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Red Cross Letters: Proof of Life in 25 Words or Less

From Our Holdings

"Don't ever give up hope, stay healthy," Marianne Simion wrote to her mother Emma Warschauer in April 1942. Marianne had fled from Berlin to England in 1939, where she now worked as a kindergarten teacher. Through a Red Cross letter, she was able to reestablish contact with her mother, who was living at a Jewish nursing home in Berlin, and let her know she was alive.

The Red Cross Message Service

The International Red Cross began setting up a message service in 1936. Red Cross letters enabled emigrants to stay in touch with relatives who had remained in Germany or had already been deported, even if they could not use the regular postal service. From 1940 onwards, corresponding by regular mail with countries at war with Germany was prohibited.

Hidden Information

Family members were allowed to write messages of up to twenty-five words on a standard form, but it often took several months for the messages to reach their recipients. Fearing censorship, the letter-writers used harmless-sounding phrases to relate bad news. For example, relatives' deportation was often described as a "trip" or "emigration."

Stamped and signed Red Cross letter

Red Cross letter from Marianne Simion to her mother, Emma Warschauer; Jewish Museum Berlin, Gift of Renate Simion, photo: Jens Ziehe

Deported to Theresienstadt

When Marianne received no word from her mother for several months, she sent another message to her mother's address in August 1942. This was answered anonymously: "Unfortunately, your beloved mother emigrated to Theresienstadt in late June." Mother and daughter stayed in contact through Red Cross letters until April 1943. In January 1944, Emma Warschauer died in Theresienstadt at age 82.

Theresienstadt concentration camp

More on Wikipedia

Title Red Cross letter from Marianne Simion to her mother, Emma Warschauer
Collection Archive
Location and year of origin London, 22 April 1942
Medium Paper, pencil, ink, stamp-pad ink
Dimensions 22,7 x 14,6 cm
Acquisition Gift of Renate Simion
Online Exhibition "Does anybody have information…?" – The Long Search for the Marcuse Family

We have created an online exhibit in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture about Georg Marcuse’s search for his family, who had been deported to Theresienstadt.

To the exhibition at Google Arts & Culture

Reverse side of the Red Cross letter with a handwritten note

Red Cross letter from Marianne Simion to her mother, Emma Warschauer (back); Jewish Museum Berlin, Gift of Renate Simion, photo: Jens Ziehe

Selected Objects: Archive (10)


Browse selected archival holdings online from the eighteenth century through the post-war period. Personal and official documents speak to the life of a nineteenth-century journeyman, early modern merchant rights, desperate attempts to emigrate during Nazi rule, and much more.

Adoption contract Gloeden and Loevy

Even a Jewish-sounding name could be cause for discrimination. So the siblings Erich and Ursula Loevy chose to be adopted by Bernhard Gloeden, a grammar school teacher and family friend.

A desperate letter to their son in Sweden

“As long as we are still here, we will write to you every third day,” wrote Paul and Sophie Berliner to their son, Gert, who was living in Stockholm, on 6 November 1941.

Martin Riesenburger’s Service Card

A provisional document from February 1953 certified that Martin Riesenburger was a rabbi responsible for pastoral care in East Berlin prisons.

Index cards from the British Army

Thousands of German emigrants fought against Germany in the British Army during the Second World War. In case of capture, they had to change their names, as these index cards document.

Frieda Neuber's Leather Pouch

Shortly before being deported to Theresienstadt, Frieder Neuber gave this leather pouch to her niece. The letters inside it document her desperate attempts to leave the country.

Memmelsdorf Genizah

In February 2002, workers renovating a house discovered a burlap sack filled with papers and personal items when they opened up a section of the ceiling. The house had been owned by Jews from 1775 to 1939.

Red Cross Letter to Emmy Warschauer

After the outbreak of the Second World War, the aid organization’s message service gave emigrants a way to contact relatives in Germany. That’s how Emmy Warschauer received confirmation that her daughter was alive.

Journeyman’s Book Belonging to the Shoemaker Leopold Willstätter

Leopold Willstätter traveled around southwest Germany and France as a journeyman from 1836 to 1843. The journeyman's book with a precise description of him also served as a form of identification.

Letter of Protection for the Jews of Ichenhausen

Until the nineteenth century, the residence and trading rights of Jews in the German territories were defined in letters of protection (Schutzbriefe), which had to be purchased.

Siegfried Leopold’s Get for His Wife Resi

According to Jewish law, a marriage is only annulled when a bill of divorce is drawn up and presented by the husband to his wife.