(A letter penned by Auschwitz inmate Jan Rejmak in 1944 includes a postage stamp of Hitler and an address clarification, which was a possible scam for the SS to round up more victims.)

This is a story without an ending, or rather, one with a terrible end in need of a proper burial.

Its Duluth connection arose in April 2004, when Tony’s Trading Post on Superior Street closed and auctioned off its offbeat items.

“I went because I was told he had some toy soldiers for sale. That’s what I collect,” recalled Mike Rosenzweig of Duluth.

There was a wax figure of Jesse James, as well as a three-headed boar. But Rosenzweig was out of luck on toy soldiers and was about to leave, he said, when he spilled coffee on his pants.

“I went to clean it up, and they announced the next item was World War II memorabilia,” he said. “The auctioneer said the first item up is a letter from Auschwitz. I thought, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. I’m going to sit down here for a bit.’

“One guy was bidding and another guy bid a little bit. The first guy was a World War II memorabilia collector. I thought, ‘I’m not going to let these guys get this. I don’t think that’s right.’ I just kept bidding until I got it. When I got it, a lot of people clapped and cheered.”

(A letter penned by Auschwitz inmate Jan Rejmak in 1944 tells a family member that “everything’s fine” at the concentration camp — probably written under Nazi death threats. Duluthian Michael Rosenzweig, who acquired the letter during an auction at the now-closed Tony’s Trading Post in Duluth, wants to return it to any surviving family members.)

Rosenzweig paid $187 for the neatly penciled letter, in German, on official Auschwitz stationery, complete with a postage stamp of Hitler. The writer was Jan Rejmak; the intended recipient, also a Rejmak — Stasia? It’s hard to make out — was in Poland.

Rosenzweig’s mother, born in Germany, translated it. We’re doing well. Everything’s fine, it said in so many words, with a note to Stasia to confirm the mailing address.

Not sure what that meant, Rosenzweig said he still had the feeling it could be of value to someone.

“This may be the only thing written by a relative. I thought if there’s a family member left, the family should have it,” he said, and framed it, keeping it secure and away from sunlight.

Until late last fall, when, after he told me about it, we scanned it digitally and e-mailed it to Eddy Breuer, a Hebrew University professor I know in Jerusalem. He responded immediately.

“No question this is a surreal piece of historical evidence,” he wrote, saying our understanding of the translation was correct. More came after he spoke briefly with a colleague at Yad Vashem, the international Holocaust institute.

“He said that these things are not a dime a dozen,” Breuer continued, adding that a quick Internet search disturbingly put it in context. The “everything’s fine” message was written under Nazi death threats, and the address clarification a possible scam for the SS to round up more victims. Yet today, Breuer said, “Holocaust deniers love this stuff and have a field day with it, saying things like: I thought this was supposed to be a ‘death camp?’

“In discussions with my friend, a leading Holocaust expert,” Breuer wrote again, “he was pretty sure that Jan Rejmak was not Jewish, but one of 200,000 Poles rounded up after the Warsaw Uprising was squelched in ’43 and sent to Auschwitz. He thought there would be a good chance that he was a registered prisoner [they didn’t generally register Jews since they were sent directly to the gas chambers] and that there might be information on him.”

There may be, but for now, that’s all we know. Yad Vashem, which two years ago began the transfer from Germany of millions of files from the International Tracing Service, an agency charged with finding World War II’s missing, is understandably busy.

A less scholarly, but more targeted, Facebook search yielded about 10 Rejmaks. Polish-born Katarzyna Rejmak, of Nottingham, England, thanked us for writing.

“But I am afraid that I cannot help you,” the 20-year-old wrote. “I don’t know anything about that man. It is possible that we are a family [but] I don’t know my real grandfather.”

She, too, would like to know more.

And Rosenzweig wants to know if the letter ever reached its intended recipient, did that person know not to heed to its good wishes, and if its journey to Duluth may lead to the end of its unanswered questions.

“Maybe that coffee was supposed to spill on my lap,” he said. “Otherwise, I would have left three minutes earlier and I would never have seen it.”

x-posted from Duluth News Tribune

Robin Washington is news director of the News Tribune. He can be reached at rwashington@duluthnews.com.