Tuesday, October 22, 2013

November 28, 1938: A Home Feeling

 Original Letter from Tom (Opa) to Anni and Gis

Translated by Rose
Amstelveen, Nov.28th, 1938
Dear Gis, dear Anni,

Your letter took a little detour through Belgium, so I just got it today.  My father was in Brussels for business, and his office forwarded his mail.  Now the letter arrived with my father, and I want to reply right away.

So your plans will lead to Australia?  That is so dreadfully (horribly) far away!  What would your prospect be there?  Perhaps to start a farm with several thousand sheep?  I imagine Reinhard (brother of Anni and Gis) as a shepherd, or Anni felling trees, or Gis butchering chickens… 
Well, they say Australia is the newer world, with the same unlimited possibilities like the once new one (USA).  Who knows?

Anni, now you have the same boring work as I, typing is not too bad, but I think shorthand is deadly dull.  Every day I have to force myself to start, and I think I am not making any progress. How much must a decent (good) stenographer be able to write per minute?  How is that actually counted?  I have many different results, when I write for ½ hours I achieve 50 syllables or the same sentence 10 times, which at least accomplishes 70 to 80 syllables.  How many can you write?  Are you actually not going to school anymore?  What are you planning to do?  Why not become an interpreter, German, English, French, and Italian?

Gis, your work seems to give you joy, I also think it is the right occupation for you.  Do you have any practical prospects for that?  In Australia will they have many cheap black Nannies as in America?  Or am I wrong about that?  Here in Holland you would have good prospects.  There are many foreign employees despite the great unemployment, which does not include female work.

Everybody here was also very touched by the events of these last days.  Still today the papers are full about the refugee situation.  With all the misery there it is a consolation that it does not affect too many people.  The position of all foreign countries is unanimous.  Every day I read in the papers of families offering their houses, taking in 4 or 5 or more children, about petitions to the justice ministry to open the borders.  An organization was founded, called “Help-Organization” for people persecuted because of Faith or Race, and they are doing great things. Within one week the refugee camp received more than I million Guldens in donations, every youth organization in Holland organized a street and building collection on December 3rd, there are street demonstrations in front of the ministries telling them to let in as many  as possible. When one considers that Holland has almost one million unemployed people, one can truly appreciate what that means.  

Well, all that is a just an intermediate stage.  What should really happen to these hundred thousands, hunted and driven from one country to another, and can also not get into their own homeland, which is also much too small?

Yesterday I went to a prayer meeting at Pollatz (Quaker family).  It is strange, earlier I never believed what power a prayer meeting can have.  Perhaps it was only the memory, a little piece of home, the feeling that home is not only a geographic or language concept, that home consists of  habits, and if one understand to  find these in other people, one has a piece of home  everywhere.  Yesterday  I was thinking of these last years  I spent with the Friends, and how these years have influenced me, and that I can think of all that when I am with the Friends again.  One might call the suggestive, one can call it the  joining spirit, which  lies over such a prayer meeting, one can also speak of imagination, it’s all the same, the feeling is present, perhaps just imagined, but it is beautiful in its’ present.  As I said, it gave me a home feeling…

Now I will stop philosophizing, or you will say that during his travels, somebody ran over that guy’s brain (got hit by a truck, might be better).  I honestly worry that it (the brain) is on the way to dry out, because all machines have to run once in a while, or they get rusty.  Sadly I am missing the necessary running cost, which is converted into guldens in Holland, and one year of studies in Delft, the only T. H. (must be a school) costs more than 400 Guldens.  In addition there are the cost of living expenses in Delft, in short it is impossible.  My French visa is lying around in some ministry for 2 weeks now, waiting to be signed.  God knows, I can write my name faster.  Even without shorthand.  First I thought the Signature was just a formality, but it seems to be different.  Who knows how much longer it will take?  But even if I get the visa, there are difficulties, because how should it be actually stamped? I applied for a foreign (or tourist) passport (ID card) here, but the justice ministry has so much to deal with about the refugee problem, so things like that will have to lie without action. In addition I now see another chance to get to America.  A few days ago an American of the United Press was here and told that students get in easier, especially since my father can support me and receives his salary from America.  Since one does not need a work permit in America, I can find employment in addition and earn part of the study costs myself. I wonder where I will land next year.

