Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Introducing Grandmother: The Sloan Family

Grandmother's Ancestry (in a screenshot)

Grandother's mother was Mary Elizabeth Wilkins, daughter of Bingham and Rebecca. Grandmother's father was William James Sloan, son of George and Hannah.

I want to trace her parents just a bit to give you a glimpse of where they came from. Opa's family ancestry is a bit fuzzy in places, but Grandmother's roots we know a little better.

So let's start with the Sloan side, her Dad's family.

Marjorie's paternal Grandfather was named George Washington Sloan. If that's not an American-sounding name, I don't know what is. I found a document that is a seven page biographical summary of George W. Sloan, written by his grandson, Ray Sloan (my Dad's uncle). It's a fascinating article, so I'm going to sum up some of the fun parts for you:

George W. Sloan was born in McDonough County, Illinois, October 5, 1850. By the time he had reached the age of 12 both parents had died leaving George with two older brothers, one younger brother and a sister to fend for themselves. His oldest brother, John, joined the Union Army during the Civil War and George and his two other brothers and sister were taken into the home of a friend of the family.
I want to interject how amazing it is that George W Sloan practically raised himself from age 12.
After the close of war his brother John came to Kansas to homestead and was later joined by the rest of the siblings.
George migrated to Wayne County, Iowa in 1868 and in 1877 married Hannah Jane McCullough. In 1882 George and Hannah, with their baby boy Will (This is Grandmother's Dad), moved to Seward County, Nebraska and in April, 1886, at the recommendation of his brothers, he moved his family which then consisted of Will (W.J.), Ted (E.R.) and the baby Nellie (Clark) to Sheridan County, Kansas and took up a homestead in Section 31, Township 6, Range 29, four miles southwest of what later was to become Selden, Kansas. They made their journeys from Iowa to Nebraska and from Nebraska to Kansas in what was a "Prairie schooner" or covered wagon which was the common conveyance used at that time in moving a family for any distance.
Image result for prairie schooner

The prairie schooner was much different than the conestoga in that it was lighter and more adapted to the use of the prairie people. It was an ordinary farm wagon or "lumber wagon" with a grain box that sat between stanchions between the wheels which permitted the box to be removed without any great difficulty from the "running gears" or from the wheels in order that the running gear could be adapted to a hay wagon or some other type of conveyance.... Horseshoe shaped bows are attached to both sides upon which were fastened white canvas which could be closed in front and back. The necessary tools needed at that time such as a breaking plow to open up the sod for cultivation or to provide sod for their homes and some sort of planter could be secured to the sides of the wagon in traveling. The only springs available to soften the ride was a spring seat which was perched atop of the sideboards. This was of some help in absorbing the jolts and bumps which were persistent and sometimes very pronounced in crossing the prairie. They led two cows, which had recently freshened, behind the wagon which were milked night and morning to provide milk for the children and for the cooking generally. 

Hannah loved to relive their experiences and one of the experiences from which she drew much satisfaction in describing was that after the milk that was not used had been permitted to set so that the cream rose to the top, they would skim the cream off and put it in a separate container and the action of the wagon in bumping and jarring and swaying along the road would churn their butter for them.

(This next story comes after they've built a one room "soddy")

I got this definition from Wikipedia: The sod house or "soddy" was a successor to the log cabin during frontier settlement of Canada and the United States. The prairie lacked standard building materials such as wood or stone; however, sod from thickly-rooted prairie grass was abundant.
Related image

One night a wind and hail storm struck which tore away the canvas cover Hannah held a pillow over the baby to protect her from the hail stones.... 
George was a very energetic man; deeply religious; interested in politics and in any enterprise that he felt was for the good of the community. 
In 1888 he helped organize the Selden Methodist Church which actually held its meetings in a soddy three or four miles or farther West of Selden and he taught a Sunday school class there for many years.
Selden UMC (picture taken in August 2015)

Inside the church, under a window.

He served on the School Board of the school district in which he lived for many years. 

