Now on Display: Warkany Letters

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Written by Brianna Connock, Marketing & Outreach Associate

Josef Warkany, M.D, was born into a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria in 1902. After completing medical school in 1925, Dr. Warkany immigrated to the U.S. in 1932 where he began working at the recently established Research Foundation of Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati.

He married, had a family, and pursued his medical research career as he continued his life in Cincinnati. Following the Anschluss in 1938, Dr. Warkany received many desperate requests for help from extended family, friends, former colleagues, and even strangers.

He was successful in securing affidavits for his mother and sister, allowing them to join him in the U.S., and his brother followed using other means. Dr. Warkany tried his best to help other people by being a liaison, but he was limited in what he could offer directly.

“This was a painful, difficult subject that my father was reluctant to discuss,” said his son, Steve. Steve donated the correspondence to and from his father during this period to the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center in 2012.

This correspondence, known as the Warkany Letters, is preserved in the Permanent Collection and is on display in the Holocaust Gallery. Near the Escape exhibit, four letters are featured at a time written by immediate family, extended family, friends or former colleagues, and even strangers. These letters are rotated regularly for preservation. These are the newly installed letters viewable in the museum today.

Letter regarding Dr. Warkany’s mother and sister

Louis Krassner, a friend of the Warkany family, wrote to Dr. Warkany after running into his sister, Else Frischmann, in Vienna. They were eager to join Dr. Warkany in Cincinnati writing, “Vienna is certainly a miserable place to live in today.”

Letters regarding a cousin of Dr. Warkany

Dr. Warkany corresponded frequently with his cousin, Elias Gabriel. Elias was desperately trying to leave Austria, and although it was attempted to arrange for him to immigrate to several different countries, the challenges were too difficult. Elias did not survive.

Letters regarding a medical school colleague

Dr. Warkany was able to facilitate the immigration of his childhood friend and medical school classmate, Rudolph Singer, along with his wife, Lisl. Fritz Machlup, a doctor in Buffalo, New York, wrote to Dr. Josef concerning the immigration of their mutual friend Rudolph, saying “It is said that Rudi fled three days after the invasion of the Germans to Italy and from there to Holland.”

Letter from an acquaintance

Salo Tuttman was a tailor that the Warkany family had patronized in Vienna. In 1938 he wrote a letter to Dr. Warkany, reading “It is not easy for me to bother you with this request, but the time has come when one does not leave any stone unturned and must reach out to those even with whom one has had almost no contact.”

Dr. Warkany could have chosen not to act during this time of constant correspondence. Rather than ignore these letters, particularly those from strangers and distant colleagues, Dr. Warkany was a true upstander, and did everything he could to help them escape persecution.

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The Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center exists to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust inspire action today. Located at Cincinnati’s historic Union Terminal, HHC impacts more than 2.5 million people every year through digital and in-person events, museum tours, educational experiences, social media, and virtual content. From Australia to India, individuals from more than 25 countries and 30 states engage with our mission. For more information, visit