Do you do only crafts with the group or do you also find time for discussions?  Or do you combine both?  In which group do you actually go, Anni?  When will be the Christmas party this year?  And how will it be arranged (planned, organized)?

I am enclosing a few stamps, no idea if they are worth it, but I can’t witness how almost every day, wonderful stamps end up in the waste can.

Are we ever going to see each other in this lifetime?  Perhaps everything will happen much different than one thinks.  Loving greetings to all of you

August (even though it was written by Tom)

Handwritten note from August in the margin

Please tell Mrs. Ella, that I don’t understand why she wonders about not getting any mail from me.  She knows that I myself suffer about that, but it really cannot be done now.  She receives all facts through Brigitte, but personally I cannot write to her, it wouldn’t make any sense. (Really would not help)  We just have to wait til we can talk, please tell her that, when you see her.

This letter has so so much in it. I’m just going to read right through it with you... the letter from Anni and Gis traveled with August on his business trip, so Opa got it later than usual and seems to have tried to respond as quickly as possible. The thought just occurred to me that Opa may have written several of his friends from the Quaker group. Anni, Gisela, and Bern didn’t give me names of people that Opa was close with, probably because I didn’t think to ask! He was close with Anni and Gis, and friends with Bern... but who knows who else he wrote back and forth with.  Maybe it was just the Halle girls.

It looks like the Halle family was contemplating moving to Australia. We know that they don’t ultimately make this move, but I wonder what was behind this idea... I know that the Halle family faced an odd and tumultuous relationship with the Nazi regime. The Halles were not Jewish or otherwise “offensive” by their race or creed, in fact they were sort of given some passes because of the great humanitarian work that the Quakers did after WWI. However, the Quaker groups (for all their humanitarianism) were under a watchful Nazi eye, always. The Halle’s (to include Gis and Anni) were routinely questioned by the Nazi SS. I spoke with Gisela on the phone the other day and she reminded me of a story that Anni wrote in her description of the Quaker Youth group... One night while the Quaker groups were camping out for “Family Day” - they were raided by the SS, and all detained for questioning. Opa and the Halle girls were among those detained. Opa was released so late in the night that he ended up spending the night at the Halle house. I need to ask Gisela if she remembers why her family was talking about Australia.... was there something specific, or was emigrating always an entertained option for escaping the Nazi regime? I kind of like the idea of Australia as the “newer world” - one day I will visit!!

I love Opa’s bit about the boring work of a stenographer. I get the feeling that he never got really good at shorthand. Ha.

Gis has been studying to work with children, and it seems to fit her personality well. I will say that when I met Gisela, while being warm and friendly, I was impressed with her “go get it” spirit. She is constantly moving, doing, thinking, connecting. She would probably have been a mix between the Maria of Sound of Music and Mary Poppins... and then throw in a little Dorothy Day and maybe a sprinkle of Mother Teresa. Of course, that is the 90 year old Gisela. At this point in the story, she is younger than Opa by about 3 years, so she is 16 perhaps? A kid. Opa’s observation about the black nannies in America is telling. It’s kind of amazing to read an outsider’s perspective on the cultural or economic situation of another country- especially when that outsider is my Opa and the country is mine.

We did a spotlight before this on Kristallnacht. As this letter is being written, things are starting to happen around the world. Protests, fundraising, petitions, groups, camps for refugees were popping up everywhere... or so it seems. It is really fascinating to hear from Opa’s perspective the optimistic view of the response to the horror of kristallnacht. When I was researching this event and the events afterwards (closing borders, fear, racism, not enough help for refugees) - I had a completely different perspective. And perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle? The people likely WERE horrified, and did try to help. People probably did rally to support refugees. But most of it was short-term and emotionally reactive. Opa asks later... “what should really happen to these hundred thousands...?” He’s right, and perhaps he heard others asking the same question. What happened for many of these folks is that Hitler got smart and hid his heinous crimes as best he could.  He used fear to control the press and his people. What happened was other countries fed off of this fear and in turn were more concerned about their own political status than the lives of other people. The refugees became avoidable, inconvenient, and a nuisance. Then they became victims of the holocaust. I know that is a sharp stab... but it is fear and apathy that keeps us often from making the right choices even today. The immigration law of 1924 has as its base idea the premise that people with money, intellect, and power are far more valuable than those who do not. It’s not surprising that this was a foundation for immigration law... what is surprising is that the people who would defend it would say that it is fair. It is not fair, or just, or moral. It is the survival of the fittest, and that has no place in most faith traditions. We must not kid ourselves.

