Florian sits on a porch. Twenty years have passed since the war ended, but a letter about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff has just arrived. He opens the note and begins to read.
The past is difficult for anyone to escape, but especially a past so littered with tragedy and trauma as Florian’s.
The letter is from a woman named Clara Christensen, writing from Denmark. She reveals that she had previously written to Florian, who responded, and this is her second letter. She first wrote after reading about a swimmer named Halinka in the newspaper, who told a story about her birth mother, a Polish woman named Emilia who died during the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, but only after saving both Halinka and her brother, Klaus.
Emilia’s legacy has lived on, just as she hoped it would, in her daughter. Although further information about Halinka is not provided, Emilia would likely be proud that her daughter grew up knowing she was Polish, and knowing that her mother loved her and fought for her to have a better life.
Clara explains that Emilia’s frozen body washed ashore in February of 1945, weeks after the Wilhelm Gustloff sank. Clara and her husband defrosted her rucksack and read through Florian’s notebook, which was inside. In it, he had written Emilia’s name, identifying her by her signature pink hat and her nationality. However, Clara didn’t connect Emilia to the Wilhelm Gustloff disaster until years later. Clara writes that Florian’s letter brought her peace. She references how he wrote that Emilia was his savior and ever on his mind. Clara confirms Emilia is in her heart as well. She concludes, “War is catastrophe. It breaks families in irretrievable pieces. But those who are gone are not necessarily lost.” She continues, now, Emilia “rests. She is safe. She is loved.”
Clara did not know anything about Emilia or her past, but she nonetheless felt responsible for her, and wanted to know more about who she was and where she came from. That Emilia is in Clara’s heart demonstrates that Clara is kind and empathetic, capable of loving a woman she never got to know. Although the previous chapter suggested to the reader that Emilia found peace mentally in the moment of her death or in the afterlife, here Emilia’s body is given a peaceful resting place as well.