In 1889 he was elected County Commissioner from the third commissioner district and served as such for six years. On one occasion while he was at a commissioner meeting at Hoxie, a blizzard of unexpected force struck. At that time there were only Will and Ted at home, ages about 13 and 10, to look after the livestock. Fearful that he could not get home through the drifts with a horse and buggy he rented a saddle horse from the livery stable in Hoxie and hurried home as soon as the storm had abated. The two boys had managed to get the livestock in the sheds and windbreaks before the fury of the storm hit and the family were all safe and sound. The horse that George rode home was exhausted, and, not having any other available grain, they fed the horse some of the corn meal which was a part of their food supply to help restore the horse's strength.
By 1896 the family had grown to four boys and a girl and another child expected. This was Farris (H. F.) who was their last child. The original soddy had become much too small so George built a six room soddy.
He had been successful in his farming operations and had enlarged his farm to six quarter sections. In 1905, he moved to Selden, turning the farming over to his sons, where he engaged in animal husbandry, dealt in real estate and operated one of the first elevators in Selden. He also served as mayor of Selden for 2 terms. Later he was elected Justice of the Peace of Sheridan Township which office in those days handled practically all of the misdemeanor cases and small civil actions in the Township and in Selden. 
He affectionately referred to his wife, Hannah, as "Hant" and they were affectionately referred to by their friends as Uncle George and Aunt Hant.
In the summer of 1915 George and Hannah attended the San Diego Exposition but shortened their trip due to "stomach trouble" which he was beginning to experience. After their arrival at home his stomach trouble increased and they went to Excelsior Springs, Missouri with the hope that drinking the warm mineral water and taking the "treatment" might be a cure.
A cure was not to be and he died in his home at Selden, surrounded by his family, on June 19, 1916, at the age of 65. 
There was a saying among his friends that the "Sloans and Russian thistles were about to take Sheridan County" but all of his descendants except two grandchildren and one great-grandchild have left  Sheridan County.
I know this was mostly about George Washington Sloan, but you got a good picture of Grandmother's Dad's side of the family settling in and around Selden, homesteading and setting up farms and other trades.

Homesteading. Let me give you a quick rundown of what that is: the Homestead Act, signed in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln, encouraged folks to migrate westward and settle in the plains to farm the land. The price was right, and the incentive successful. Here is a link about it, and it won't take much to learn more if you are interested!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Introducing Marjorie Sloan

It seems strangely appropriate that at this point in the blog when Opa's family is being deported to their deaths, news is scarce, and hope is waning- that we should happen upon a bright light. At this point in the timeline, my grandparents had been dating for at least a few months. There is a letter coming up where Opa mentions "that spring meeting on the hill" which I believe is when they met. (I've got a whole story about that that I'll share soon!) So let's say it was at least 3 months if not perhaps a year since they've met. Clearly since I'm calling her Grandmother, you already know about at least part of how their relationship works out.

We are going to delve into their love letters. Their love is a beacon of hope and light in the midst of darkness. These letters are the first things I saw and was able to read snippets of when I found that box of letters under my Grandmother's desk. These letters are what inspired the rest of the research.

Before we delve into the letters- I need to give you some background on my Grandmother and her family- like I did with Opa. Soon her siblings and home will be integral characters in this broadening story. So it's important you know them!
Announcement of Marjorie Sloan's August 14th birth 
in Selden Chronicle (Newspaper) on August 17, 1922

Reads: "A daughter arrived the first of the week to spend the next twenty years at the W.J. Sloan home. Everyone doing nicely - Bill is still in the seventh heaven of delight - it's the first girl."

Marjorie Ann Sloan was born on a farm in Selden, Kansas on August 14, 1922. She was the youngest, and the only female. She had three living brothers, a brother who was the next youngest had died at age 4 a year after she was born. In a way, Grandmother was a shining light after a terrible loss. Her older brothers were much older and did most of the work around the farm. Grandmother lived an unusual experience as a farm girl- because she was the youngest and only girl, her chores were minimal in comparison to her brothers. She spent a lot of time in her mother's garden.

My Grandmother in August 1926 (4 years old)- Can you handle the cuteness?

I'm going to spend the next few blogs talking about Grandmother's family and how they came to live in the middle of nowhere. I've been there- miles and miles of flat land and endless horizon. But in this blog I want to talk briefly about my relationship with Grandmother.

My experience of Grandmother was a proper and polished woman. She always had a purse and a pair of shoes to match her outfit. She always wore hose. She could play the piano, organ, and bells- though none of her family inherited her musical talent (except maybe my uncle). She loved to whistle and sing little ditties. One of the songs she often sang was "Blue Skies, nothing but blue skies do I see"- which I understood more deeply when I witnessed the endless Kansas sky.

