Shortly before her death at Auschwitz, Vilma Grünwald writes a final letter to her husband
Today’s letter comes to you on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It can be found in the first volume of Letters of Note.
Born in the Czech Republic in 1904, Vilma Grünwald was 39 years old when she wrote a final letter to her husband, Kurt. They had been held at Auschwitz with their two sons for 7 months, separated for much of their ordeal following a stint in a “family camp” that was soon dismantled by the Nazis. One day their eldest son, John, who walked with a limp, was noticed by SS physician Josef Mengele and directed towards the gas chamber; Vilma, unable to watch her son go alone, immediately followed.
Vilma wrote the letter days later as she and John waited to be taken to the gas chambers, somehow managing to pass it to an elderly guard before boarding the truck. Soon afterwards, against all odds, that guard tracked down Vilma’s husband—a physician who had been put to work treating his fellow prisoners in a distant area of the sprawling camp—and handed him the farewell message.
Auschwitz was liberated seven months later. When told by his father about the precious note, the Grünwalds’ surviving son, Misa (later known as Frank), couldn’t bear to read it. It would be another 22 years until he did so, after discovering it amongst his recently deceased father’s belongings. It read as follows.
11 July 1944
You, my only one, dearest, in isolation we are waiting for darkness. We considered the possibility of hiding but decided not to do it since we felt it would be hopeless. The famous trucks are already here and we are waiting for it to begin. I am completely calm. You—my only and dearest one, do not blame yourself for what happened, it was our destiny. We did what we could. Stay healthy and remember my words that time will heal—if not completely—then—at least partially. Take care of the little golden boy and don’t spoil him too much with your love. Both of you—stay healthy, my dear ones. I will be thinking of you and Misa. Have a fabulous life, we must board the trucks.
Into Eternity, Vilma
Frank now lives in the United States, having emigrated in 1951 with his father. In 2012, Frank donated his mother’s letter to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
"Into eternity" to end this letter...the calmness of her voice in the writing, knowing that the events of her life was for a reason.
It still is so hard for me to think that we, as human beings, could think it okay to treat others in such a way.
Thank you for sharing a piece of sobering history.
And still, around the world humankind’s inhumanity to humankind continues. How many more of the artefacts of destruction do we need to make this stop? Such Grace, such calm, such dignity.