A Mother's Farewell Letter
A new glimpse at a mother's final letter to her son, written immediately before her deportation to Theriesenstadt.
BY: From Valli Ollendorff
Two days before her deportation to the Thereisenstadt concentration camp, German Jew Valli Ollendorff wrote a letter to her son Ulrich, anticipating the coming end of her life. Ulrich had fled Germany to the U.S. after Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," in 1938, when the Nazis destroyed 191 synagogues throughout Germany. Valli's other sons, Wolfgang and Gerhard, remained in Germany and were killed by the Nazis in the early 1940s. Valli died in Thereisenstadt at age 68, less than two months after she wrote the letter. Lost for 40 years, Valli's letter did not reach Ulrich until 1985, and it remained a family secret until 1998, when it was read publicly for the first time at Ulrich's funeral.
Now, hoping that Valli's words of hope and comfort will resonate with contemporary readers, the Ollendorff family has released the letter and the news of its remarkable discovery. The story of the letter and the Ollendorff family has been made into a book and a documentary film, narrated by Martin Sheen and Liv Ullman, airing on local PBS stations.
Excerpts from the letter:
Tormensdorf - 24th day of August, 1942
My beloved, my good boy, within two days we are going away from here, and the future lies so dark in front of us that the thought comes up that the new place will be the last one which we reach on our migration. And if you my boy will hold this letter in your hands, then we are not chased from place to place, then all the suffering will have an end. Also, the restlessness and peace will be around us and in us. Be happy that I have this rest and this peace, my good boy, and don't be too sad.
Also, you, my beloved boy, can carry the knowledge through your life that you through all your life were a source of purest joy for your parents... I wish your life will go from success to success, my beloved boy, and that you stay so good, so modest, and so grateful for all the good and beautiful things like you did already as a child. We wish for you to have with your child as much joy as we had with you. May the blessings, which I pray for you, come true.
The fact that I could not be a witness to your life in America was much more sad for me than you believed it my boy. All your letters born by a deep child's love called me to you and the joy of seeing you again, and the echo of the longing, and the possibility of living with you caused that I did all that was necessary to come to you. Also, today I repeat to you and I know that you will understand me, I was and I am daily happy even longing very much for you and your life.
However, fate did not let me go. And now my beloved boy, I will take leave from you. I will thank you a thousand times for all the love, for all the gratitude, for all the joy and sunshine which you brought into your father's and my life, starting from the day of your birth. May the memory of your parent's house and your childhood shine like a bright lucky star over you, my beloved, good, precious boy.
Reprinted with permission from Pelican Publishing.
For more about Valli Ollendorff and the letter, visit Fate Did Not Let Me Go.