Opa talks about the prayer meeting with the Pollatz’s- the family that he connected with through the Quakers in Amsterdam. His description of the prayer meeting is beautiful. You have to understand something about my experience of Opa. Opa was a strong, intelligent, German American who was incredibly proud to be American.
Wesley UMC in Alexandria
He was the head usher of Wesley United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia for 25 years. This man may have tried to forget some of his German roots, but order and efficiency were not dropped. He rocked that usher job. He was a strange mix of loving warmth and stoic-ness. Opa never claimed to be a religious person or spoke about hope in God. Opa did his job, loved his children and grandchildren, and swam 2 miles in the ocean every day of our joint week vacations in the summer. I only saw the child-like dreamer in his later years when he suffered from Alzheimers. He talked about the view of trees and birds chirping in a way that children do... delight. So to see Opa expressing that he is homesick, and that a prayer meeting of the Quakers gave him a feeling of home- this is doubly beautiful to me. You can tell it is even out of character for his 19 year old self to talk about. He brushes it aside, saying he’ll stop so they don’t think he’s been run over by a truck. But I want to know more. What were the influences of the Quakers on his life? What did change inside him? And I don’t mean religiously, I mean in his heart- did he see a different way to encounter the world in contrast to the stoic and authoritarian nature of German culture? How did that manifest itself in later years? Did it?

SO it looks like Opa wanted to try to go to school while in Amsterdam, but money and logistics deemed it impossible. I don’t know what all he had going on in the paperwork trail, but he seemed to be going after more than just an American visa. He had a French visa lying around - and his comment about writing his name himself made me giggle. His problem right now is that he is an “illegal” immigrant, or refugee. And as of kristallnacht, he is a dime a dozen. He needs a Holland passport (foreign or tourist) so that he can get to the next place without having to trace back to Nazi Germany. Going back is not an option, now he just needs to figure out where he is moving forward.

A light is lit at the end of the tunnel toward America, and Opa seems hopeful. In the meantime, the future is completely and totally unknown for him and all his friends. Germany and much of Europe is to experience a great diaspora of folks who will never see each other or home again.

Opa signs as August, an attempt to protect himself from Nazi censors who might be looking for him. He writes a sad note trying to pass an explanation to his mother why he cannot write... it is too risky for him. He’s dodged the Nazi draft, and he’s hiding in Amsterdam until he can secure a future for himself. Meanwhile, Ella aches for a direct word from him. The future for everyone is indeed unknown.

Spotlight: Kristallnacht

Although many of our spotlights are about people, some spotlights will be focused around important places or events that will help round out the story as you journey through the blog. 

As Opa escaped, he was concentrating on getting out of Germany and was fortunate enough to get to Holland. Little did he know that the November after his escape from Germany, one incident would put the issues happening in Germany on the international landscape. What has become known as "The Night of Broken Glass" or "Kristallnacht" will have a large effect on the response of the world and for Opa. The climate changed on both ends of the equation...other nations were made more aware of the persecution of the Jewish community and Germany became more restrictive and pro-active in moving their agenda forward. Time was of the essence as far as securing a place outside of Germany and its neighboring countries. 

Instead of writing an explanation of Kristallnacht, the Holocaust Museum has a helpful article not only about the incident, but what circumstances led to the pogrom.  


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

October 27, 1938: Koffiepause

Original Letter from Tom (Opa) to Anni and Gisela

Translation by Rose

(Written on United Press Associations stationary.)


Dear Gisela,

I want to use this small coffee break (Koffiepause is spelled in Dutch, in German it would be Kaffepause) to reply to your letter. Many thanks for visiting my mother. Things are very hard for her now, she feels lonely (alone), and I am afraid not needed in this world anymore. I am always thinking of her but I am not allowed to write to her, so I am happy for any kindness shown to her.