Every time it rained, even if it was flooding, Grandmother would say "I guess we needed the rain." She hated rain but was always grateful for it- I am certain that was her conditioned response to living through the Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s. Grandmother was 90 pounds dripping wet, with a delightful short crop of curly hair on her head. She had the tiniest body, with a large chest (another characteristic she did not pass on). I'm not sure she ever reached 5 feet tall, while Opa towered over her at 6 feet 2 inches.

Grandmother and Opa in front of their Mount Vernon home, in the late 80s, early 90s.

She loved birds, and had just about every notecard, stationary, and notepad with birds on it that existed. She was an avid gardener, organic gardening before it was cool. She could feed a household with her vegetable garden, but her pride and joy were her rose bushes in the front yard (to the left of the driveway, so you can't see them in the picture above). Even in her later stages of dementia, if she walked by a rose bush she would prune it.

Grandmother was a serious proponent of dessert. She would eat measly portions of dinner, but always a healthy dessert. Never too much- but there wasn't a meal when she couldn't justify dessert. She wasn't the best cook, but was a wonderful baker. Her cherry and apple pies were legendary. She had a fun thing she would do with us granddaughters when she made pie: she would let us roll out the leftover crust dough, spread butter on it, and cover it with cinnamon sugar. We called them "sugar pies" and ate them like they were the most valued delicacy invented. Just the other day my older sister texted a picture of a sugar pie that she made with her children.

Grandmother was a preschool director and teacher. This education benefitted us as grandkids. She would play all sorts of word games, make crafts with us (including making play dough), and was very hands on.

She and Opa enjoyed the fine arts together: opera, musicals, art, and other concerts. They were so refined and fancy to me as a kid. Yet they also played with me and engaged.

Grandmother had a tissue, cough drop, and comb in every single purse she owned, and in most of her pockets. Looking back I'm wondering if she had allergy issues. There was a story that she had some sort of botched tonsillitis surgery, which meant that she had to take smaller bites of food because her throat wasn't completely right. No idea if that was true.

I loved Grandmother. She was more formal (as you might be able to tell from the name she chose for herself) -so it wasn't a mushy relationship - but it was warm. The more I learned about her background and where she grew up- the more she made sense to me, and the more I understood how Opa stole her heart.

When I lived in Fairfax, Virginia, I was about 30 minutes from Grandmother's apartment in a nice retirement home. I would visit occasionally and drink hot tea with her. She doted on my first son, who was such a show-stopper in her retirement home. The residents rarely saw anyone as young as I was, much less a baby. We would sit in the main dining room, with Grandmother beaming with pride. Many people would stop by our table to talk to the baby, to feel his soft cheeks and ask me questions about him. Grandmother wouldn't hesitate to claim him as her great-grandson, and though she formally insisted that we call her Grandmother, she happily settled for Gi-Gi as her name for the great-grandchildren. 

My favorite job was the two years I took care of Grandmother. She was so grateful and kind. She certainly had a solid penchant for the guilt-trips if she thought I hadn't visited enough (I started writing my visits down in her calendar so I would get "credit" for the visit.) She adored my son, she had a stubborn streak of independence, but we managed the dance just right where she allowed me to help and I allowed her to feel independent. She asked about me and my family, asked about how my son was doing. She told stories of her childhood and watching her boys (my Dad and uncle) growing up. She was so excited for me when she found out I was having another boy, and get my own two boys like she had. We played cards, went to doctor's appointments, ate good food, and drank lots and lots of hot and lukewarm tea.

She was just as much my companion as I was hers. I miss her. 

We moved her to Florida to live near my parents after she had fully healed from a medical emergency. I knew that my growing family and potential for a move would negatively affect her. She needed more than I could provide. So we moved her and my parents got the benefit of her whistling and quiet appreciation. They got to learn the little tricks for getting her to eat more and drink more water. They got to see her eat healthy desserts. My mother and I bonded over our little tricks of the trade when it came to taking good care of Grandmother. We were lucky- it wasn't too hard to keep her quality of life fairly high. 

Then when none of us really expected it, she was gone. She did get to meet my second child, who was 6 months old as we gathered for our last Thanksgiving dinner with Grandmother. There was a moment of beautiful clarity that evening, when she looked up, looked around at the whole family sitting at the table and exclaimed: "We're all here!" She knew us- she always knew us, we were grateful that her dementia never stole her knowledge of her family. But in that moment she was distinctly aware that we were really all there. Shortly after we left my family's home, Grandmother came down with pneumonia, and quickly slipped away from us. 

