Now we pick up where we left off two years ago and we get to dive into that box of letters. The earliest letters we found in the box are both dated November 6th, 1939. One is from Ella, Opa’s mother. The other is from August and Emma, Opa’s Dad and step-mom. I thought it was appropriate for us to start our journey into the letters with a letter from Mama... All translated parts are the work of Rose Ball, a trusted friend of Opa's and someone who has worked hard to provide us with translations of our German letters.
|Scan of Original letter from Ella to Opa|
Ella, Opa’s mother, wrote to her son as soon as she heard the news he set sail for the land of the free. I am a mother of two young boys. I cannot possibly fathom the life and soul of this instance of a mother watching her son go without knowing if she'll see him again. Opa was not just leaving the nest, but the country, continent, Nazi-cage. Opa was not just going to college, but leaving a culture, language, an entire worldview behind. Ella was not just an empty-nester, but an isolated, threatened Jewish woman in an increasingly anti-semitic and violent Germany. But what does Ella worry about? What does she write about in her letter to her son? Her worries for him. I'm going to cut and paste the translation and go through it with you. It's a beautiful letter.
Berlin-Charlottenburg 4, Droysenstr.14
November 6th, 1939
My much beloved boy,
Your card with the last greeting from home just arrived, which I had been impatiently waiting for.
By now you have been on the water for several days, I am constantly thinking about you, the way silly Mamas do, if the little one is not ill and if everything will work out for good. And then I wish I could be with you to surround you with much love, to caress you, like one caresses small children (for Mamas all children remain small) and to feel you.
She writes about loving him. Wanting to hold him like he is her little boy, although she knows he is grown and so much more independent than even she can imagine- out of survival. I have those two little boys, and I understand the need to squeeze them when life is threatened, scary, unstable. Physical touch is about the closest thing you can get to security, and as much as our children need to be held when they are hurt, a mother needs to hold her child to know he will be OK.
Then it feels almost as if she wipes a tear, sits up a little straighter in her seat, and pens the rest:
But you do not need that anymore, you are my big strong boy! I am happy to know that I can trust you, I know you will always be a decent human being, who would not say or do anything against his convictions, who with all his strengths strive to learn a lot and be able to give to people. This tremendous luck you have now obligates you to great achievements.
Mama Ella can give a pep talk. What encouragement, trust, and genuine perspective she has. She sees Opa’s luck, good fortune, and encourages him to create a life worth living. She knows the strength he has already shown in avoiding military conscription and resisting the Nazi rise to power. And yet, she is still his mother and worries...
I would love for this letter to be there before you arrive to help with the at-home-feeling a little bit. Keep in mind in my thoughts I am there with you when you are welcomed by your new friends. I am sure, that soon you will have friends there like always.Even if at first everything will be new and strange, you soon will adjust, you are with good people. Search in every person what makes him worthy, everybody has a lot of goodness, and that you must appreciate.
In the midst of her life in Nazi Germany, Ella sounds a lot like the well-known Anne Frank in her belief in the goodness of people. This gives me hope. It gives me warmth in my soul. Ella saw evil lurking, and still was able to siphon out the good.
With joy I read about the great time you spent with the Quakers. Please, my beloved boy write to me in details about everything, the journey, New York, Philadelphia and your new home. From my heart I call and wish for you. Good luck, my beloved boy, for your life, your work, your achievements.
And kisses for my big small and strong boy.
Your MamaMy heart is just melting. Mama Ella wants to know everything, she knows the outline of the plan (so Opa must have known a little of what to expect when he arrived), and she wants to know how it all went. The drama of the escape and world events aside, Opa’s mother just wanted to hear about his days.
Ella signs her letter with kisses to her big, small boy. I imagine there are infinite mothers who have some understanding of this phenomenon to want to hug and kiss their big, small boys. I think tomorrow morning I will hug and kiss my small boys even more, to get some extra snuggles in before they become big small boys.
Picture of Ella, my great-grandmother