Philadelphia Family’s Holocaust-Era Correspondence Donated to Penn State

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The Kirschner Family Holocaust-Era Letter Collection includes letters, such as this excerpt from a writer with the surname Wallis from Schönengrund, Switzerland, addressed to Isadore Kirschner on Feb. 24, 1940, is a recent gift to Penn State University Libraries’ Eberly Family Special Collections Library from brothers and Penn State alumni Michael and Fred Kirschner | Image: Penn State

Philly-area brothers Michael and Fred Kirschner are donating a collection of letters dating from 1939 to 1941 addressed to their father, Isadore Kirschner, in the years following the family’s resettlement in Philadelphia to Penn State University Libraries’ Eberly Family Special Collections Library.

The collection being donated to the brothers’ alma mater includes about 60 typed and handwritten letters detailing Isadore’s efforts to aid in the immigration and resettlement of European Jews threatened by the Holocaust, per a news released from Penn State. The letters are predominantly appeals for sponsorship to America for themselves or family members.

There are also letters spanning multiple generations following a pair of childhood friends — one of whom was Michael S. Kirschner, the brothers’ grandfather, and Itzhak Rabinowitz, his friend in Bialystok, Russia. When they set out for the Americas as children, Kirschner to Philadelphia and Rabinowitz to South America, they promised to stay in touch.

Isadore Kirschner discovered some of these letters his father received from Rabinowitz, whose last name changed to Harkavi to be exonerated by the Russian Army. Later, he tracked down descendents of the Rabinowitz/Harkavi family in South America and discovered Rabinowitz’s son, Itzhak Harkavi, became Israel’s ambassador to Brazil.

The Harkavi family also had letters and photos from Michael Kirschner — the grandfather — which were translated from Yiddish and described life in Philadelphia in the 1930s.

“The Kirschner archive includes a unique resource for scholars and students researching an under-documented area of Holocaust studies: World War II Jewish-American efforts to address the crisis of refugees stemming from Hitler’s attempts to exterminate the Jewish people,” Athena N. Jackson, Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair and Head of Special Collections, said in the news release.

“The interdisciplinary nature of the collection and its research value — for the study of family history, immigration history and Jewish assimilation and acculturation in America — make this an exceptional collection.”

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