Now the serious part of life is beginning for you! Childcare is a nice and pleasant occupation, which suits you well. You have already gained many experiences on the Family days. (a Quaker event) Don’t have headaches about being separated from school, one does not learn a lot there anyway. How I had imagined what an Arbiturienten (person who passed the exam to graduate from school) is! How much knowledge he must have to pass this very difficult exam! And how little is really required! If what I learned in school is considered general knowledge, I would like to know what it means to be uneducated. The only positive thing given to us by the school is a piece of paper, called CERTIFICATE OF MATURITY, which this funny world demands for almost every job. But a real man (person) achieves through his personality. Roentgen (German scientist who discovered X-rays) attended only elementary school, and a man like teacher Kantorek called himself an academic.(Kantorek was a character in the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front”.  Kantorek is a hypocrite, urging the young men he teaches to fight in the name of patriotism, while not voluntarily enlisting himself.) 

With surprise I read that you (all of you) will now also join in this migration. Do you have specific plans, or is it just a possible project? It must mean a big decision for your parents.

I was very happy about Anni’s recovery.  Hopefully it will continue and not come back in the new climate. Surely she has been longing for Berlin very much, since it has been a long time that she was separated from you. What will she do now? Will she continue school, start a job, or wait til all of you have gotten out?

What I have been up to here, you should have from my last letter to the group (the Berlin Quaker group that Tom, Gis, and Anni were members of). I cannot complain about boredom, I am learning shorthand, typing and help out in the office, if one can call my ‘Gestuempe’ (slang for amateur, bungler) any help.  But I learn a lot doing it, especially languages. Before, I was so conceited to think I spoke French quite well, now I see that I am just able to make myself understood. I am not even able to translate a simple message into French. Our school French is so miserable, we learn expressions not needed at all, and have a habit, because of the exaggerated grammar use, to express ourselves in a (stiff, uptight, screwed in tightly) way.
Since naturally I am not being paid for my so-called work, I can make mistakes and look at it as very good lessons. (He says school)

I am desperately waiting for my permit, to finally start my studies. But it seems to come true soon, because I can tell they are working on my application. The other day I was called to the police station to report about my experiences. The inspector was to gain an impression of me, and then report to the ministry. He was very nice, laughed about my travels and advised me to write a “Wild West” novel. I certainly had the material for that. He then gave a very favorable report about me and promised to do whatever was in his power. So I hope for the permit soon. 

When you write to me, please use only the shown address, and also consider it in the heading of the letter.

Let everything between us continue in camaraderie! (friendship)
Many greetings to all of you
Perhaps a note that Gisela wrote to herself after receiving the letter... Little handwritten note on bottom shows:

Saturday, 6 o’clock
Tom’s mother

I titled this blog Koffiepause for multiple reasons: 1) It’s a fabulous word, 2) It’s fun to say, 3) Opa writes during his koffiepause- and so do I.  
In the last few months, we have found two sources of new documents that give more information about that “transition” year when Opa lived in Holland before he emigrated to the USA. The first set of documents are from Opa’s friend, Gisela, who was in the Quaker youth group with him. Opa corresponded with her and her sister, Anni, and Gisela kept Opa’s letters for over 70 years (wow!). When I met with Gisela in Berlin, she was so generous in giving us copies of these letters. These letters are so fantastic because they are written by Opa to Gisela and Anni, in a time period where we had no details of his personal life and thoughts. Now we have insight! The second source of information has been the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) files that we were able to copy from the archives of the Holocaust Museum in D.C.. If you've followed along from the beginning, you've seen one of these letters already.

This current letter is the first from Opa to Gisela. Opa illegally crossed the border into Holland sometime in late September of 1938. It sounds like he has already written to the Quaker youth group detailing his experiences. This is a personal letter in reply to something Gisela has written.

I love that Gisela visited Opa’s mother, Ella. Opa seems to have insight into his mother’s emotional state, as she is an empty-nester by tragedy rather than opportunity. Opa mentions that he cannot write her.  I’m making a fairly confident guess that Opa is unable to write to his mother because the Nazis might be checking her mail for sign of the boy who dodged the draft and illegally left the country. He is writing from his father’s workplace, a newspaper office, to a Quaker in Berlin, this is much less conspicuous. I do wonder though, just how broad were the Nazi censors at this point? Did he put himself in danger by writing to Gisela? Or would the Nazis have even bothered going after an 18 year old in Holland? I really don’t know.

