Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Spotlight: Kindertransport

Spotlight on Kindertransport

So far, we have given a couple spotlights on people. We also wanted to give easy ways for those reading the blog to engage significant events that may not be well known to everyone reading. The kindertransports are one of them. Opa mentions while in Holland the opportunity to see people as they are coming through to England. Most of these folks he is talking about are part of the kindertransports. After Kristallnacht, it became a priority for many German parents, particularly Jewish parents, to get their children out of danger.
England agreed to accept children refugees, so from Dec 2, 1938 to September 1939, these “children transports” became known as kindertransports. Sarah, when she went to Germany, visited the monument with Gisela and Bern. When Opa mentions not seeing Gerd when he came through, he was talking about Bern. Bern was on one of the first kindertransports (Dec 14, 1939). Other friends and acquaintances of Opas were on Kindertransport. Below is Sarah’s reflection on seeing the powerful monument to these transports and a link to learn more about them:

When my parents and I met up with Gisela and Bern at the Quaker meeting house in Berlin, we had an idea of what to expect. I expected pictures, stories, letters, and a tour of the meeting house. What I got was infinitely more. Gisela and Bern dialogued, remembered, and shared. I could listen to the audio countless times while gleaning more information and nuances each time. Little did we know that Gisela’s plans for us that day expanded beyond the little meeting house. This is appropriate, because the Quaker lives never stayed isolated and insulated in the Quaker meeting house. They ventured out into the world and worked for justice and peace. Gis walked us outside and towards a train station. I thought we were just catching a train to go somewhere. We rounded a corner and I saw this:

This memorial is called “Trains to Life, Trains to Death.” It held in stark contrast the images of children leaving on the kindertransport for England and children leaving on the rail cars for concentration camps. I stood there, half-listening to Gisela talk about the memorial, but distracted by my observations of the characters in stone, the people passing by the memorial, and Bern. Bern had never seen it before. I understand more now than I did then what that memorial might have meant to him. I still don’t understand more than a fraction of what he must have been thinking about, remembering. At the time, I wanted to announce to the street that this man had been on the kindertransport- out of pride to be connected to this moment in history. But the people walking by, they see it every day. Their great aunt or friend’s uncle’s mom had something to do with it.  It’s like how we treat cancer... we all know someone who has been affected by it, almost to the point that we are numbed to it- but the closer it strikes, the more surprised we are. 

The kindertransport was a powerful and desperate act of kindness out of the faith we have in the innocence of children. If we cannot do anything else, we must at least spare the children. On one side of the memorial, you saw well-dressed children with suitcases and little tags on their clothing. Bern said that they all had those tags as identification. The children had brave expressions of hope on their faces. On the other side of the memorial, facing the opposite direction, you saw children in shabby clothes, with a darker tone to the stone. They all wore the star of David and their dilapidated suitcases were flung in a pile behind them, discarded. Their eyes were vacant, downcast, with maybe a flicker of fear. They were the ones destined for almost certain death.

I heard Gisela explaining the symbolism of the various images and the distinctiveness of the two “trains” going to either life or death... and while she was speaking I saw something that made me hold my breath for a moment. Two little girls, both happy in spirit with blonde hair like halos around their heads, climbed up onto the memorial. Their parents were casually watching them as they talked amongst themselves. The girls were on each side of the memorial, touching the head and arm of the stone figures. The girls were nearly identical in size to the children in stone. Something melted inside me, the stone became flesh and the girls showed me right there who was on those trains. And just as arbitrary as they chose the side to inspect the statues, that is how arbitrary was the outcome of who would live and die. 

I looked at Bern and thought about how much of a miracle it was that he was standing there... miracle upon miracle really. How blessed was I to encounter this man... 

We were just walking around Berlin to get to the train when Gisela had us stumbling over one of the most memorable memorials of the city. I didn’t know much about the kindertransport- and though I know much more now, I realize how little I know about that page in history. 

