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Fleeing War and Finding Family

Years after Sarah Wildman’s grandparents had both passed away, Wildman found a cache of letters written to her grandfather in a file labeled “Correspondence: Patients A-G.” What she found weren’t dry medical histories but a rare path into the destroyed world of her family’s prewar Vienna. One woman’s letters stood out: those from Valy—Valerie Scheftel, her grandfather’s lover who had remained behind when he fled Europe six months after the Nazis annexed Austria.

Obsessed with Valy’s story, Wildman began a quest to search for clues into her life that lasted years and spanned continents. Throughout the journey, she uncovered a grandfather that made a triumphant escape from a dark era, a woman clinging to the memory of her years of freedom, and the two lives seemingly lost to history.

New America NYC previewed Widman’s forthcoming Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind, with a conversation with Slate’s David Plotz to discuss the roles of family identity, myth, and memory throughout Wildman’s journey.