A Thousand Kisses

Particularly in the cases of younger children like Ilse and Gerda, who adapted to their new circumstances quite quickly, the separation seems to have been hardest for the parents, helpless in the knowledge that their children were now growing up without them, and even starting to speak a different language. All of the anecdotes, instructions, worries and love that had previously been part of daily interaction was now poured into letters – often the only means of contact for these separated families.


Wiener Library Collections

Write to us about everything, my darling, everything that concerns you is important to us …

… How old is the girl whom you’ve made friends with?
a thousand kisses your mother.

…. Get someone to measure you to see whether you’ve really grown so much. You were according to medical examination 141cm in height and weighed 35 kg…
I kiss you many times – your father’
Letter from Erna and Arnold Stein in Prague to Gerda Stein 28 April 1939. Translated by Gerda Mayer (Stein) in unpublished memoir ‘The emigrants’. Wiener Library Collections.


Prague, 3.6.39.

This is the first birthday which you aren’t celebrating with us….

..this writing paper is no birthdaypaper – it’s so old but I’ll draw you a bunch of flowers on the reverse side and wish you much happiness. Mother

Letter from Erna Stein to Gerda Stein, translated by Gerda in ‘the emigrants’, Wiener Library Collections.


Flowers drawn by Erna Stein for Gerda’s first birthday in England, 3 June 1939. Wiener Library Collections.



Undated letter from Ramon Gartner to his step-brother Arno. Wiener Library Collections.


Letter from Ilse Majer’s guardian, Lady Howard Stepney, to her parents  11 May 1939 answering questions and reassuring them about Ilse’s lack of writing. Wiener Library collections.


Drawing by Arnold Stein in letter to Gerda Stein, 14 March 1940. Wiener Library Collections.



It is one year today that my very littlest little one stepped into the stomach of a big bird and then the big bird flew away and took my Gerterl along. But it was a good bird and brought my little one to good people who’ll make my Gerda into a real English Miss.
It’s like a fairytale and a very lovely one although it has a little shadow over it because I can’t be there. But that doesn’t matter, so long as the fairytale has a happy ending…. A thousand tender kisses, Daddy’

Letter from Arnold Stein to Gerda Stein, 14 March 1940, Lwow, in USSR territory where he had escaped to from a German camp. Translated by Gerda Mayer. Wiener Library Collections.



Letter from Ilse Majer to her parents 3 September 1941 sent via New York, to where they were trying to emigrate. Contains 3 rose petals which Ilse has kissed. Note Ilse now writes in English, not German. Wiener Library Collections.



Illustration by Arnold Stein in letter to Gerda Stein. Wiener Library Collections.


On your birthday, look up at the sun for one moment – at 12 O’clock exactly. I’ll do it too, and will write about it to Mummy. So we’ll all be greeting one another at the same minute. Each of us in another world but together nonetheless’

Letter from Arnold Stein to Gerda Stein, 15.3.40, Lwow. Translated by Gerda Mayer. By this time, Arnold had become separated from his wife Erna and Gerda’s sister Johanna. Trying to escape Germany, he had been caught and interned in a concentration camp. He then managed to escape the camp and went east, crossing the border into USSR territory. From early 1940 onwards, Arnold wrote to Gerda from the town of Lwow (Lemberg). In 1942, around the time that the Nazis who by then had occupied Lwow, liquidated the Jewish population, Arnold’s letters suddenly ceased. Gerda was never able to find out exactly what had happened to him.