Here are two good links with good info on these life-saving transports:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

January 15, 1939: Life is Primary

Original letter from Opa to Anni

Translated by Rose

Amstelveen, January 15th, 1939

Dear Anni,

I believe you misunderstood me in my last letter, perhaps I did not express myself correctly.
Yes, I have changed my view (opinion), but that does not mean that I now approve what has been feasible since 1917.  The problem is not that easy (simple).
From a very young age you were raised in the Quaker Spirit (beliefs), learned about other ideas only in theory, have never associated with other circles so you could see and learn. At home you always had strong support, and a buildup of these ideas, have been lucky that those ideals you were raised on gave you that inner satisfaction.  Any doubts about those ideals you were able to quickly suppress, because of that support.
All that is beautiful, and I envy you for it.  But you don’t seem to know, what it means to gain a worldview by yourself, how many disappointments and change one has to go through, and how at the end one is afraid to be subjected to the influence of a specific circle, since one has many circles and could take only a bit from each one.  You judge people based on their view of the world and the closer they are to your view, the better a person he is.

The saying: Grow into your ideals, so life cannot take them from you, is wrong because life is primary, life builds ideals, if they are real (true), one builds them from experiences with people, the story and one’s own fate.  One must have studied other  ideas very closely, had to have a solid opinion about it, which again can only be founded by life experiences, and even when one grows old, to 100 years, one has not gathered enough experiences, cannot study enough to be able to say: This is my opinion.  How little can we with our not even 20 years know about life?  I cannot believe strongly  in an existence in such a far future, which now only exists in my  hope, which keeps me from criticizing the present.  Whoever can do that can count himself lucky, I cannot do that.
Naturally I am in contact with the Friends here.  Every 14 days I am in Haarlem at a meeting, have contact with the J.F. (I guess that’s Jung Freunde, young friends) here, and I am with all of you in my thoughts.  And I have no intentions to reduce my tie to the Friends  in any way, but I want to shape my beliefs independently from a one-sided influence.  So you will understand, what I meant in my letter.
I was also somewhat surprised about the planned New Year’s party.  I never expected anything different from Hans, but that Eva and Guenther were influenced like that, I am sorry to hear.  Whenever anybody goes to England and comes through Amsterdam or the Haag, let me know, I am in the Haag more often, but Rotterdam, where I could have met Gerd, is a bit too far and the Dutch Rail is outrageously expensive.
Your new subjects interest me much.  Will I get some notes of the discussions?
I hope to hear from you again soon.  Please say hello to your parents and the group.
With Friend’s greetings,                            

This letter to Anni makes me love Opa even more. I had to read it a few times to really collect all the good things that I loved about it. I’m not sure exactly what Opa has written in the last letter that Anni misunderstood. If it was the letter from November, this is my guess:

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…

Perhaps the idea of the Spirit as “imagined” rubbed Anni the wrong way? Or perhaps it was something else entirely, but Anni must have responded in some way that showed she was upset at outside influences on Opa’s ideas. Opa admits that he has changed a bit through his experiences... His line “that does not mean that I now approve what has been feasible since 1917” - is a mystery to me. I’m not sure what he’s alluding to. 1917 is an important year, but many things were happening that Opa could be talking about. The first world war was coming to a close (WW1: 1914-1918), the Russian Revolution was erupting, America declared war on Germany in 1917 (I was surprised by this, for some reason I thought the USA was involved in the war longer).. but nothing that stood out to me as something specific that Opa could be referencing. He was born in 1920, so he can’t be talking about his own journey... what historical or societal thing is he mentioning? Any historians have an idea?

Whatever the debate is specifically about (if it is specific), Opa makes a beautiful case for learning as you live. The philosopher in me is enamored with these words. 

He starts by describing Anni’s situation, someone who was born and raised in the Quaker “Spirit” and exists comfortably in the supportive circle of Quaker thought and life. Her entire life is reinforced Quaker experience. He notes the beauty of it - how lovely it must be to be satisfied on the inside by the safe circle of influence. 

He then contrasts his experience, as a boy who grew up with agnostic (at best) parents, one who practiced some Jewish ritual but never participated in any faith community. His family life was not as stable as Anni’s - although Anni’s family life was a completely different set of struggles. (Her parents were leaders in the Quaker group and her great-Uncle was the famous German aviator, Otto Lilienthal.) Opa learned about his beliefs and opinions through a series of life experiences. His parents were divorced. Opa’s father was tied up in the newspaper business, his mother was an educator with an ear to the ground for more learning. Opa’s experiences in his education, through his parents, through the Quakers, through his own reading and exploration- these were all worthy contributors to his circle of influence. He was wise enough to see through the Hitler regime, he was vulnerable enough to seek friendship and intellectual growth through the Quakers, and yet he did not stop there. I think this is where he critiqued Anni. She stopped, and chastised anyone who moved outside of where her realm of thoughts and ideals were: “You judge people based on their view of the world and the closer they are to your view, the better a person he is.” I think many of us can be convicted by that statement.

