A Turkish Jew interned at Drancy writes home.
The following is a letter from Yaco Soulam, detained in Drancy, to his wife, Rebecca in Paris. The letter was translated from Ladino by Julia Phillips Cohen and is excerpted below from Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History 1700-1950:
Located in a northeastern suburb of Paris, the Drancy camp was first established by the German authorities in August 1941 as a site of internment for foreign Jews living in France. It later became the primary transit camp for all of French Jewry. In this intimate letter a Sephardi man named Bension Haim Yaco Soulam (1901-1942) tells his wife, Rebecca Soulam (née Bensasson) (1900-1974) about his days spent in the camp, urges her to keep their family safe, and attempts to arrange a clandestine meeting with her while he is interned. Yaco's letters to his wife during this period, written in a combination of French and Ladino, included elaborate coded messages and instructions, including his suggestion that their children keep a record of their naturalization as French citizens as a form of insurance. By contrast both husband and wife remained stateless, although they had come to France from Turkey more than a decade earlier; having failed to renew their papers with the Turkish authorities, they were not recognized by the Turkish consulate as Turkish nationals. Along with countless other stateless Jews of Turkish origin, Yaco was deported from Drancy to Auschwitz, where he perished. His wife Rebecca remained in Paris for another two years before she too was sent to Auschwitz. Having endured the horrors of the camp and nearly dying of typhus, after the war Rebecca Soulam was reunited with her children, both of whom survived in hiding.
I am writing you these few lines in order to inform you of my good health. I am doing well. I want you to know that I received the laundry package with everything except the toilet paper. I also received the letter, and I was very pleased to hear the news you bring of the boy and also that I will be seeing you and the family on Sunday. [From what you have written], I hardly recognized the boy. My God how he must have grown! I am also very glad that you and the girl are doing well. I have been getting reports from those who have arrived here. Dearest Rebecca, I pray that you will be protected from misfortunate, you and the children. I beg you, dear Rebecca, not to set foot in a café because they have brought people here from the cafés. Because of this my dear Rebecca, I ask of you that you do not do anything risky whatever happens (may it be good). Please have patience and don't lose your head. Keep your sanity and above all else pray to God that we will be able to be together again as soon as possible, amen. I beg of you, if you need money sell your clothes so you can eat. As for Haim, take care to hide him. You undertand [why this is important] In order to advise me that you have taken care of this you should say that Haim has gone to the countryside or even better let me know that you have done the job I commissioned you with. Given the state of things, Rebecca, I beg of you that when you come here, please do not come for much time. . . . I will explain more when you come. When you do I will show myself in the window of the fourth floor. I will dangle my tespil [prayer beads]. You should make a sign to me with your finger, but keep walking until you reach the café. When you reach this spot there will be a small side street. Follow it and look ahead of you. I will go to the ground floor, where we will be able to see each other better, but we must look out for the devils. If there are none around you can stay for half an hour . . . but I beg you not to come too often, just once a week. Sabbath and Eskenazi is enough, or Sunday, always at 3:00. I do not want you to think that because I ask this I don't want you to come. Quite the opposite, but I don't want you and the boy to suffer. In order to let me know that you have recieved this letter, please include a pencil in the next care package and I will let you know if I receive it. . . .
Dear Rebecca, we must have patience until God brings us all back together again in good health, which is most the important thing. Let the children know everything. They should write down on a piece of paper like the ones they used to have our dates of birth as well as when they became French. As for you, if God brings you neither money nor jewels do not be concerned. They take it all anyway. I am already very happy with the care packages you send me.
I kiss you and embrace you with all my heart. May God bring us together soon, amen.
To be dispatched to Rebecca Soulam