Gisela seems to moving straight to a job and training in childcare and bypassing the last bit of school (Gisela told me she trained to be a nurse, so her training was beyond babysitting). Opa jokes about the futility of the Arbiturienten title. I have a hard time deciding what the educational equivalent to this would be for us. I think it would be like a High School graduate, except that it was less common for folks to complete that level of school than it is now. Maybe the current equivalent would be an associates degree? Any ideas my German friends out there? Either way, Opa is downplaying its importance with a well-put example. If you read the notes in the translation, you’ll see just how easy it is to lose the meaning of something if you don’t know anything about the culture. Roentgen is a name I did not recognize, though since he discovered x-rays, I probably should have. And I have yet to read “All is Quiet on the Western Front.” If I knew those two names off the top of my head, this part of the letter would have made me chuckle knowingly. Instead, I read some commentary and said “Ohhh, I get it!”

From Opa’s letter, it sounds like Gisela’s family is considering the possibility of leaving the country. This is a surprise, perhaps because the family is still relatively safe. It would have required a great deal of foresight for the Halle family to even consider leaving. It seems the future is a bit in the air for many people in Opa’s group, including Anni, Gis, and their family.

When I was in college, Opa mentioned learning shorthand and said it was the most useless skill he learned. This is kind of hilarious to me now that I know what actually happened. The description of the letters are SO different from how I imagined it when he told us this story of his time waiting to go to the US. In my mind, the way he told us, I imagined him in an isolated house (think cabin in the woods) holed away in a room upstairs, reading a book on shorthand for 6 weeks and twiddling his thumbs in boredom (because why else would you study shorthand?). But in reality, he was staying with his father and stepmother in a townhouse in Amsterdam and was his Dad’s shadow at work where he did odd jobs, to include trying to learn skills like shorthand.  He does all this to bide his time while he waits for a permit to stay legally in Amsterdam and leave legally for America.

Opa seemed to have a pretty good time in Amsterdam, even the police officer at the station took an interest in Opa’s story and gave him hope for his next steps.

I wonder if the folks still in Berlin envied his “adventure” and seemingly good fortune.

Gisela, as I would expect her to, wrote herself a note on the letter: “Saturday, 6 o’clock Tom’s mother.” I’m guessing this is her next date to visit Ella. I really appreciate that. I know Opa did too.

Spotlight: The Halle Family

Hey all...it’s Jason, your friendly neighborhood researcher.  As we go through our project, I have tried my best to look up any names that come up...even those that may not have been directly related to Sarah’s Opa. Sarah and I, from the beginning, have talked about this project in terms of stories...Opa’s story, Grandmother’s story (we won’t get to her for a little bit), the story of the Jewish people during World War II, and so much more. With that focus, we try to share the many stories that Opa was interconnected with. Through this blog, you will hear stories (or what we can find of stories) of other refugees, college students seeking to help people, military officers and more.

If you remember, back in Germany, Opa was a member of a Quaker youth group. Not only have we been in touch with some of them, but Sarah has met three of them, Bern Brent, Gisela Halle Faust, and Anni Halle. We have letters that Opa sent to the Halle sisters. Their whole family was an important part of Opa’s teenage years and so we wanted to do one spotlight on the whole family. You will hear about Bern a little later! Although the Halle family is a bit larger, we are going to just focus on "Gis" and Anni and their parents, Gerhard and Olga. All quotes will be from the book, “Quakers and Nazis” by Hans Schmitt unless otherwise noted. I will give some info about Gis and Anni’s parents and Sarah will share her reflections about meeting Anni and Gis and a bit about their lives. 

Gerhard and Olga Halle:

 This is a photo of Olga and Gerhard that Gisela shared with us by Gisela in 2013

Gerhard and Olga Halle can best be described as two people who were connected with the rich history of their country, living that out through their love of their country and its people. Olga was part of a famous German family, the Lillienthals. Otto Lilienthal was her uncle and Otto Lilienthal has been described in books as Germany’s equivalent of the Wright Brothers in America. Otto created some of the first gliders. Needless to say, the Lilienthal family was quite well known. 

I do not know much about Gerhard’s youth. As a young man, Gerhard fought in World War I for his country. His experiences in the war are documented in "Quakers and Nazis"... 

He and his engineers carried out the scorched earth-policy ordered during the German retreat to the Hindenburg line in 1917. They leveled ‘handsome, well preserved villages’ and mined the city hall of Bapaume, which blew up two weeks after their departure, causing great loss of life.

The “scorched earth-policy” meant that while the German’s retreated, they destroyed homes and gardens, food supplies, or anything else that the Allies could use against them. They also left booby traps like what happened at city hall to try and slow down the Allies.

