This issue’s cover story describes the legacy of a mother to her daughter, Ann Kirschner *78: more than 300 letters that the mother, then a Jewish teenager named Sala Garncarz, saved while she was a prisoner in numerous labor camps during the Holocaust. When she came to the United States as a young war bride, she tried to put her history behind her, stowing the letters in various closets until 12 years ago, when she shared them with her daughter. Scholars say the collection of letters is unique, both for its size and its account of the years just before and after the Nazis’ “Final Solution” was implemented.
As PAW writer Anne Ruderman ’01 notes, this history is told not by Sala Garncarz but by the people who wrote to her — including many who soon would be gone. But that a young woman would think to save the letters within the brutal labor-camp system — and succeed — tells a great deal about her strength. The letters offer historians new insights into the Nazi labor camps, most of which were subsumed by the death camps as the war drew on. As former Princeton history professor Doug Greenberg explains, the great majority of the record of that era was written at the time by the Nazis, not by their victims. (Greenberg is now president of the Shoah Foundation, which has taped interviews with Holocaust survivors around the world.)
Sala Garncarz protected her letters not to leave a record for historians, but to preserve a link to those she loved and might never see again. Today, her daughter is negotiating with major libraries about donating the collection; she knows their value as history.
Reading about these firsthand accounts of history prompted me to inquire about a current Princeton project to capture the period of the presidency of Robert Goheen ’40 *48, who served from 1957 to 1972. Princeton already has a large number of letters and numerous oral histories in its collection in the Mudd Manuscript Library, including histories taken from people who worked with former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles 1908, and the stories of professors in the famed Princeton mathematics department of the 1930s.
This fall, University archivist Dan Linke is adding to that collection, culling Goheen’s memories from one of the most important periods in Princeton’s modern history. “It’s hard, trying to get your head around 15 years of a presidency,” acknowledged Linke, who must cover that history in three or four one-hour interviews. The task must be especially difficult in the case of a president whose tenure included the advent of coeducation, major strides toward ethnic and racial diversity, significant growth, and the campus strife related to the war in Southeast Asia.
The memories of Goheen, now 85, are certain to add to our understanding of both the man and the institution. They are expected to be available to the public in 2005. And the letters to Sala, which also will be on public display one day? They recall the extraordinary and the mundane; beauty and horror; and a strong young woman who could not possibly foresee the importance of what she saved.