Chasing Holocaust Ghosts in Paper Love by Sarah Wildman


Is it possible to chase ghosts? One woman would say that it is.

It all started with just one letter. After consulting with her grandmother about it, she found out that the woman in the photographs had been her grandfather’s “true love”. With knowledge of his escape from Vienna during the Holocaust, Wildman wanted to know more about her and started to chase her ghost. No longer able to ask him, as he had passed away prior to her discovery, she would have to venture into the unknown, a chapter not discusssed much by her family.

Armed with a a cache full of letters to him from this unknown woman and Wildman’s existing journlistic, investigative skills, she set out to find out more about this woman, who was named Valerie Scheftel (or Valy). Her quest to find out Valy’s destiny becomes something very personal as she gets closer and closer to finding out what happened. It also unveils the part of her grandfather’s history Wildman knew little about and opened up several avenues to discovering more about the truth behind the atrocities that occurred during World War 2.

Wildman spent years unearthing Valy’s story, crossing continents and unfolding years of history. The result is her book, Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind. Valy was a doctor, having received her degree right before Jews were expelled from universities. She met Wildman’s grandfather in university. When he boarded a ship for the U.S. in September 1938, she never thought she would never see him again and writes to him incessantly before the inevitable occurs several years later. Valy never made it to America, but one could never say that efforts weren’t made to get her here. Her letters began optimistic yet became more desperate over time. Each one revealed changes about Jewish people’s existence prior to being taken to concentration camps. The signs of Jews stripped of all rights are there, and Valy subtly pointed them out to Wildman’s grandfather.

As her grandfather’s career and life took off in America, it was clear that things weren’t going as well in Eastern Europe, but it was impossible to get Jews out. Over a half century later, Wildman’s search is endless. As Valy’s letters become more desperate, so does her search. There are times when we believe she will never find out what happened to Valy – did she survive the camps? Did her grandfather try to bring her to America?

But Wildman is a skilled reporter and researcher and finds ways to delve deeper into the vault, and the result is a book I could not put down. Her search for ghosts long gone and giving them a voice is impeccable and simply beatiful. I wish her grandfather could have lived to read this book. It is not only a loving tribute to him and the woman he left behind, but all to all 6,000,000 Jews who perished during the Holocaust.

Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind can be purchased on Amazon – click here.



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