56 hidden letters unearth one woman’s unknowable Holocaust past

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Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

(JWA) – After a career spent telling other people’s stories, Eleanor Reissa has finally uncovered her own. In 1986, when her mother died at the age of sixty-four, Eleanor went through all of her belongings. In the back of her mother’s lingerie drawer, she found an old leather purse. Inside that purse was a wad of dried-up papers in a brittle baggie: fifty-six letters handwritten in German by her father, in 1949—only four years after Auschwitz—to her mother, also a refugee, already living in the United States.

Eleanor Reissa, center, with her brother Seymour and mother Ruth, c. 1953. Photo courtesy of Eleanor Reissa.

Thirty years later, with her father’s letters as her silent guide, Eleanor goes on a journey, unearthing the unknowable about her family’s past and her own present.

The letters sent Eleanor on a search to retrace her family history in Europe, which she chronicles in her new memoir, The Letters Project: A Daughter’s Journey.

In this episode of Can We Talk?, Nahanni Rous talks with Eleanor about how her life has been defined by being the daughter of people who lived through the Holocaust.

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