Earlier this week, Sarah Wildman wrote about translating letters written in Yiddish by her family and shared a short reading list and an interesting letter that didn’t make it into her book,Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind. She has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe series.
It was hard for me to leave out any of the words written by Valerie Scheftel – Valy – the woman my grandfather left behind. But there were a few that didn’t fit. And Valy’s letters – as devastating as they are – sometimes, too, ranged to the mundane, just like all the letter writers of her day included the tiny things that now make up our email feeds. Life, even in deprivation, was not always worth filling up a page about.
And yet, even Valy’s shortest notes can wallop me with sadness. The following is a postcard that didn’t make it into the book in the end, even though it too carries so much. (Translation was by Ulli Wiesner.)
Postcard from Valy, Berlin, Rombergstraße 2
to KW at St. Luke’s Hospital
Today a card arrived from Uncle Isiue in which he writes that you had received a letter from me on 01 – 17. But you did not write to me?!?! Why not, my boy? I simply can’t believe that you do not want to write. You probably already have received my letter of the 18th of this month. Nothing much has changed here for the time being. Since I have a little more free time now I work in Pathology, which I like a lot. I work with the microscope, just as you taught me, and am making good progress. Here, spring has sprung suddenly, and everything is unbelievably beautiful. One could almost be tempted to be happy and joyful. Do you remember, Karl, — the young birch trees in the Vienna Woods? Time and time again, I think of them!
What are you doing, darling in your nunnery? Do you think, you’ll ever let me know anything about it? Paula’s sister will hopefully leave for the USA in 14 days. Maybe you’ll see her so she can give you a full report. I am afraid that I will not be able to come for a long, long time due to the quota.
All the very best to you, Karl, and many kisses from your Valy
Greetings to your mama, Zilli . My mother sends her regards as well
So short – and yet so much. Others are getting out of Berlin, even as she is stuck under the quota system that denied thousands of others a chance to cross the Atlantic.
Valy and my grandfather used to walk the Vienna Woods, the Rax Mountains, the gardens of Vienna’s Augarten. She muses on that time again and again her letters.
But I am struck by more here: Just like her memories of her time in Vienna, Valy carried that microscope wherever she went, even the Gestapo mention it in their files of her.
Sarah Wildman has reported across Europe and the Middle East for The New York Times, Slate, and The New Yorker, among other publications, and is a former New Republic staffer. She is the recipient of the Peter R. Weitz Prize from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, “for excellence and originality in reporting on Europe and the transatlantic relationship,” for the series in Slate where here book Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind originated. Wildman lives in Washington, D.C.
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Sarah Wildman has reported across Europe and the Middle East for The New York Times, Slate, and The New Yorker, among other places; she is a former New Republic staffer. She is the recipient of the Peter R. Weitz Prize from the German Marshall Fund “for excellence and originality in reporting on Europe and the transatlantic relationship” for the series in Slate where Paper Love originated. She lives in Washington, DC.