Shaje Schmidt and his family
Edited by Gideon Intrater
"Shaje" Yeshahahu Otto Schmidt (nee Schnupftabak) was born in Tarnow, Galicia in 1894. His family moved to Vienna after WWI. He married Perl Paula Sara Lindenbaum. They had 3 children, all born in Antwerp. Frieda was born in April 11, 1925, Thea was born in April 9, 1931 and Henry was born in 1934. The family lived comfortably off Shaje's diamond business.
Shaje was very close to his parents and siblings who stayed in Vienna. He attended the wedding of his youngest sister, Gisl, with Jacques Augenblick. See Shaje in a picture from that wedding. Shaje is the person on the far right at the top row. He is holding the shoulders of Perl, his wife, sitting in front of him.
By Kristallnacht, 9–10 November 1938, most of the family still lived in Vienna. One sister, Sara Sala Intrater moved with her husband, Moshe Moritz Intrater to Palestine in 1934. All (or most) of the other siblings were still in Vienna. The Nazis caught Gimpel Marcus Mordechai Schmidt, Shaje's father, and cut his beard. Kristallnacht was a turning point and the family decided to leave the city. Shaje's financial wealth was used to quickly bring over his parents, Gimpel and Amalia, his sister Fanny Horn her husband Gustav and their two children, Aaron and Ruth. His brother, Israel "Srulek" with his wife Fanny and two children Irene and Meir also came over. Shaje managed to fund and arrange Aliya for his brother, sister and their families. We do have pictures of two of Shaje's children from that period. One shows Frieda and the other shows Thea with her aunt Fanny Horn. Note that Thea was a child with special needs. We also have a letter dated February 10, 1939 in which Gimpel and Amalia write to Gisl and a postcard dated March 9, 1939 in which both Gimpel and Shaje write to Sara Intrater. The postcard and the letter were not translated yet.
We are not sure about how Shaje's other brother and sister escaped Vienna. We know that his sister Gisl and her husband Jacques ended up in Romania where Jacques served in a labor camp. After the war Jacques and Gisl tried to live in several places including Israel, but ended up in Frankfurt, Germany. The other brother, Meyer his wife Rosa and their son Harry ended up in Mexico. See a picture of the graves of the three of them in Mexico City.
In February 1940, Amalia Schmidt, Shaje's mother, passed away (see her burial record and a picture of her grave). His father passed away in November 1940 (see a picture of his grave). Both Amalia and Gipel are buried in Machsike Hadass graveyard in Putte which is in the southern part of the Netherlands. The family story is that Shaje and family escaped Antwerp into France but due to the deteriorating health of his parents, the family returned. Other sources indicate that the Nazis lured the Jewish community of Antwerp to return to the city by promising that they will see no harm.
We have several postcards that Shaje wrote to his sister Gisl in Romania. They are all in the following directory. The directory includes the scanned letters and recordings of a translating session done by my cousin Daphne and a family friend from Vienna. There is another translation by Prof. Ruth Ben-Ishai, Fanny Horn's daughter.
The following are the translations of these postcards. By following the link, you can access the scanned postcard. Many of these postcards have similar contents, but the last one is quite different.
July 27, 1942
Sorry I didn't answer sooner. I have now received your third card for which I thank you from my heart. I'm glad to hear that you are doing well and that you have received good letters from dear Jacques. Please don't worry about us, we are doing relatively well. We hope for the best for the future. With warm wishes and kisses also for Jacques. Love Shaje.
August 4, 1942
I received your last card from the 13th which I warmly thank you for and I send to you and Jacques my warmest regards. The lines you wrote to me make me a bit worried and I wish all the best for you in the future. With us, at the moment, all is like before, and I hope that God will help all of us soon. Health wise, dearest Thea is doing better. But she still has to stay indoors. Many deep greetings and kisses to you and Jacques - Shaje
Best greetings and kisses - Frieda.
August 11, 1942
I am writing again so that you don't have to wait for another card from me. Thank God we are all well and we hope the same is true for you. What do you hear from your dear Jacques? Does he write to you regularly? And how do you make out. With God's help I hope we will soon see peace arrive. I close with best wishes for the future, and with deepest greetings and kisses. Shaje
Best wishes from me - Paula.
August 18, 1942
I thank you heartily for your last card from the 20th which I have received. I'm glad to hear that you are doing well and that you expect Jacques to return home very shortly. With God's help it will turn out that way, that you will again be together with your Jacques. With respect to us, there is nothing unusual to tell you. Thank God we are healthy, and we are greatly yearning to seeing my dear brothers and sisters again. But, when will this happen? To you and dear Jacques, I send a thousand times warm greetings and kisses.