My absolute favorite line is Opa’s rebuttal of the saying “Grow into your ideals, so life cannot take them from you...” Opa says it “is wrong because life is primary, life builds ideals, if they <ideals> are real (true), one builds them from experiences with people, the story and one’s own fate.”  I really hope he’s not quoting someone here, because if these are his words: wow. Life is the great teacher, and the greatest instructors in it are the people we interact with. 

In seminary, there was a running mantra, such that it was a joke almost. Kind of like “Jesus” is the answer to all your Sunday School questions, “It’s all about relationship” is the answer to all your seminary questions. We would throw this phrase around a bit, just because it really was an adequate answer for many debates. What was the most important thing? Relationship. Relationship with our fellow humans, relationship with nature, relationship with God. We could trace it all back to relationship. In a way, I think that Opa is saying this to Anni: relationships, people, experiences- these are all primary teachers. In any study or research you have primary documents... and the most primary of them all are people. The problem for many is that people are not cut and dry. People are not black and white. They are messy, nuanced, and too flexible. Opa, at least in this moment, seems to embrace the flexibility of life experiences. He seems to acknowledge that even if he felt completely sure of something today, he could not say with absolute certainty that in a lifetime of experiences he would not change his mind. It’s as if he is saying that to be so certain is to be closed to life’s primary teachers.

So he is not going to close the door on the worthy teachers from the Quaker tradition, but he will also not isolate himself from any others. He embraces the nuanced, messy, chaotic, and integral teacher for all things: life.

Apparently something weird happened at the New Year’s party- and he talks about it more in the letter to Gisela, written this same day. 

Opa seems to be a geographical stop on the way to England for folks riding on the kindertransport or other means of transportation out of Germany. He missed Gerd’s passing through- and that is too bad. I met Gerd last summer in Germany, he is now called Bern, and he was one of the first to ride the kindertransport to England. He ended up in Australia, and by chance he was traveling (at age 90) to Berlin when I was there with my parents. He is a fascinating person, and after this blog I will do a spotlight on him and the kindertransport. 

Opa is broadening his horizons with travel, new personal interactions, and more time to think. Little does he know how much he will see in his lifetime, and how life will continue to be primary as his greatest teacher.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Happy 1 Year Blog Anniversary!

One year ago I posted my first post: Welcome to the Journey. And let me tell you- it has been an amazing journey! I've met some of the most amazing people. I've learned. So much. My relationship with nearly everyone has grown as a direct result of this blog.  I know it sounds a bit ridiculous, but I am a better person for this blog. It reinforces my hunch that the more we become invested in other people's lives and stories, the more we will become whole.

In humility, curiosity, love, grace, and vulnerability without fear - we open our souls to life's greatest adventure: living in open-eyed awe of the human story.

My adventure has taken me along my path... and it is too winding and beautiful for me to express in a short blog. But I encourage you to find your journey, find your stories to invest in, and jump in - whole body and heart.

Thank you for journeying with me this year... we've still got lots left to discover- so keep coming back! And keep your soul open to the human story.

Spotlight: Hertha Kraus

Spotlight on Hertha Kraus

The second of our two AFSC Refugee workers was Hertha Kraus. Hertha was an integral part of the team of people working for the Refugee Committee of the AFSC. Her experience was probably one of the greatest factors into the success of the AFSC’s help to refugees. In the “Quakers and Nazis” book, it says 

“Hertha Kraus, former municipal director of welfare in Konrad Adenauer’s Cologne and now associate professor of social economy and research at Bryn Mawr college, joined the Philadelphia committee as counselor for refugees and consultant to the refugee section. As Clarence Pickett reported to Albert Martin, she had “on her own initiative” carried on such an advisory role for some time and now the AFSC “decided to give some assistance to her.” Thenceforth the Berlin Center was to correspond with her directly about prospective immigrants.”

