Wittenberg presents the fate of his family members and friends through a series of written correspondence throughout the Nazi regime, the war and the years after WW2.
I can imagine it must have been incredibly painful and frustrating to read such loving, but often mundane letters, knowing that they were being prevented from writing the truth. Their letters were censored and towards the end more or less dictated to them by others, to give the impression they were being cared for by their captors.
At times it seems as if the author would rather accept the frivolity and pretence of the content of the letters, despite being aware of and relating the historical facts and truth. I believe this is his attempt to maintain a scholars neutrality. Never presume, and if you can, always back your facts up with evidence, which he has done in every instance. He has narrowed down the possible scenarios to the nearest provable possibility, and does not venture into what might have happened. His conclusions are based on written testimony and eyewitness reports.
The factor of the unknown is what plagued, and still plagues, the majority of the survivors and their descendants. The Nazi regime and their collaborators were meticulous record-keepers and when the time came experts at destroying said records and evidence.
You can’t erase years of well-planned mass murder. You can however change the narrative of history, which is why Holocaust deniers are so dangerous.
Wittenberg reads between the lines, as his family members have done before him, so the narrative becomes one between stark reality and wishful thinking. It is obvious that Jonathan Wittenberg has spent a lot of time searching for some wisp of memory, a physical residue or a sense of being in the locations his ancestors once walked, lived and died in.
In trying to find understanding and peace, he has also tried to find an imprint they may have made on their journey through life. Something more than just restricted handwritten letters, and although these are a priceless family heirloom, one can feel he wanted to connect with them on a more spiritual level. I feel you, I feel your pain. We are family, my blood is your blood, and we will never forget you.
Which is of course the essence of any biographical or autobiographical story about the Holocaust. To tell the world, remind the new generations of those who live on only in the memories of their loved ones, so they will be less inclined to repeat the past.
In his own way Jonathan Wittenberg, Rabbi Wittenberg has created a written testimony to keep the memories alive. To keep the truth from being extinguished, much like every inch of their existence and their lives were eradicated in an attempt to act as if they had never even existed at all.