The discovery of a series of letters among the papers of her grandfather launched Sarah Wildman on a quest for information about their sender; she has now turned her findings into a book. Walter Laqueur, who knew some of the book’s characters, writes in his review:
The letter writer was . . . a young [woman] doctor named Valy Scheftel from his native Vienna. They had been lovers. He had the good fortune to escape just in time; she was caught in the deadly trap.
Wildman, a highly accomplished journalist, wanted to find out everything she could about Valy. How did she take the separation? Could anything have been done to bring her to America? Why did [her grandfather] Karl answer Valy’s letters so infrequently? Even the vocabulary raised questions. What exactly was a “certificate”? What did “Chamada” mean and who was Paltreu? Why did the possession of $150 make the difference between life and death in a case like Valy’s? (It was the price of a visa for Chile.) . . .
I was a witness not exactly to what Sarah Wildman relates, but to some of the events that preceded her story, and I am one of the very few still alive who knew some of those who figure in it. I may be forgiven therefore for beginning with my own recollections, which go back a long time. They do not concern Karl or Valy but a boy of my acquaintance named Hans Fabisch.