She was the direct contact for all the prospective immigrants...so she was such a vital part of Opa and so many others coming to the States.

Because she had quite a career and reputation, instead of doing a spotlight I put together, I will point you to a couple websites that document her career well (both are run through Google Translate, so some sentences may not make sense):

A translation of her Wikipedia page - 
(note the picture of her statue on the Cologne City Hall Tower - pretty cool!)

Another translated site (I think a Sociology one...but not sure!)

Hertha won’t be named directly too often through Opa’s emigration, but I’m always cognizant of the hard work she was doing behind the scenes. Much thanks to Hertha and the many lives she helped!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Spotlight: Gaby Derenberg

Spotlight on Gaby Derenberg 

The next two spotlights are on two of the people who worked with the, at this point, newly minted refugee section of the AFSC. Both wrote to Opa. This first spotlight is on Gaby Derenberg, who was one of the secretaries. The second is on Hertha Kraus, who really ran the refugee section. 

Gaby was a recent refugee herself having left Germany, passed through England and came to the U.S. in 1937. She worked briefly with the AFSC Refugee Section before she started school in 1939. This is why we don’t see any more of her name after spring of 1939. In trying to find information about Gaby, Ron Coleman, the librarian at the Holocaust Museum, informed us they had some oral history and interviews online and he had remembered one with Gaby Derenberg (now Schiff). So the link to two of these interviews are below. 

The first is shorter, but is a video and was taken in 1998. She briefly talks about the time working for the Refugee Section around the 40 minute mark. 

The second is much longer and in four parts. This is an audio interview from 2000 and gives you an extensive background of her life and all she accomplished. The time working for the Refugee Section can be found around 19 minutes into Part 1. 

Enjoy learning about another one of many who helped, in whatever large or small way, to get Opa to America!!

40 minutes

19 minutes into Part 1

January 12, 1939: Instant Gratification from AFSC

Opa's Original Letter from the AFSC

Original Letter in Opa's AFSC file


American Friends Service Committee
Clarence E. Pickett, Executive Secretary

Foreign Service Section Hertha Kraus, Counselor

William Eves, 3rd, Chairman 
233 N. Roberts Road
Tel. Bryn Mawr 1086

Clarence E. Pickett, Secretary
Bryn Mawr, Pa.


Mr Thomas Doeppner
Amstelveen N.A.
Emmakade 8

Dear Mr. Doeppner,

Many thanks for your letter of December 13 addressed to Mr. Martin, which was forwarded to us by Mr. Martin with his warmest recommendation. There may be a possibility for us to help you achieve your goal of studying here; however, for this we require some more detailed information. Perhaps you could send us a résumé, and inform us particularly as to which areas you are especially interested in and what you would like to study. (Beyond the field of engineering) Please find enclosed a copy of the regulations regarding the acquisition of a student visa. When we have some more documents from you (if possible including a photo) we will gladly endeavor to contact a college on your behalf.

Yours sincerely,

s/ Gaby Derenburg

(For Dr. Hertha Kraus)

In the process of doing this blog, we’ve dug up new documents (well, old, but new to us) and had to go back and tweak the blog a bit with our new-found information. It’s been awesome to fill in the gaps, but I want to make sure we don’t lose what we covered before. Before we had all these documents from the American Friends Service Committee case file, we just had Opa’s memoirs and the documents he kept. Opa wrote briefly in his memoir “From Nazi Germany to a Career in Freedom” about this in-between time in Holland, but some details stick out. He wrote about the wait to get a Dutch ID:
It took almost six weeks before the Dutch gave me a temporary Dutch “Identification Card,” which I would need later on to document my permission to enter America (a “visa”).
Six weeks sounds like a long time, but I couldn’t help but wonder who August paid off to get those papers.  If the Dutch were checking homes for foreigners and highly suspicious of Germans, how on earth did Opa manage to obtain a temporary ID card? Maybe it wasn’t that hard, but I wonder if there is more to this story then I’ll know.  The letter Opa wrote to Mr. Martin alludes to the fact that he is as of December 13, a legal resident in Holland, but only temporarily, and that he is expected to leave in the near future (by some agreement with the Dutch Justice Minister). So Opa is in Holland legally, when exactly he got the Dutch ID is hard to say. The next step is to leave.  In order to gain entry to America, Opa must have a reason to live there legally- his reason is college.  As we saw in the last blog post, he sent out a letter to Mr. Martin asking about the possibility of studying in America, he mentions it in his memoirs:

Next, I started the process of getting a scholarship in some American college. With the help of the Quakers’ “American Friends Services Committee” I applied to several schools.  

