Monday, June 1, 2015

Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind by Sarah Wildman 2014

"The book weaves together the historical with the intensely personal, redefining what counts as appropriate archival material and elevating intimate aspects from Valy’s life, and Wildman’s own, to new importance." from a review in the Times of Israel written by Batya Unger-Sargon 11/7/14

After the author Sarah Wildman’s grandparents died, much to her surprise she found a cache of letters, including photos, mostly passionate letters written by a young woman, Valerie Scheftel to her grandfather. In 1938 her 26-year-old grandfather had left her behind in Vienna six months after the Anschluss, when he left for America with his mother, sister, brother-in-law and nephew. This engaging and suspenseful memoir narrates the author’s attempts to unravel the story behind the letters that stop at the end of 1941 when America entered the war.

What struck Sarah Wildman in particular as she read the letters was that although she had felt close to her grandfather, she knew little or nothing about his life in Europe. A doctor who graduated from the University of Vienna Medical School just before Jews were forbidden to attend, he appeared to be happy. He was constantly upbeat. Now, reading Valy’s letters and others from family members left behind who begged him for official papers and money in order to flee increasingly dangerous circumstances, she had to rethink her assumptions. She wanted a better understanding of what had happened and she wanted to find out who Valerie Scheftel was.

The author, a practicing journalist, spent years visiting cities and towns in Europe retracing Valy’s steps, all the time consulting with Holocaust scholars at academic institutions and archives in Europe and in the United States.  She was in the first contingent to visit the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen in Germany once it opened to the public.  Her extensive research required time commitments, financial resources and persistence, and the reader looks over her shoulder as she finds documents and listens to conversations she has with experts and with a few family members still alive.

One of the strengths of this memoir is that the author contextualizes the lives of her grandfather and Valy and others caught in Europe in the 1930’s by describing geography, the constantly changing living conditions, the constantly added restrictions that led to the increasing strangulation of Jewish life, the establishment of the ghettos, the roundups, the camps.

In the process of doing the research and writing the book she gives birth to two children. She realizes that she is the last generation to have a direct connection to survivors. For her daughters the Holocaust will be a more distanced historical event. Sarah Wildman's connection to this story is immediate and visceral.

To read about another family trapped in Vienna, click
To read an article about how to commemorate the Holocaust after all survivors have died, click here.

Sarah Feldschuh – married Josef Wildmann
    Manele Wildmann – son of Josef; married to Chaja
         Lotte Wildmann Sudarskis – daughter of Manele and Chaja
              Georges Sudarskis – son of Lotte
              Gilbert Sudarskis – son of Lotte
         Blanka Wildmann – daughter of Manele and Chaja
         Regina Wildmann Hirschfeld – daughter of Manele and Chaja
         Josef Moses Wildmann – son of Manele and Chaja
    Chaim (Karl) Judah Wildmann – son of Sarah; married Dorothy Kolman
         Joseph Wildman – son of Karl and Dorothy; married Margot
                Sarah Wildman – daughter of Joseph and Margot; partner of Ian Halpern;                       author
                       Orli and Hana – daughters of Sarah Wildman and Ian Halpern
                Rebecca Wildman – daughter of Joseph and Margot; married to Michael Repetti
    Celia Wildman – daughter of Sarah; married to Carl Feldschuh
         Shirley Feldschuh – daughter of Celia and Carl
         Joseph Feldschuh – son of Celia and Carl
Sam Feldschuh – brother of Sarah; married Fanny Hollenberg
Henryka and Benzion Feldschuh – cousins, exact relationship unclear
Isiu and Dolfi Feldschuh – relationship not clear
Reuven Ben-Shem (Feldschuh) – Pnina 1st wife; Ruth 2nd wife ; exact relationship unclear
     Josena Feldschuh – daughter of Reuven and Pnina
     Kami (Nechemia) Ben-Shem – son of Reuven and Ruth; married to Shely
           Sharon Ben-Shem – daughter of Kami and Shely

Hanna (Toni) Flamm – married Franz Scheftel
Valerie Scheftel – daughter of Franz and Toni; married to Hans Fabisch
Ilse Charlotte Fabisch  – sister of Hans; married to Paul Yogi Mayer
      Carol Mayer  – daughter of Ilse and Paul; married to Ed Levene
              Charlotte and Jessica Levene – daughters of Carol and Ed
Rudof and Dora Fabisch – parents of Ilse and Hans
Paul Fabisch – brother of Rudolf
Walter Raschkow – relative of Hans Fabisch; exact connection unclear
     Ingeborg Raschkow – daughter of Walter
Julius Flamm – uncle of Toni; married to Rozia
Bruno Klein
Tonya Morganstern – married Alan Warner
Benno Weiser Varron
Paula Hollander
Alfred Jospe
Walter Lustig
Elli Konigsfield
Ruth Koningfield Schnell – sister of Elli
David Teichmann
Gertrude Striem
Earnest and Margot Fontheim

Zaleszczyki, Poland (now in Ukraine)
Borszczow, Ukraine
Vienna, Austria
Wahlringer Cemetery, Vienna
Berlin, Germany
Jewish Hospital, Berlin
Troppau, Czechoslovakia
Breslau, Poland (was Germany until 1945)
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Cranbury, New Jersey
London, England