7 Jun 2023

The Burned Letter: Helene Ritchie on her family's Holocaust mystery

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 7 June 2023

When Helene Ritchie was young, her mother used to explain away their lack of relatives by saying "they just perished". The "they" was a mystery. So was "perished".

Her lack of understanding led to a 50-year journey to find out how her family came to be Jewish refugees in New Zealand, and to try to discover what happened to those left behind in Europe.

Her mother Lidi once knew - courtesy of a letter she received five months after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

But she burned it, something  - 70 years later - she admitted regretting. Helene travelled to Europe many times, researching and trying to fit pieces of her family's puzzle together.

She spent 30 years with the Wellington City Council, becoming the longest-serving councillor and the first woman ever elected to be the city's deputy mayor. The result of Helene's meticulous research is The Burned Letter: A New Zealander's Holocaust Mystery. 

Helene Ritchie, book cover

Photo: Supplied

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