Opa’s letter forwarded to the AFSC resulted in almost instant gratification. Opa wrote his friend Mr. Martin requesting information about possible emigration to study in America. It was a shot in the dark (well, a shot at dusk perhaps, because he knew Mr. Martin had some connections). As you read in the last spotlight, whether Opa knew it or not, Anne Martin, Mr. Martin’s wife, was on the Refugee Committee in the American Friends Service Committee. And not only did Mr. Martin come through for Opa, he did it immediately with instant results. For all we know, he received the letter and handed it to his wife to take into work the next day. The letter addressed to Mr. Martin from Opa was December 13, 1938. Here, dated January 12, 1939 (just one month later) is a response to Opa’s letter from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). 

You will see I attached two versions of the same letter. The less official looking one was in the AFSC file, an internal document. The one on official letterhead was the one Opa received that we found in his personal collection. The letter Opa wrote to Mr. Martin was forwarded to the AFSC with warm recommendation. If you look at Opa’s letter, which we had found in the AFSC file, there is a handwritten note on it. I assumed that the note was from Mr. Martin, but it could easily (perhaps more likely) have been Anne Martin who wrote the note before passing it on. The response from AFSC was likely Opa’s introduction to the refugee work of the AFSC. The Martin’s were sent to Berlin by the AFSC, and so the agency itself was probably at least mentioned in the Quaker group of Berlin. However, I doubt Opa knew much about the new Refugee Committee set up in the AFSC in 1938, or that Mrs. Martin was working there. We’re going to give some more information about the AFSC in a spotlight blog, but for now, check THIS link out, and learn about this agency that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for its work helping refugees.  Briefly put: the AFSC was a service group that was created in 1917 and functioned primarily to promote peace and serve the needy. This service manifested itself in multiple ways over the years, and the AFSC is still functioning today under the same goal of service. 

Opa wrote a letter that made it to this agency that had just recently amped up its service to the current group with great needs: refugees. So, perfect. This response from them had to have given Opa a sense of great hope and excitement. Quakers were his people, and he had experienced help, acceptance, and guidance from them for a long time. Here they were, once again, throwing out a life line.

“There may be a possibility for us to help you achieve your goal of studying here...”

I love that line- kindly hopeful but honest in the tenuousness of working with refugees. Opa received a list of information they needed, and I’m sure he got right to it. So now all he had to do was wait... some more.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Spotlight: Albert and Anne Martin

Spotlight on Albert and Anne Martin

Today, I want to spotlight Albert and Anne Martin. It’s interesting...as we have gone through letters, we have done our best to capture the important people in Opa’s life. We knew nothing about the Martins until we reviewed the AFSC files and here was this Mr. Martin who is the very first person Opa writes to in regard to coming to America, and, with his wife, prove to be some of the most integral people in his emigration. Please note this spotlight is only a snapshot from their lives through some print and internet sources. If you know the Martins, feel free to add more. I have been fortunate in many instances to find living relatives of individuals we have encountered who have added much more to our information, but sadly I have not located the Martin’s relatives (yet!!).  All quotes come from the “Quaker and Nazis” book by Hans Schmitt unless otherwise noted. All other info is pieced together through various other websites and sources.

So, here are the Martins!

Albert P Martin was born in Rhode Island around 1892. Here is an excerpt from Quakers and Nazis:

"A native of Rhode Island, he attended Brown University and then, in 1917, received a Ph.D. in Germanic languages at the University of Wisconsin. After the completion of his studies, he enlisted in the United States Army and was commissioned a second lieutenant in October 1918. His discharge in February 1919 was followed by his marriage to a fellow graduate student: the Quaker Anne Haines, a member of the Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, monthly meeting.” Anne was born in Philadelphia around 1892, a “child of prosperous Philadelphia Quakers”. Anne went to Swarthmore College and then to University of Wisconsin. They were married, but “the years following World War I saw a decline in the number of students of German, and the young husband spent the next eight years in business and farming until he secured an nontenured appointment at his alma mater, Brown University.”
Brown University in the early 1900's
During this time, they had two children, Joseph Haines Martin, born around 1921 and Richard Slater Martin, born around 1927 both in Pennsylvania. Although Anne came from a long line of Quakers, Albert’s parents were “undogmatic Christians”. He decided around 1923 to join the Society of Friends because “it presented to him 'the most intelligent group of Christians [he] had ever met.'”

