Vox Tablet

A Grandfather’s Hidden Love Letters From Nazi Germany Reveal a Buried Past

Reporter Sarah Wildman’s grandfather escaped Vienna in 1938. Long after he died, she discovered the life—and lover—he left behind.

October 20, 2014
(Photo courtesy of Sarah Wildman)
(Photo courtesy of Sarah Wildman)

In 2007, journalist Sarah Wildman discovered a hidden cache of letters in her grandfather’s home office. By that time, her grandfather Karl was no longer living, but he had been a strong presence for most of her life—a worldly bon vivant and successful doctor whose smooth escape from Vienna in 1938 was part of the family lore. The letters, written mostly in German, came from people he’d left behind—people Wildman had never heard of before and, in particular, one young Jewish woman named Valy, whose letters made clear that she and Karl had been much more than friends. The letters—sent between 1939 and 1941—overflowed with love and yearning, but also conveyed that her situation was becoming increasingly dire.

Who was this woman? What were the particular circumstances under which she wrote? And what became of her? Those questions possessed Wildman, and so she set out to find answers. Wildman traveled from Vienna to Israel to Ann Arbor and elsewhere in her search. In a new book, Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind, she tells the story of her journey and her discoveries. Vox Tablet’s Sara Ivry speaks with her about how the research complicated her understanding of the Nazi occupation, and of her beloved grandfather.

Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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