The Letters Project

A Daughter's Journey

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Pub Date 18 Jan 2022 | Archive Date 18 Mar 2022

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Description

The Letters Project is about big history, the Holocaust, but it is also an extraordinarily intimate personal narrative—a rare blend of informative, poignant, excruciating, startling, humorous, and ultimately inspiring storytelling.

In 1986, when her mother died at the age of sixty-four, Eleanor Reissa went through all of her belongings. In the back of her mother’s lingerie drawer, she found an old leather purse. Inside that purse was a large wad of folded papers. They were letters. Fifty-six of them. In German. Written in 1949. Letters from her father to her mother, when they were courting. Just four years earlier, he had fought to stay alive in Auschwitz and on the Death March while she had spent the war years suffering in Uzbekistan. Thirty years later, Eleanor—a theatre artist who has been on the forefront of keeping Yiddish alive—finally had the letters translated. The particulars of those letters send her off on an unimaginable adventure into the past, forever changing her and anyone who reads this book.

“‘The Holocaust,’ Eleanor Reissa writes in this unforgettable and courageous book, ‘is attached to me like my skin and I would be formless without it.’ A very personal story that is also a fundamental one of a woman trying to make sense of her life and family and of the shadows that go back before she was born. There is plenty of feeling and sentiment but it never feels sentimental. Her inimitable wit leavens the sadder scenes. This journey of discovery is riveting, told with tender insight, at times heartbreaking and at times heartwarming just like the Yiddish songs that have delighted Ms. Reissa’s audiences.” —Joseph Berger is a New York Times reporter and author of Displaced Persons: Growing Up American After the Holocaust

“Among the great number of personal takes on the Holocaust, Eleanor Reissa’s book really stands out, both for its intelligence and courage and for the unique way she braids the inter-generational stories together. In this brutal, poignant, and searingly honest book, Reissa simultaneously pieces together the unfathomable story of her Holocaust survivor father, reckons with the guilt she came to feel as his uncomprehending American daughter, and manages somehow to find insight and purpose in the ashes. This extraordinary account of two parallel journeys will stick with anyone privileged enough to read it.” —David Margolick, a former reporter for The New York Times, author of several books, including, most recently, The Promise and the Dream: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. And Robert F. Kennedy

The Letters Project is a wonderful book—funny, heartbreaking, and ultimately transcendent. Eleanor Reissa’s journey back into her family’s past makes for a gripping—and very human—international mystery. I highly recommend it.” —Tony Phelan, TV Showrunner for: Grey’s Anatomy, Doubt, and Council of Dads

“Eleanor Reissa has written a gritty, fearless yet funny memoir about herself, her family, and the Holocaust. Once I began reading it, I was completely swept away until the journey ended. I was moved by the power of this uniquely personal yet universal story.” —Julian Schlossberg is an American motion pictures, theatre, and television producer
The Letters Project is about big history, the Holocaust, but it is also an extraordinarily intimate personal narrative—a rare blend of informative, poignant, excruciating, startling, humorous, and...

Advance Praise

“‘The Holocaust,’ Eleanor Reissa writes in this unforgettable and courageous book, ‘is attached to me like my skin and I would be formless without it.’ A very personal story that is also a fundamental one of a woman trying to make sense of her life and family and of the shadows that go back before she was born. There is plenty of feeling and sentiment but it never feels sentimental. Her inimitable wit leavens the sadder scenes. This journey of discovery is riveting, told with tender insight, at times heartbreaking and at times heartwarming just like the Yiddish songs that have delighted Ms. Reissa’s audiences.” —Joseph Berger is a New York Times reporter and author of Displaced Persons: Growing Up American After the Holocaust

“Among the great number of personal takes on the Holocaust, Eleanor Reissa’s book really stands out, both for its intelligence and courage and for the unique way she braids the inter-generational stories together. In this brutal, poignant, and searingly honest book, Reissa simultaneously pieces together the unfathomable story of her Holocaust survivor father, reckons with the guilt she came to feel as his uncomprehending American daughter, and manages somehow to find insight and purpose in the ashes. This extraordinary account of two parallel journeys will stick with anyone privileged enough to read it.” —David Margolick, a former reporter for The New York Times, author of several books, including, most recently, The Promise and the Dream: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. And Robert F. Kennedy

“The Letters Project is a wonderful book—funny, heartbreaking, and ultimately transcendent. Eleanor Reissa’s journey back into her family’s past makes for a gripping—and very human—international mystery. I highly recommend it.” —Tony Phelan, TV Showrunner for: Grey’s Anatomy, Doubt, and Council of Dads

“Eleanor Reissa has written a gritty, fearless yet funny memoir about herself, her family, and the Holocaust. Once I began reading it, I was completely swept away until the journey ended. I was moved by the power of this uniquely personal yet universal story.” —Julian Schlossberg is an American motion pictures, theatre, and television producer


“‘The Holocaust,’ Eleanor Reissa writes in this unforgettable and courageous book, ‘is attached to me like my skin and I would be formless without it.’ A very personal story that is also a...


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Featured Reviews

Eleanor Reissa, whom I've known as a singer and enjoyed in concert, has now written a phenomenal book. When I saw the title of this book, I was immediately drawn to it as someone of roughly the same age and someone who has also discovered letters when cleaning out my deceased mother's apartment.
Reissa sets us up for the impossibility of her journey with a chicken bones story that shows her personality and her imagination. That she decides to follow the path that the letters are beckoning her towards is another aspect of her personality which seems more and more endearing. She shares all the emotions very honestly with her readers and we learn all about her unusual family situation. It seems hardly possible that she could grow up not knowing very much of her parents' history, but her parents were of the generation that thought it "wasn't nice" to tell children sad stories. With both of her parents gone, it's up to Reissa to find out her family history with the help of the letters she finds and a few older relatives.

Reissa's writing style is wonderful. After all, she is an entertainer and she understands flow both verbally and in the written word. I had to stay up late at night to finish this book because I couldn't put it down, though I sometimes had to pause and take a deep breath. What a book!!

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Beautifully written. It’s interesting the author wasn’t aware of more of her parents history prior to their deaths however I’m guessing this is generational and not uncommon. Very interesting story!

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Thank you to the author, Post Hill Press and NetGalley, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

As with so many children of Holocaust survivors, these horrific and life-defining events were never mentioned to their children, or discussed in the home. After both her parents die, the author follows a breadcrumb trail issuing from letters she finds among her mother's belongings. These lead her to Germany, and through chance encounters, for example with friends of friends, she uncovers much more than she expected. The information she is able to gather expands her picture and understanding of who her parents were, and what their history included, and she shares the emotional turbulence this causes with her readers. The way she brings together the stories of different generations is very moving and personal, and the story doesn't let you go once you start. Not a fun or comfortable read, but a very good one.

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