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Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission


The Holocaust Letter: Our Last and Only Chance

Event details
Calendar   Speaking Engagements
Location Zoom
Date Wed, Mar 3, 11:00am - 12:00pm
Duration   1h

Join the USC Shoah Foundation for a discussion with Faris Cassell about The Unanswered Letter.

She Uncovered an Untold Holocaust Story 75 Years after WWII
Award-winning investigative journalist traveled across the globe to answer a family’s 1939 cry for help

Washington, D.C.September 2, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of V-J Day, the official ending of World War II. Yet, there is an incredible story that has only now been uncovered by award-winning investigative journalist, Faris Cassell, in The Unanswered Letter: One Holocaust Family’s Desperate Plea for Help.

In 1939, as the Nazis closed in, Alfred Berger mailed a desperate letter to an American stranger who happened to share his last name. He and his wife, Viennese Jews, had found escape routes for their daughters. But now their money, connections, and emotional energy were nearly exhausted. Alfred begged the American recipient of the letter, “You are surely informed about the situation of all Jews in Central Europe. . . . By pure chance I got your address. . . . My daughter and her husband will go . . . to America. . . . Help us to follow our children. . . . It is our last and only hope. . . .”

After languishing in a California attic for over sixty years, Alfred’s letter came by chance into Cassell’s possession: “I felt like I held a life in my hands.” Questions flew off the page at her. Did the Bergers’ desperate letter get a response? Did they escape the Nazis? Were there any living descendants? For decades, Cassell could not rest until she discovered the ending of the story.

Cassell’s gripping narrative will immerse readers in the lives of the Berger family and bring them along on her journey in writing The Unanswered Letter, which led her to:

  • Over a hundred original letters from the Berger family as they pour out their joys, fears, hopes, and struggles to each other while scattered across the world, fleeing persecution
  • A previously unknown opportunity to assassinate Hitler—to which the Bergers were connected
  • Investigative trips across the United States, Austria, the Czech Republic, Belarus, and Israel in search of living descendants and more answers
  • A room in New York holding a century of family artifacts
  • Firsthand accounts from people who lived alongside the Bergers and who survived the Holocaust

A story that will move any reader, The Unanswered Letter is a poignant reminder that love and hope never die.

Author biography
Faris Cassell is a journalist and writer. She and her husband, Sydney, live in Eugene, Oregon. She earned a B.A. in history from Mount Holyoke College and an M.S. in journalism from the University of Oregon. Her decades of research into Alfred and Hedwig Berger’s story was supported by a Mount Holyoke Alumnae Scholarship and by the generous cooperation of the Berger family.

The Unanswered Letter placed first in the 2019 Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Literary Contest for Unpublished Works.

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