Instructional letters from parents to children, such as those from Lord Chesterfield or Madame de Sevigné, can make delightful reading. But few have the emotional charge of “Paper Kisses: Letters of a Jewish Father from Prison 1942/43,” published in February by Klett-Cotta Verlag.
They were written by the Hungarian Jewish architect Pál Meller (known as Pali) to his two children, 11-year-old Paul and 7-year-old Barbara. In 1942, as a widower hiding in Nazi Berlin, Meller was denounced as a Jew and thrown into Brandenburg-Görden prison. There, harsh conditions led to his death from pulmonary tuberculosis thirteen months later, at age 40.
Meller’s letters radiate a lively sense of humor; he would refer to his wife, a dancer named Petronella Colpa, as “Mea Colpa” or just “Mea.” They also evidence a rigorously formal way of thinking about the arts.