We would be back together again to bury her in December at Opa's grave in Arlington National Cemetery. The funeral at Arlington was a beautiful experience for me. It was sort of like closing a book that had been read many times and lovingly cared for. Of course I wish I could read it again, ask more questions, drink more tea, eat more ice cream and pie. But there in the cemetery, there in the perfectly crisp and proper burial grounds of the heroes of the United States - were buried my Grandmother and Opa together- brought together by completely bizarre and unlikely circumstances. They stayed together against all odds (and many predictions of their failure). They both had full lives. It was the right time and place for closing the book. 

l look forward to diving into her family history and learning a little bit more about what made her who she was.

Friday, May 12, 2017

June 23, 1943: Mama is Teaching

Red Cross Letter from Ella to Opa


23 June 1943
Beloved boy, hope you are healthy as we are.  I’m nearing fluency, Mama is teaching. Papa healthy. No news from Patti for a long time, from you either. Greet the Shelleys!
This is the second letter from Annchen's address, this one not even signed from Ella. I wonder if Ella is hiding out at Annchen's home. I think it is odd that Annchen uses a whole sentence to talk about Ella tutoring her (in English I suppose). However, perhaps it really is something easy and happy to mention. Perhaps it was a way to mention Ella without specifically naming her. They haven't heard from Patti, who is in the "free" part of France (southern France) but likely still not completely safe. August must be keeping a regular correspondence with Annchen. I really wonder if Opa didn't get letters from August or if he didn't keep them. Either way- that's odd isn't it?

Opa received this letter sometime in November of 1943 it seems. Five months later. I hope he is writing to Ella. I know she needs it. In the meantime, mama is teaching.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

May 27 & June 21, 1943: Summer Work

Letter from Opa to INS


1011 More Street
Manhattan, Kansas
May 27, 1943
St. 16645

U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service
Kansas City, Missouri


During the summer months, i.e. from May 24 till September 15, 1943, I shall be working as assistant laboratory instructor for the Electrical Engineering Department of Kansas State College. The work will be 48 hours per week at a compensation of $28.60 per week.

I am planning on continuing and finishing my studies at Kansas State College in the coming school year.

Very truly yours,

Thomas W. Doeppner
Response from INS to Opa


U.S. Department of Justice
Immigration and Naturalization Service

June 21, 1943

St. 16645
Doeppner, Thomas Walter

Mr. Thomas W. Doeppner
1011 Moro Street
Manhattan, Kansas

Dear Sir:

Information has been furnished this office by the Kansas City office of this Service that you will be working full time as an assistant laboratory instructor for the Electrical Engineering Department of the Kansas State College during the summer months from May 1943 to September 1943.

This full time employment during the vacation period will be satisfactory to this Service. You will, of course, be expected to resume your studies at the beginning of the next academic year.

Sincerely yours,

Earl G. Harrison, Commissioner
T.B. Shoemaker, Assistant Commissioner

Opa is working the same laboratory assistant job through the summer, and luckily he is able to do it full time (more than!). His pay is about the same rate as when he did it part time. 

This letter exchange shows how much easier it is for Opa to work and provide for himself now that he has a student visa. According to this letter, he just has one more year left of school! Wow- time has flown!

Also- brace yourselves. I'm not sure exactly when he met my Grandmother, but by this point she is definitely in the picture. We'll be introducing her soon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

May 22, 1943: We're Together

Red Cross Letter from Annchen/Ella to Opa


May 22, 1943
Beloved birthday boy,
We’re together, thinking of you longingly with many good wishes. Still without news. Patti, Papa healthy. We kiss you!

This letter is written from Annchen's address (Opa's aunt, August's sister). I'm not sure if that was a safety thing or that's just how it worked out. With the deportations well under way, and Ella's family disappearing, I wonder just how she is managing. Her notes to Opa betray nothing of her fear, she keeps it upbeat and focused on the basics of her love for Opa and the updates on the (very) immediate family. Opa receives a formal birthday greeting on his birthday, and the reassurance that Ella is with Annchen. I imagine that first line must have provided Opa with comfort "We're together." Loneliness is not good mixed with fear.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tracking Family: May 17, 1943 - Hilda and Hans Simon

On May 15, Hilda and Hans Simon were arrested. On May 17th they were deported to the East: Auschwitz/Birkenau. They were murdered shortly after their arrival, but I have no idea how soon. I spoke with their grandson over email. He told me his grandmother survived for 2-3 months after being deported, but they aren't sure when she died. They are pretty sure that Hans was sent immediately to the gas chambers.

