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Paper Trail

In bidding on a batch of stamps, Reinhard Kaiser unearthed the story of an ill-fated wartime romance

Julie Subrin
October 11, 2006

“My dear little Ingeborg, you won’t have forgotten me and your visit to Bologna in spite of the beauties of Venice.” So begins the collection of letters that Reinhard Kaiser bid on at a Frankfurt stamp auction in 1991. The story they told would consume him for nearly a decade.

Written by Rudolf Kaufmann, a German geologist, and addressed to Ingeborg Magnusson, a young Swedish woman, they tell of a love thwarted by history. Rudolf was Jewish. Ingeborg was not. Alternately playful, mundane, romantic, and grave, the letters cover a four-year span, ending abruptly in 1939. Who were these people and what happened to them? Kaiser, a writer and translator, wanted to find out.

His curiosity led him to German villages, university archives, and ultimately to a Stockholm apartment building. In his 1996 book, Paper Kisses, newly translated into English, Kaiser reconstructs their romance, through the letters, photographs, and other documents.

Excerpts from the letters are read by Pejk Malinovski.

Image from Paper Kisses, Other Press, 2006.

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Julie Subrin is Tablet Magazine’s executive producer for audio.

Julie Subrin is Tablet Magazine’s executive producer for audio.