- Edith Brandon (née Blau), born September 24, 1921 to Heinrich and Meta Blau (née Samuel), spent much of her childhood in The Free City of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), where her father ran an import/export business. Edith’s parents first met in her mother’s family home in Minden, a German garrison town where her father was stationed near the end of WWI. Edith and her mother made frequent visits to Minden during the interwar period, where they maintained close relationships with Meta Samuel’s family and friends. Yet when Edith’s father’s business in Gdansk was seized and the family’s attempts to emigrate failed, they moved first to Bydgoszcz, Poland in hopes of recovering money owed to them there. It was in Bydgoszcz in the summer of 1939 that Edith befriended the two remarkable young Jewish intellectuals from whom much of the material in the collection stems. Edith’s teenage summertime sweetheart, Lutek Orenbach, introduced her in turn to his friend, Ruth Goldbarth. The Orenbachs had moved to Bydgoszcz from Lodz, Poland. Lutek Orenbach matriculated in Bydgoszcz, as did his friend Ruth Goldbarth, whose father had a well-established dental practice there. Though Lutek’s preferred language was Polish and Edith and Ruth felt most comfortable in German, the three developed close friendships during the summer of 1939. They shared a cosmopolitan Weltanschauung, enlivened by their mutual love of literature and the arts and their incisive wit. Over the course of the summer, Lutek developed the deep, romantic attraction for Edith that would dominate his thoughts and his correspondence for the balance of his short life.
As the Germans approached Bydgoszcz, the Orenbachs fled to Lodz, continuing on to their relatives in Tomaszów-Mazowiecki, where they would become residents of its ghetto from 1939 until 1942. Ruth Goldbarth’s father was seized along with Heinrich Blau in October, 1939, though Dr. Goldbarth was released on condition he immediately relocate his family to Warsaw. The Goldbarths therefore left for Warsaw in the fall of 1939, while Edith and Meta Blau fled to Minden after their attempts to recover Heinrich Blau met with failure. In Minden, the Blaus found refuge with Meta’s sister Frieda, her brother-in-law Hermann (Bubi) Bradtmüller, and their son Hans. The Bradtmüllers sheltered them until December, 1941, when Edith and her mother were transported to Riga as forced laborers. At the end of the war, Edith wrote a special tribute to her “Uncle Bubi” Bradtmüller, entitled “Ein Mindener Bürger,” in which she describes his bravery as a German Gentile who fought Nazi aggression and injustice.
During the period from the winter of 1939 until the winter of 1941, Edith maintained a lively correspondence from Minden with both Lutek Orenbach and Ruth Goldbarth. In his letters and postcards, Lutek detailed conditions in the Tomaszów-Mazowiecki Ghetto and his work for the Jewish Council even as he noted his own mental and emotional deterioration. Despite worsening conditions in the ghetto, Lutek arranged and participated in cultural events there, including theatre performances and musical revues. In 1940, he sent Edith a sketchbook filled with caricatures of friends and officials living in the ghetto. Lutek lost touch with Edith when she was deported to Riga, though he sent one last letter to her aunt in Minden in early 1942 in a final attempt to reach her. Though his exact fate is not known, the donor believes he and his family perished in Treblinka along with thousands of other ghetto inmates from Tomaszów-Mazowiecki in 1942.
Letters and postcards to Edith also arrived regularly from Ruth Goldbarth in Warsaw between late 1939 and late 1941. Ruth discusses mundane practical matters like the cost of various products and living conditions in the ghetto, as well as her hopes and fears for the future. Working for her father in his dental practice and caring for her mother and sister as they grew ill, Ruth retained her sense of humor and her critical eye for unfolding events. In a pre-arranged and now obscure coded language, Ruth even attempts to communicate important information about the actions of the Gestapo and the German, Polish and Russian armed forces. She gratefully acknowledges the packages of food and clothing Edith painstakingly gathered and sent, as well as Hermann Bradtmüller’s courageous visit to the Warsaw Ghetto. At the same time, she manages to smuggle letters out through Edith to relatives living overseas. Ruth Goldbarth is believed to have perished along with her entire family in the Warsaw Ghetto sometime after April, 1942, though her exact fate is unknown.
Edith Blau and her mother survived the Riga Ghetto and their work unloading war materials at the docks nearby. They returned to Germany in the autumn of 1944 upon their deportation to Stutthof Concentration Camp, where they managed to join farm and trench-digging details. Lene Manzei, Edith’s childhood nurse, risked her own life to visit her former charge at one of these farms in October, 1944. Lene brought food and clothes, and posted the Blaus’ letters to family members in Minden. As the German army began to retreat and conditions at Stutthof worsened, Edith and her mother took the opportunity afforded by a blinding snowstorm to escape their labor detail as it returned to camp from Stobboi. Posing first as foreign laborers and then as German ones, the Blaus hid their true identity from the German troops for whom they worked. After being transported with these troops to Bornholm, Denmark, the Blaus were finally liberated when the Red Army captured the city. At the advice of Russian officers, they sought refuge with a local Danish family who sheltered them as they resumed their identities as German Jews. Only after intense interrogation by the Soviets were they recognized as victims of the Nazis and allowed to stay and work for the Red Army.
Several months later, Edith and her mother decided to return to Germany and seek out their surviving relatives there. On return to Minden, Edith discovered that her wartime correspondence from Lutek Orenbach and Ruth Goldbarth had been preserved by her cousin, Hans Bradtmüller. In the chaotic days after the end of the war, Edith Blau met her future husband Edward (Ted) Brandon, then stationed in Minden with the British Royal Marines. Edith soon went to work helping arrange the stays of British volunteers with the Pioneer Corps Labor Unit, and she and Ted Brandon married in June, 1947. Shortly thereafter, the couple immigrated to London, England, along with Edith’s mother. In 1994 Edith Brandon published, in a limited edition for family members, her book Letters from Tomaszow.