The Unan­swered Let­ter: One Holo­caust Fam­i­ly’s Des­per­ate Plea for Help

  • Review
By – February 2, 2021

One day in 2000, Faris Cassell’s physi­cian hus­band came home with a fifty-year-old let­ter that had been hand­ed to him by a patient. The let­ter was a plea for help from a Jew­ish cou­ple named Berg­er try­ing to escape Vien­na in 1939 as the Nazis were advanc­ing on Aus­tria. They had sent the let­ter in des­per­a­tion to an unknown fam­i­ly in Amer­i­ca also named Berg­er, but not relat­ed. The plea went unan­swered but the let­ter was saved, lying for­got­ten in a Cal­i­for­nia attic.

Cas­sell, a jour­nal­ist, made it her mis­sion to trace the trav­els and tra­vails of the Berg­er fam­i­ly. It took sev­er­al years of research but she locat­ed many liv­ing fam­i­ly mem­bers in the Unit­ed States and around the world, and worked exten­sive­ly with them to con­struct a time­line with their saved let­ters. We read about the ways in which var­i­ous parts of the fam­i­ly tried to leave their respec­tive coun­tries for safe­ty else­where, and the ever-tight­en­ing restric­tions on immi­gra­tion they faced.

Cassel’s vivid sto­ry­telling trans­ports the read­er through emo­tion­al highs and lows as the Berg­er fam­i­ly con­fronts dire sit­u­a­tions at every turn.This book pro­vides an excel­lent edu­ca­tion about the sit­u­a­tion of the Vien­nese Jews dur­ing the Holo­caust era. It’s also a great read.

Sue is an active vol­un­teer in Jew­ish life in Scotts­dale, AZ. She has par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Sar-El pro­gram many times. She is cur­rent­ly the AIPAC Phoenix Coun­cil Chair, Phoenix Polit­i­cal Chair, Board mem­ber of the Phoenix Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Rela­tions Coun­cil and the Greater Phoenix Jew­ish Film Festival.

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