Letters From Breendonk

Sep 8, 2018

A letter to Charles Cappell from his family while he was imprisoned at Fort Breendonk, Belgium.
Credit E. Cappell

On this episode of Arts & Letters, we’ll be talking with Dr. Ezra Cappell, Professor of Jewish Studies and Professor of English at the College of Charleston about the letters his grandfather sent to his family & his fiancé, Isa, from Fort Breendonk prison camp in Brussels. 

"Letters from Breendonk"  helps to complete the picture— filling in the fissures and gaps in the story of the thousands of Jewish victims of Fort Breendonk.

“During World War II, my grandfather, Charles Cappell, was interred at Fort Breendonk in Brussels for eleven months in 1942.  

My grandfather's story of suffering and survival, with its starts, stops and infuriating circumlocutions, often eerily echoed the biblical stories which structured my earliest childhood memories as surely as the pictures of my great-grandparents murdered at Auschwitz frames every morning and evening of my grandmother's existence.”

The Star of David Charles Cappell was required to wear.
Credit E. Cappell

Dr. Ezra Cappell is Professor of Jewish Studies and English at the College of Charleston.  Cappell received his B.A. in English from Queens College (CUNY), his M.A. in Creative Writing from The City College (CUNY), and his M.Phil. and Ph.D. in English and American Literature from New York University. 

Ezra with his grandfather, Charles, in New York
Credit Cappell family photos

Cappell teaches and publishes in the fields of 20th Century and Contemporary Jewish American Literature and he is a recipient of the University of Texas Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.

He has published numerous articles on American and Jewish American writing and he is the author of the book, American Talmud: The Cultural Work of Jewish American Fiction, and he is co-editor of the forthcoming book, Off the Derech: Post-Orthodox Jewish Writing


The trove of letters to and from Breendonk, while Cappell was interred.
Credit E. Cappell

Cappell is a frequent lecturer on Jewish American culture and Holocaust writing and he serves as Editor of the SUNY Press Book Series in Contemporary Jewish Literature and Culture.

Thank you to composer, singer and songwriter Abbie Strauss. Thank you to the Cappell family for sharing the recordings of Charles. Thank you to Stickyz Rock 'n' Roll Chicken shack for keeping music alive and well in Arkansas.

Listen to the song "Elohai N'tzor" by Abbie Strauss 

Generous funding for this episode was provided by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Executive Producer & Host:  J. Bradley Minnick

Producer: Mary Ellen Kubit

Recorded by: Christopher Hickey


Interns: Kaitlin Strain & Josh Enloe