The first World War, like it did for so many, changed things for the Halles. Most importantly, ideologically. For Gerhard, the horrific experiences of war changed his heart about the effectiveness and need for war. Below are some quotes that give you a sense of Gerhard’s new stance on war. 

In three meetings, held between May 20 and 22, 1932, near these battle sites, Halle asked his victims for forgiveness. Before an audience of seven hundred in Douai, he acknowledged his country’s part in unleashing World War I and accepted a “moral duty” to make reparation for the destruction.
When Gerhard was notified by local police in 1937 to report for the purpose of determining his military status, he did not follow that order. Instead, he wrote a letter to the Berlin Army Command, enclosing his World War I record, and declared himself ready to to give his life in the service of Germany “unless a higher duty restrains me.” But since his conscience also dictated respect for the life of others, he professed his inability to “participate in military service or its preparation.” This petition fell, however, into a void of silence.
In 1942, Halle was summoned again...the interview ended with his affirmation that before aiming a rifle at another human being he would turn it against himself.
The other thing that happened for the Halle’s is that they joined the Quakers through the Berlin Center of the Friends in 1934. Gerhard and Olga Halle were a very important presence with the Berlin Quakers. They are mentioned by both Albert Martin and Leonard Kenworthy, who were American representatives to the Berlin Center of the Quakers, as people who were graciously hospitable and very connected to the life of the city. As the years continued and the Nazis began to rise in power, the Halle family struggled with the idea of emigrating, but ultimately chose to stay. They couldn’t leave when so many were in need of help. On a day to day basis, much of the work at the Berlin Center was done, first by Gerhard, and then when he had a job, Olga took that mantle on. Olga helped to lead the Quaker youth group that Opa was a part of. In Sarah’s trip to Germany, Bern and Gis fondly recalled Olga leading music during the Youth Group meetings. 

In 1936, Gerhard wrote a biography of Otto Lilienthal and the Nazi party had some concern with parts of it. When they wanted to change it, he took it back. However, once the Nazi’s identified Lilienthal as appropriately Aryan, they lifted him up as a German National hero, began a Lilienthal Society, and revisited publishing Gerhard’s book unchanged with the caveat that it had to include a forward by Goering.

Throughout the second World War, Gerhard and Olga were not shy of speaking out on behalf of those who were in need and lived out their faith through actions...Gerhard wrote to the Nazi party in his neighborhood against the euthanasia of individuals with incurable afflictions. He spoke out against the starvation diet of foreign workers in Germany. They also kept fugitives in their home. 

Olga’s compassion for the people she tried to help was evident. 
At the end of 1941, after emigration had been stopped, a group of twenty-eight clients remained who were in the process of getting the necessary papers together. Two of these were hidden at the Halle home in Lichterfelde and were then spirited out of the country. The rest were doomed. The memory of these desperate petitioners pursued Halle to the end of her life; a delirious Olga Halle recited their names on her deathbed.
Two of my favorite stories of Olga are captured below and show her resourcefulness and courage. I, for one, would have loved to have had the chance to know these amazing people!!

Both stories are from this website (although I found them in multiple sources)

Story 1 - 
One Berlin Quakeress, voice trembling, phoned Olga Halle to reveal that her son-in-law had found a copy of "Der Quäker", the magazine of the Yearly Meeting, at her home. He was a loyal Nazi who had been out of work until the Party found him a small post at the Air Ministry. The political contents of the magazine so horrified him that he marked all the seditious passages with the intention of exposing them to the Gestapo. That seemed certain to mean the end of the Yearly Meeting. Olga calmed the woman, and went straight to the son-in-law’s office. There she chatted first about aviation, explaining that she was the niece of Otto Lilienthal and telling of some of her uncle’s famous flight experiments. The son-in-law knew who Otto Lilienthal was. He seemed honored to be talking with so near a relative. Then, with her social status clearly established, Olga insisted he had misunderstood the passages in "Der Quäker", and that if he read more copies he would realize the contents were religious, not political. When she left, she took the marked copy with her. The son-in-law did nothing to stop her, nothing more against German Friends.
Story 2 - 
The case came up of an elderly Jewess in southern Germany. A Swiss Catholic relief worker had thought that baptizing the woman would protect her. In fact it meant that neither the Jewish nor the Catholic agencies felt she was their responsibility. But the Quakers discovered she had been born in America, and could reclaim her American citizenship if they could get her to the embassy in Berlin. She would not travel on her own - she was too frightened after Kristallnacht - and Olga had to go fetch her. On their way north, guards entered the train compartment to inspect papers. The woman was too frightened to speak, but Olga chatted with them at length, told them this was a deaf relative she was bringing to Berlin, and after a while the guards wished them a happy journey and continued on their way. The woman reached the U. S. via Portugal, some months later.
Gisela and Anni: Gisela and Anni were a part of the Jugengruppe and were two of Opa’s closest friends from the group. Sarah's thoughts on them: 