This is a little of their story as I know it, told in documents, pictures, and interviews.

Hilda Simon is Ella's cousin. Remember how August (Opa's Dad) left Ella and married her cousin? That cousin is Emma. Emma is Hilda's sister. This is Hilda:

Hilda Simon

I'm not sure exactly how old Hilda is in this picture, but this is likely around the age that she was when Opa was a kid. She was younger than Ella, her birthday was April 12, 1896. Ella was born in 1889- so Hilda was seven years younger. That's about the age difference between myself and my younger sister. At this stage in life, she is my contemporary, so I imagine Hilda was similar for Ella.

The divorce between August and Ella and August's marriage to Emma did create some awkwardness between the cousins. When I spoke with Wolfgang on the phone before his death (Wolfgang Simon was Hilda's son), he told me that Ella did not attend the children's parties while August was still in Berlin, but once he moved to Amsterdam, she attended family events and a lot of the tension resolved a bit. He said they weren't upset with each other, it was just an awkward situation. Once August and Emma were out of the picture, the family resumed normal contact. Wolfgang was able to immigrate to Palestine (now Israel) with the help of his uncle, Werner, and he remembered saying goodbye to Ella. His parents, Hans and Hilda, remained in Berlin.

All information I will share on Hilda also relates to her husband, Hans. 
Letter from Werner Fraustadter (Hilda's brother who immigrated to Palestine/Israel) to International Tracing Service

Transcription/Translation (rough one):

Dr. Werner Fraustaedter        23. April 1955
bei Prof. Krueger
Frankfurt/Main, Schumannstr. 45

International Tracing Service
Arolsen (Waldeck)

1. Hans Simon, born March 10th, 1894 in Berlin
2. Frau Hilda Simon, (maiden name Fraustaedter), born April 12th, 1896 in Berlin. 
Both last residence in Berlin, Jewish Hospital (??), Iranischestr. (a street name?)(I'm guessing this might have been a Jewish ghetto?)

In a claim for compensation, which, according to the BEG, is attached to the Detention Office in Berlin to Reg. No. 274008 and 247009, and which is operated by my nephew Wolfgang Simon, I ask for a free deportation certificate for the above mentioned, which are my brother-in-law and sister, Respectively. Both were on 15.5.1943 of Berlin, collected from Gr. Hamburgerstr. (Street) With a transport to the East. A card from Birkenau came from Hilda Simon. Both have not returned from the deportation.


P.S. At the same time I request this letter to be forwarded to the special office in Arolsen waiter, and I ask you to send me sterba tickets for both of the above. My power of attorney is located at the Berlin Detention Office.

So clearly my google translate is not perfect here- but what we have here is Werner Fraustaedter, Hilda's brother, initiating the request for information, and what is formally called a "Certificate of Incarceration." He does this on behalf of Wolfgang, one of Hilda and Hans' sons (they had two: Wolfgang and Munni). This certificate is part of the paperwork required for Wolfgang to collect any kind of compensation (in terms of reparations). Notice that this request is submitted in 1955. The sheer mass of missing people has made this process of information gathering and process of attempting reparations long and tedious.  I may have mentioned this before, but I once met a holocaust survivor only a handful of years ago who was following an information trail with the hope that his sister may have also survived the war and was living in Australia. He had no way of finding out before the age of the internet. Nor did he have hope that he would find anything. Can you imagine?

Here's the part that absolutely cracked my soul: "A card from Birkenau came from Hilda Simon. Both have not returned from the deportation." Both have not returned...

Official Request for Certificate of Incarceration


Allied High Commission For Germany
International Tracing Service
APO 171 U.S. Army

Request For Certificate of Incarceration

(Please answer every question very clearly and write in Block Letters)

Date: 17.3.1955 (March 17th, 1955)

