Today’s letter is sent to you on International Holocaust Remembrance Day—a day on which the world remembers the 6 million Jews and millions of others murdered during the Holocaust. Many thanks to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, whose Collections hold a wealth of invaluable material. I also strongly recommend taking a look at the online Yad Vasham Documents Archive.
Born in the Czech Republic in 1904, Vilma Grünwald was 39 years old when she wrote her 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.
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