Greetings and kisses - Frieda
I kiss you warmly, your Paula
August, 21, 1942
I confirm that I received your last card from the 2nd. I'm very sorry that my letters are not regular. The most important thing is that we at least stay in touch. We are, thank God, okay, and with the help of God we will remain well. I have not yet received any messages from dear Jacques, and I am glad that you are so certain that you will see him again soon. Please keep writing to us regularly, and I will do so as well. With warmest greetings and kisses to you and Jacques - Shaje.
Best greetings and kisses- Frieda
August 28, 1942
Although I have not received a letter from you this week, I will nonetheless send you a card. With God's help we are doing well, and I hope to hear the same from you as well. We have not yet received any messages from Jacques. Dearest Gisl, I want to inform you that on October 27th-28th is the second Yahrzeit of our …father. Please take note of this. I can't wait for the next letter from you and from dear Jacques. I send to you and Jacques my warmest greetings and kisses - Shaje
Many greetings and kisses - Frieda
September 14, 1942
I received your last card from August 15th for which I thank you. I am glad to hear that that you have received the news that you have been hoping for. You will soon see your dear Jacques. So far, no mail from him has arrived. Dear Tea is doing well. She had scarlet fever but thank God she is fine. Otherwise, we are well, and we are especially pleased with your last message. Kisses my dearest and all best wishes - Shaje.
Many compliments - Henry
Best wishes and kisses - Frieda
October 22, 1942
I have just received your last card from September 30th and I'm glad to hear that you are relatively well. Keep your spirits up, because in the end, everything will end well. It's a waste of time to worry because our worrying cannot change the facts. Nowadays, it's necessary to be tough and to stay that way to the end otherwise one drowns! Most of our acquaintances here have moved to Aunt Blimeil, we hope to have enough money to go to a nearby settlement. Hopefully, with God's help, we will be able to talk about it in the future with joy. Keep on writing regularly. I close with the heartiest greetings and kisses to you and dearest Jacques - Shaje
It is not clear to us what Aunt Blimeil means. We know that over the summer of 1942, most of the Jewish community in Antwerp was deported to Malines and from there to Auschwitz. Shaje may be referring to Malines when he writes about Aunt Blimeil (either the name is similar or there was an Aunt that actually lived in Malines). A more horrid explanation is that Aunt Blimeil was a relative that passed away. By telling Gisl that most of their acquaintances moved to Aunt Blimeil, Shaje indicates that they are all dead.
The other puzzle is the reference to a "settlement". We do know that Shaje was trying to find enough money to move the family to Palestine. It could be that this settlement is Palestine. A more plausible explanation is that Shaje was trying to move the family to a hideout in the countryside as a number of other Jewish families did.
Note that this last postcard does not have a postscript from the kids. It could be that Shaje tried to keep them in the dark and did not want them to ask questions about the coded messages.
It is very clear that Shaje was very concerned when he wrote this postcard. He had every reason for that. Within a few days the family was deported to Malines and in October 30th they all boarded a train to Auschwitz. The train arrived on November 3rd to Auschwitz. A record from the passenger list indicates that Shaje, Paula and Thea were on it. Shaje was 48 years old, Perl was 44, Freida was 17, Thea was 11 and little Henri was 8 years old. Yad Vashem records provide the rest of that gloomy picture. The records were written by Sara Intrater, a sister of Shaje, and by Gracie Lindenbaum, a sister-in-law of Perl.
Shaje, Thea and Henry Schmidt
In November 1942, after not receiving any news from Shaje, Gisl approached the Red Cross. They performed an investigation and responded in a postcard. The translated contents of the postcard is:
The first part is in Romanian.
Ca urmare la cererea Dvs. din 17 November 1942, referitoare la Dl. Shaje SCHMIDT, avem onoarea a va comunica urmatorul raspuns ce am primi dela Crucea Rosie din Geneva:
Following your request of 17 November 1942, related to Mr. Shaje SCHMIDT, we have the honor to communicate the following answer I get from the Red Cross in Geneva:
The second part is in French.
En response a votre demande concerant Monsieur Shaje SCHMIDT et sa famille, nous vous informons que l'enquete est revenue avec le mention "parti sans laisser d'adresse". Nous faisons de nouvelles de marches et ne manquerons pas de vous transmettre le resultat aussitot qu'il nous parviendra.
In response to your request concerning Shaje Mr. Schmidt and his family, we inform you that the investigation came back with the words "left no forwarding address". We make new steps and will certainly send you the result as soon it becomes available.
In summary, my late cousin Daphne wrote:
I must say, for me, working with these letters has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Reading the words, seeing the handwriting and the dates of those letters, and knowing the fate that awaited them even as those letters were written, is very sobering. He must have been an extraordinary man. Having read your description of him, I now understand how great his sacrifice was. In essence he saved almost his entire family, looked after his parents until they died, and thus, sealed his own fate and the fate of his immediate family. I have to think that his death was a deep blow to the brothers, sisters and their families that he worked so hard to save.