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September 28 2019
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Vilma Eisenstein and Kurt Grünwald’s engagement photograph. In the background is the letter Vilma wrote to her husband shortly before she was killed at Auschwitz.

Few letters survive from the death camps built by the Nazis to exterminate the Jewish people during the Holocaust. Here is an almost unreadably poignant short note, from the Czech prisoner Vilma Grünwald to her doctor husband, Kurt.

She, Kurt, and their two children, John and Frank (Misa), were arrested like thousands of other innocent Jewish families and transported to Auschwitz. At the selection, the S.S. doctor Josef Mengele sends the limping John to the left—for instant execution in the extermination camp. His mother, knowing what this means, chooses to join him in an act of maternal love. She writes this note moments after she and John have been separated from the other two, then hands it to a guard and asks him to convey it to Kurt, who would be set to work in the neighboring slave-labor camp as a physician responsible for restoring injured prisoners to a state that they might work again. Vilma and John are gassed moments later.

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