Dear Mrs. Capoulade,
I am still at the Pithiviers camp. My mother, who was with me in the camp, left a few days ago, we don't know where. Life is terrible.

Since the "Vel d'Hiv" where we stayed for five days without food and hardly any air, we have been locked up at Pithviers.  There have been several departures, we never know where to.  For now I'm starving, we sleep on straw, and the lice and fleas devour us.

We have the right to receive parcels. I'm all alone and without help in the camp. Please, dear Madame, send me a parcel with food (especially bread or crackers, etc ...).

I am sending you a sum of 4,500 through a nurse: that sum is not mine!! You have to keep that money in reserve, intact, and untouched!  Before leaving, we are searched and undressed by the Germans, and we cannot hide anything, not even a knife or a spoon!  Do not send me letters, because I will not receive them. (Especially send me as soon as possible a package) for I fear that in a few days I will leave.  We have all been shaved and shorn, and we lead a terrible life.

I think you and the entire family are well. Dear Madame, I am in tears as I think of you and write to you; then it is understood! I have great confidence in you, because there is nobody left but you! Keep the money safe and intact! - (send me a package as soon as possible) because I'm starving! My poor mother did not recognize me as I have lost so much weight. 

Send me the following clothes in the package:

  1. In the bedroom closet you will find a pair of long pants, light colored, they are the tennis pants, of the lightest color in the closet- put them in the package.
  2. 5 large handkerchiefs, you can find them either in the dining room buffet, or in the process of drying, or in the apartment, and 1 pair of terry towels (in the same place).
  3. All the socks that you can find, at home and in the closet drawer in the bedroom.

Send me this package, registered, and only when you receive my postcard where I will write: "I am healthy".

That is to say: prepare the package "registered" and when you will receive a postcard saying "I am healthy" you can send the package immediately to this address:
Pierre Wolkowicz
Pithiviers Camp (Loiret)
Baraque7, Matress 17

If ever I leave for somewhere else, I will let you know as soon as I can. I send you a big hug, dear Madame, as well as to your husband and children.

Always thinking about you,

P.S. I beg you not to tell anybody that you have received the money and the letter, to keep it secret. Pierre