One of the most tragic and cruel events in our world’s history was the Holocaust in the 1940s. Surviving the Holocaust was not an easy feat and those that did survive have stories to tell about it.
While only half of the family in the following story survived the Holocaust, a father and son had one special thing to remember their mother by; a letter that she wrote them right before she was killed. The letter she wrote remained untouched for decades and how the family managed to get it will forever remain a miracle…
He Knew It Existed
A father told his son about the letter’s existence back in 1946. It was right after the war, but the son, who was only 11-years-old at the time told his dad he didn’t want to read it. In fact, he avoided seeing it.
Afraid Of The Letter
Then known as Misa Grunwald, and now Frank Grunwald, he explains that he was “scared of the letter.” The reason for this is that it was written by his mother right before she was killed during the Holocaust in a Nazi concentration camp. Frank himself survived the camp…
He is 85 years old now and is a retired industrial designer living northeast of Indianapolis on Geist Reservoir. Frank’s mother had written the letter to his father (her husband) just moments before her life was taken from her as she entered the gas chamber at Auschwitz on July 11, 1944.
His Brother Was Also Killed That Day
Frank’s older, crippled brother, was also killed in the chamber that day and the memory still haunts him. In the letter, which he initially didn’t want to read, were ten sentences, scribbled on paper…
The Entire Grunwald Family Were Prisoners Of The Nazis
His mother, Vilma Grunwald quickly wrote the note, folded the paper and wrote on the outside: Dr. Grunwald F. Lager,” also known as Kurt Grunwald, her husband. Frank’s father was also a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp, except he was at one of the work camps.
Kurt was a physician and his primary job was to treat prisoners’ injuries so that they could return to work as soon as possible. Vilma handed the letter to a German guard and by an act of God or a miracle, the guard personally delivered it to her husband…
It Was A Miracle He Got It
Today Frank thinks to himself, “What kind of Nazi concentration camp guard would do that?” While it makes no sense at all, it apparently did to Vilma and she likely scoped him out, sensing that this guard had some compassion. “My mother was a great reader of personalities,” Frank said.
Reunited With His Dad
Seven months after his mother’s murder, the remaining prisoners at the camp were liberated and Frank was reunited with his father. It was then that Kurt told him, “I have a note here from your mother.” Except Frank didn’t want to see it, he was too upset…
Moving To New York City
Then, the Grunwald family moved to New York City in 1951 and Kurt continued practicing medicine in Forest Hills. Frank went on to Pratt Institute and he studied industrial design before getting a job with General Electric in Syracuse. Soon, Frank met and married his wife, Barbara and the couple had two wonderful children.
His Father’s Death
But, there was something that Frank couldn’t get off his mind- that letter from his mother. After his father died in 1967 at age 67, he was going through his father’s belongings and found it. It was sitting on a desk in his dad’s bedroom and the paper had turned yellow after all the years. It was the last thing Kurt had from his wife so he likely read it every day…
Since the Grunwalds’ were Czechoslovakian, Vilma had written in her native language and Frank finally picked it up to read. What immediately struck him the most was his mother’s tone.
Vilma’s Tone Was Extraordinary
She was being held prisoner by the Nazis and she knew she was about to die, except there was no anger in her voice. “There’s not a word of anger or hatred or resentment or bitterness against the Nazis,” Frank said. “It’s all focused on my father and me, on the future.”
Hid The Letter
After reading it, Frank took the note home, put it on a desk and for two decades, he showed no one, not even his wife Barbara. Every few months, Frank would go to his hiding place to get it, sneak away, and re-read it in privacy.
Donated The Letter To The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Fast forward to the 1990’s and Frank decided to show the heartfelt letter to his family. Then, in 2014, he gave it to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He thought, “‘Why not expose it so that others can see it?’”
A Big Year For The Museum
One of Frank’s biggest concerns was that once he’s gone, who will remember his mother? But after donating her letter, that fear has disappeared. The museum celebrated its 25th-anniversary last month, in April 2018, and over 40 million people have visited the museum in those years.
Vilma’s Letter Stands Alone
While the museum has received donations of thousands of personal artifacts, Vilma Grunwald’s letter stands alone. Judith Cohen, the museum’s chief acquisitions curator says, “I’m always reluctant to say it’s the only such document ever created, but to the best of our knowledge it is- it is the only one we have ever seen.”
“Auschwitz, in the moments before gassing…In the extermination camps it was almost impossible to write material that was preserved,” Cohen continued. Since the quality of the paper of the letter was poor and composed mostly of wood pulp, the letter has to be preserved. To do that, the letter is rotated out of the museum’s gallery every six months. It is replaced with a facsimile.
The value of the letter is immeasurable since some people still deny the Holocaust happened, doubting Auschwitz existed. But when anyone sees the physical letter, you can’t deny that it is proof that what happened was a reality, and how Vilma responded was real. Vilma Grunwald’s letter to her husband on July 11, 1944, read…
“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.” The letter continued…
The Letter Continued
“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.