Cytrynowski family correspondence
Document | Accession Number: 2005.18.1
The collection consists of letters and postcards that were sent to Nathan Citri in Palestine from his parents,Yechiel and Genia Cytrynowski, and his sister, Miriam Cytrynowski, in Łódź, Poland.
- Document Creator
- Nathan Citri
Nathan Citri was born as Natan Cytrynowski on April 21, 1921, in Łódź, Poland. His father, Yechiel Cytrynowski, who was born in 1894, was a Hebraist, a Zionist, and a painter and worked as a Hebrew teacher in the Yavne private Hebrew coeducational high school in Łódź. Later he became the director of the school. He was active in the Hitachdut, an intellectual Zionist organization affiliated with the Kibbutz movement, and to the youth movement, Gordonia. Yechiel came from a Hassidic family and considered himself a rebel. He was the only member of his family who became a Zionist.
Natan’s mother, Genia Beder Cytrynowski, born in 1896 in Kam´i`ane´t`s´- Podil´s´ky¯i, Poland (now Ukraine), taught Hebrew language and literature in two all-girl high schools. Natan and his younger sister, Miriam, who was born on July 31, 1924, were brought up with the idea that they were destined to settle in Eretz Israel and build a Jewish homeland. Their parents spoke exclusively in Hebrew; even their Polish maids understood the basics of the language. The family resided on 22 Narutowicza Street.
In the summer of 1936 an emissary of Youth Aliyah (a branch of the Zionist movement founded in the 1930s for the purpose of rescuing Jewish children and young people from hardship, persecution, or deprivation and giving them care and education in Eretz Israel) arrived in Łódź, and Natan signed up to go to Ben Shemen, a youth village and agricultural school. Natan was only 15 years old, and he was very enthusiastic about going. His usually optimistic mother had a premonition that this was the last time she would see her firstborn son. The family plan was to join Natan in Palestine as soon as possible.
Genia’s sister, Bronia Dinitz, and her husband, Josef, a wealthy merchant, had been living in Tel Aviv in Palestine since 1923. The Cytrynowski family hoped that with the help of the Dinitz family they would obtain a “Certificate,” a permit issued by the British authorities to enter Palestine. To acquire such a certificate, a sum of £60 had to be deposited. The Dinitz family did not deposit this sum, and the opportunity for obtaining the certificate was lost.
In May 1939 Yechiel Cytrynowski traveled to Palestine to try once again to find employment and set up immigration possibilities for himself and his family. He was offered a good teaching position, but it excluded his wife and daughter. This offer was unacceptable to Yechiel, and he returned to Poland.
In January 1937 Natan arrived in the Ben Shemen School, and in the summer of 1938 he and his group moved to the Geva kibbutz. Throughout these years he devotedly corresponded with his parents and his younger sister. Natan kept all the letters that he received from his family in Łódź.
In September 1939, as Germany invaded Poland and the repressions against the Jews started, the Cytrynowski family left Łódź for Warsaw, Poland. They, along with a group of Gordonia activists, thought that staying in the city annexed to the Third Reich would endanger their lives. In Warsaw they started immediately to organize educational groups. Miriam organized children and youth into tzofim (scouts) groups. Yechiel established and headed a Hebrew high school and teacher training courses in the ghetto. In addition he provided the facilities for the Gordonia publication, Slowo Mlodych (Youth Word), which appeared in the ghetto in Polish.
Red Cross messages were the only communication between Natan and his family in the Warsaw ghetto. Three messages were sent from Natan and one from his maternal aunt, and these were answered in Genia’s handwriting. The last message, dated July 3, 1942, reads: “Dear Natan, we are happy to get your letter. Be calm, we are healthy and we work. Miriam studies. We wish you a happy life. Regards to the whole family. Genia, Yechiel, Miriam.” According to survivors of the Warsaw ghetto, Genia Cytrynowski died soon after writing this message, and Yechiel was deported to Treblinka on August 23, 1942.
In the fall of 1942 Aron Gepner, a former student of Yechiel Cytrynowski and a Gordonia activist, was sent with a small group of other Jews, Miriam among them, to the ghetto in Czestochowa, Poland. This group, representing Gordonia, Dror, and other Zionist youth groups, was given the task of organizing a resistance movement in ghettos outside Warsaw. The group moved to the ghetto in Bedzin, Poland, soon after that. In December 1942 Aron Gepner was equipped with Paraguayan papers and was sent to a camp for international internees – Ilag VII. In July 1943 Miriam wrote a letter to Aron in which she described the conditions in the ghetto in Kamionka, Poland, using a coded language and asked Aron to contact her brother Natan in the Ben Shemen School.
According to eyewitnesses, Miriam Cytrynowski was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She reportedly slapped a German officer in the camp, and he shot and killed her.
In 1942 Natan Cytrynowski volunteered for the British Army and served until 1946. He then enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but his studies in microbiology were interrupted by his service in the Hagana and the War of Independence and resumed after that war. He received his Ph.D. in 1954.
In 1973 Natan’s cousin, Simcha Dinitz, became the Israeli ambassador to the United States. During his service he often made presentations to local Jewish groups, and he used to tell them that members of his own family had a chance to immigrate to Palestine before the outbreak of World War II but did not and were murdered by the Germans. Natan never mentioned to his cousin the role Simcha’s own parents played in this tragedy.
Nathan Citri became a professor of Molecular Biology at the Hebrew University Medical School and is currently retired. Prof. Citri has three children: Yoav, a scientist (d. 1995), Miriam, and Amichai.
- Legal Status
- Permanent Collection
- The correspondence was written by Yechiel and Genia Cytrynowski and Miriam Cytrynowski in Łódź, Poland, between May 1937 and Aug. 1939. It was sent to Nathan Citri in Palestine. Nathan Citri donated the correspondence to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2005.
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Record last modified: 2020-05-11 14:54:11
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