Family's Holocaust-era letters to be translated

Ralph Schwab

Ralph Schwab

A Southampton historian has received a £9,000 grant to translate and catalogue thousands of newly-discovered letters between an exiled German Jew and his family in Nazi Germany.

The collection of 2,500 letters was found by Daniel Schwab in his parents’ garage in Johannesburg and is now the subject of a research project by Dr Shirli Gilbert of the University of Southampton.

Mr Schwab’s grandfather, Ralph Schwab, sought refuge in South Africa after the Nazis came to power in 1933 and his correspondence with relatives and friends, some back in Germany, stretches from the 1930s through to the 1960s.

Ralph escaped from the town of Hanau near Frankfurt after being encouraged to leave by his friend , Nazi party member Karl Kipfer, who feared he would be arrested.

The pair continued to write to each other for many years and the collection contains dozens of letters which they exchanged.

Ralph’s parents Max and Martha remained in Hanau and were later killed in concentration camps, along with many other family members.

The letters chart Ralph’s desperate attempts to help his parents escape Nazi Germany.

Dr Gilbert’s project has been awarded the grant from the Kaplan Kushlick Foundation in South Africa, to contribute towards the cost of translating and cataloguing the letters.

“We have many documents to examine, which I am sure will add greatly to our understanding of life in both Nazi Germany and South Africa in the middle of the last century,” she said.

Dr Gilbert plans to write a book about the collection and the life of Ralph Schwab, who died in a road accident in 1971.

The letters are currently held at the Yad Vashem archives in Jerusalem.

    Last updated: 4:17pm, January 20 2011