In September 1943, 5,000 Jews from the Theresienstadt camp were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Unlike other deportees, they were not subjected to a regular selection but instead grouped together in a section of Birkenau known as the "family camp."1 Camp officials permitted these Jews to wear civilian clothes and did not have their heads shaved, while children could spend time during the day in a special block designated for them.2
Another transport from Theresienstadt arrived three months later, in December. Among this new group was Dr. Kurt Grunwald, his wife Vilma, and two sons, Miša and Jan. They remained in family camp until July 1944 when Auschwitz authorities decided to dismantle it. During the selection prior to liquidation, Kurt was transferred to work. Miša (later Frank) Grunwald escaped death thanks to a friend who guided him to a group of older children chosen for labor. Jan, who walked with a limp, had no chance of survival. His mother decided to follow him to the gas chamber.3
On July 11, 1944, while waiting for the trucks to crematorium, Vilma drafted the featured letter to her husband. Delivered under unknown circumstances, the message bade farewell to her husband, who had been relocated to a different part of the camp. Vilma expressed her concerns as a mother and a wife. Although fully aware of her impending fate, Vilma sought to comfort Kurt and relieve him of any guilt he might harbor over their deaths. She also expressed hope that Miša might stay safe alongside his father.
Vilma's letter exemplifies a situation Jewish families frequently faced during the Holocaust: the uncertainty, and often finality, of separation. The document should be also analyzed in terms of its place of origin—the family camp in Birkenau. Unlike so many Jews deported to camps during the Holocaust, several months spent in the family camp allowed the Grunwalds and other deportees from Theresienstadt to remain together instead of undergoing separation upon arrival. Consequently, the unusual circumstance of the family camp gave them hope that their family might remain intact. That hope proved to be short-lived.4
Both Kurt and Miša survived the Holocaust. In 1951 they emigrated to the United States. Miša found Vilma's letter from Birkenau among Kurt's belongings after his father's death.