The Halle family (left to right): Anni, Olga, 2 brothers, Gerhard, Gisela

The Halle sisters were born into a family of boldness. Anni and Gisela both inherited some of this boldness but in very different ways. As mentioned above, their great uncle was the pioneer German aviator who lost his life during one of his test flights of the gliders that were the precursors to airplanes. Anni and Gis’ father fought bravely in the first World War, but was so disturbed by the realities of war that he did an about-face and returned to the lands he burned and asked for forgiveness. Gis and Anni’s mother was bold in her tasks to do what was right and protect the least powerful from what was a frightening power-house of injustice and hate. Can you imagine growing up with these people in your everyday life? Can you imagine your life being framed by the height of world chaos? With your hometown as the epicenter? And your people on the wrong side of the power struggle? 

Anni and Gisela were born and molded from this clay, and each of them have their own fire-set shapes. Anni is consumed with her family’s story, especially in connection to the city of Berlin. After the war, she worked as an archivist, with her research and fact-collecting held to a scientific standard. When my parents and I spoke with Anni, I guess the best word you could use to describe her was intense. She was deeply interested in talking about the history of her family, the history of her time, and how those stories spread out over time. I think there was a sense of closure for her in speaking with us, a chapter in her life (her friendship with my Opa) had been unresearched and unknown- now she could finish that story. She sent us copies of documents and books to our home in the US after we left, to be sure that we had the facts of her family’s story. Anni spoke about the burden of having heroes for parents. I sense in her fact-gathering that she aims to document their heroics, as light in that time when Germany turned dark. She turns the question over in her mind “How did this happen?”- as if it was just yesterday that the war ended. The wounds all seem still fresh even though she is able to hold them at arms length for a “scientific” view. She is very stubborn and opinionated, and I got the impression that her mind is never, ever still. Anni never married and spends most of her time at her home, the family’s historic home- which is decorated with pictures from her family’s past. 

*Update: I met Anni in July of 2013. I found out in November of 2014 that she had died in her historic home. May she rest in peace.*

Gisela is younger than Anni by two years. After the war, she was a nurse-maid for children and spent time in the rural parts of Germany aiding in the reconstruction. Her experiences during and shortly after the war were so soul-darkening that she had to go home for mental help. She was in a mental hospital when her family decided that she wasn’t getting any better and the best way to help her was to bring her home and love her back into the light. It was the medicine she needed, and later she married and had a daughter. She continues to be active in the Quaker group, even giving tours and talks about the history of the Berlin Quakers. She also gives talks about the kindertransport, which she participated in, and her parents helped organize. Gisela seems to be much more at peace with her past, and though her mind is active, she doesn’t seem to be haunted by her thoughts as much as Anni does. Gisela keeps in touch with a lot of people, and often if I am in contact with any historian or Quaker folk that is connected to Berlin, they have spoken with Gisela. Gisela moves through the city of Berlin by foot, train, bus just like any other city dweller. I don’t know that she spends much time in her home during the day. 

Anni and Gis don’t talk to each other. I understand some of the reasoning behind it...but it makes me so sad. In some ways their combined history, combined personalities, are too much, too painful, too big for one room. Most of their reasons are personal and not for my consumption.

I am so glad I got to meet the Halle sisters. It gave me insight into my Opa’s friendships, and how important this family was for him. I gained insight into Germany’s past, and those few who are still living in Germany today with all of the memories, hopes and survival instincts like these two women. They were fascinating people to meet, and I continue to learn from them. 

Gisela in July 2013

Anni in July 2013

You will continue to hear more about the Halle sisters as we share letters, so we are glad to introduce this fascinating family to you!