Information about the Former Inmate,

1. Name- Simon    
2.Maiden Name - Fraustadter
3. First Name- Hilda 
4. Sex - Female
5. Present Nationality --  
6. Previous Nationality - German or stateless
7. Birthdate - 12.4.1896 (April 12th, 1896)
8. Birthplace - Berlin; Father's name - unknown  Mother's Name and maiden name - unknown
9. Last Permanent Residence Before Entering the Concentration Camp
a) Locality- Berlin C  b) Street -August Str.
c) Country - Germany   d) County --
10.Marital Status in Conc Camp - married
11. Profession in Conc Camp - teacher
12. Information about the various Stays in Concentration Camps
a) Above mention entered the Conc. Camp - Auschwitz
Prison Number. - -- 
on - Unknown - Coming from- Berlin
b) Tranferred to Conc Camp  -- on -- Prison Number. --
c-d) Transferred to Con. Camp ---
e) Liberated, released or died on - unknown in- Auschwitz
13. Give the exact name and birthdate etc used in the concentration camp if different from those on application: --
14. For Which purposes is the certificate needed?:
The request is made for the purpose of satisfying claims for reparation under the Compensation Act
15. Any other useful information: --
16. Name, First Name and Exact address of person to Whom The Certificate should be mailed:
Compensation Office Berlin, Berlin W 35, Potsdamer Strasse 186
17. What is the Relationship of Enquirer to Former Inmate? Removed

I'll talk more later on this information, but I wonder how they know that Hilda was a teacher at the concentration camp? Either way that makes my heart sink. Did she teach? How long did she survive there?!

Copy of Certificate of Incarceration for Hilda Simon

Transcription/Translation (Summary):

Certificate of Incarceration

Simon, Fraustadter Hilda - German/Stateless
Birthdate: April 12, 1896 in Berlin
Prisoner's Number: Not specified

It is hereby certified that the following information is available in documentary evidence held by the International Tracing Service.:
Simon, Hilda
Birthdate: April 12th, 1896
Birthplace: Berlin
Last Permanent Residence: Berlin, N. 65 Iranischestr. 2
Has Evacuated (Deported) to the east
on May 17, 1943 
coming from "1 Gestapo" Berlin (38. East Transport)
Category, or reason given for incarceration: "Judin" (Jewish)
No information on transfers or liberation/release
Remarks: There is no proof of death. Therefore we are not in a position to issue a death certificate.

Records Consulted: Transport lists of Gestapo area of Berlin.

May 13, 1955

This certificate reads like Aunt Julie's certificate. There is no proof of death- meaning there is no trace left of them. They most definitely died.

The following are information cards on Hilda Simon found through various searches of archives.

This card lists her name, birthdate and place, that she was deported from Berlin to Auschwitz where she was deceased. The next card is essentially the exact same information.

This card gives slightly more information. Her name is listed as is her birthdate and place. Her religion is listed as Jewish. It gives her last permanent address. Then it says "On May 17th, 1943, she was transported to the East. On the right column it reads: "Evacuation List by the SS (State Police) in Berlin "38 East Transport on May 17 1943"

Here is another card, another short explanation of what happened- this one with similar information. Hilda Simon was Jewish, and deported May or June of 1943. This information was given to Wolfgang Simon, her son, who lived in Tel Aviv at the time.

All these cards, all the numbers and information traced through documents and lists- they all tell the same truncated story: these people were Germans, until one day they were arrested for being Jewish and sent East to Auschwitz where they were never heard from again. The trail, and their lives end there.

Hilda Fraustadter Simon, I see you in that picture. I see your smile and imagine your life as a loving mother and family member. I thank you for your son Wolfgang, whose voice I got to hear once. I thank you for your grandson, who keeps your name in is memory.  I am so sorry that this life did not give you space to age.

Hans Simon. I do not know very much about you but I honor you. I name you as a member of my family, as a part of my story that I will not forget. I am so sorry that this life did not allow you the privilege of old age in peace. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

April 29, 1943: What is Ellen Doing?

Red Cross Letter from Ella to Opa


29 April 1943
My boy,
Long time without news from you, Patti. How about your exams? Annchen sends greetings; they miss you a lot.  
What is Ellen doing?
I kiss you!
Yours, Mama

Ella writes again in a little more detail than usual. Things are quiet, although we know Opa has written and that the letters must be slow to make their way. She asks about his exams and Ellen (Ellenruth, Martha and Erich's daughter). 

I wonder how much Ella knows about Martha and Erich. Does she know at least that they are missing? I assume she does. If so, then perhaps her asking Opa about Ellen is a way for her to check in and to tip Opa's hat to inquiring into Ellenruth's well-being. Either way, Ella has always been kind and loving toward Ellenruth, in a way that the rest of the family has not tried as hard. She cares, even in the midst of her own confusion and fear- she is caring for others.

What is Ellen doing? Is she wondering why she hasn't heard from her parents? Or does she know why?