In the time since I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer more than two-and-a-half years ago, an appeal of the writings by very old people and of those near death has grown within me.
On the weekend, I came across one that I want to share with you. It is from a book published last year in the United Kingdom titled, Written in History: Letters that Changed the World by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
An excerpt from the book turned up last Saturday in a weekly newsletter titled Air Mail from former, long-time editor of Vanity Fair magazine, Graydon Carter.
Briefly, this is a hastily-scribbled letter from Czech prisoner Vilma Grünwald to her husband, Kurt, as she and one of their two sons are selected by Joseph Mengele for instant extermination at Auschwitz on 11 July 1944.
The letter is almost unbearably poignant and I urge you to read the full background at Air Mail. Here is the text of the letter:
"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. 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.”
The original letter was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by Vilma's and Kurt's son who, like his father, survived.