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“He was shocked and very excited to speak with me about the letters,” said Halper. “He added a lot of information about his experiences.”
Karin, on the other hand, was much more difficult to track down. Halper enlisted the help of a Tel Aviv historian, who informed him that Karin had died. But the historian had the wrong woman; she was actually Karin’s sister. Then Halper happened to tell another bookstore customer — an Israeli journalist — about his quest, and the reporter tracked Karin down within 24 hours.
After speaking with Karin over the phone, Halper brought the box of letters, which he had meticulously organized according to date, to Karin’s home in Tel Aviv.
“It took me back to those times,” Karin told me when I visited her at home. At 94 she has the gentle bearing of an aristocratic woman, with beautifully coiffed hair, high heels and pearls. A true sabra, born in Tel Aviv, Karin is a fourth generation Israeli on her father’s side and a third generation Israeli on her mother’s side. She served in the air defense of the Civil Guard, an organization managed by the municipality of Tel Aviv, and she can clearly recall the celebrations in the street outside Independence Hall after Israel proclaimed statehood on May 14, 1948.
“When the letters were found, I was torn between the present and the past,” she told me. “But it’s history.”
We talked for over an hour about her memories of Tel Aviv during the 1930s and ’40s. Her family, the Carsentys, were one of Rothschild Boulevard’s early settler families, back when the famed thoroughfare was considered to be the outskirts of the city. Karin remembers the orange groves near the family home, which her parents built in 1928. She also recalls the Arab riots of 1929, and the Hagana outpost that was set up on the roof of the home to thwart Arab attacks.
Following the death of Karin’s sister, who lived in the second floor apartment of the family’s house on Rothschild, the house was sold and remodeled. The contents of the attic were left on the street by the day laborers, including the discarded suitcase, which contained letters, invitations to British balls, photographs and other mementos from the early 1940s.