While teaching at Brown and still active with the Quakers, the Martin’s were approached to take on a position with the American Friends Service Committee in Berlin, Germany. From Quakers and Nazis:

"Just how and why Albert and Anne Martin-who were to spend two years, from 1936 to 1938, in Berlin-were chosen, remains a mystery. It has been claimed that the Oxford Quaker Henry Gillett had met Martin at Pendle Hill in the summer of 1935 and suggested him to the AFSC. Minutes of meetings at which the Martins’ appointment was approved provide no details concerning the origins of their candidacy.”

When Rufus Jones discussed the Berlin appointment with the Martins, the couple readily embraced “the opportunity to support the German Quakers, who were having a hard time under Hitler.” Brown University granted Albert leave for the second semester of 1935-1936, and, after that interim, he did not hesitate to resign his post. The family “parked” their oldest son, Joseph, at Westtown, a well-known Quaker boarding school, and then proceeded with their youngest offspring, Richard, to settle in an apartment in the Witzleben section of Berlin.
Corder and Gwen Catchpool

The Martin’s replaced Corder and Gwen Catchpool, who were appointed to the Berlin Center of the Friends from Great Britain. Joining the Martins was Margaret Collyer from Great Britain. Martin’s appointment coincided with Opa’s oldest years as a member of the “youth group” so Martin would have been fairly familiar with Opa. Also, the Quaker and Nazi book indicates the Martins’ close relationship with Olga Halle, Gis and Anni’s mother, which may be another reason Opa knew the Martin’s well. 

There is much from the book that indicates the Martin’s time there that Sarah may reference later...in a nutshell, Albert had a “no-nonsense, roll-up-your sleeves spirit” in trying to deal with all the Berlin center was trying to accomplish and address at the time. Martin was uncompromising about standing against the Nazi ideology. He was not very hopeful for Germany’s future and was more action oriented when it came to the plight of the persecuted in Berlin. They were diligent in getting political prisoners out of prison and/or out of the country 

Here is what Quakers and Nazi’s says about the Martin’s leaving:

"In 1938, a deeply depressed Martin prepared to leave Berlin. He was not even sure it was worthwhile spending much time for farewells in London, because “we have nothing very cheerful or helpful to say.” But he did call at Friends’ House one last time, in part because Henry Gillett, his original sponsor, had arranged an appointment with the British foreign secretary, Lord Halifax....Martin counseled the head of Britain’s foreign service to make no further concessions to Nazi fanatiscism: a piece of advice his host was no more disposed to follow than would be Neville Chamberlain later that year at Munich."

Upon their return to the States, during the 1938-39 year, Albert went on a lecture tour while Anne became part of a new Refugee Service Committee.

"A new Refugee Service Committee was formed, chaired by Robert Yarnall, and its membership included such seasoned and knowledgable workers as Anne Martin and Gaby Derenberg, a German social worker. Hertha Kraus’s counseling office was moved to Philadelphia and staffed by an assistant to keep the work going on days when she was meeting her classes at Bryn Mawr."

These experiences of both Albert and Anne, and the names Gaby Derenberg and Hertha Kraus, will come up again in upcoming letters. 
Scattergood Hostel in Iowa

The Quakers had built a school in Iowa back in the late 1800's called Scattergood. It closed in 1931, but in the late 1930's, the Friends organization had the idea of opening it up for refugees from Europe. So it became the Scattergood Hostel. It opened in May of 1939. Here is an article from the Iowa City Press Citizen on April 10, 1939:

Expect Refugees at Hostel At Scattergood This Week 
WEST BRANCH -- Six persons will arrive at the Scattergood hostel Friday or Saturday of this week, the nucleus of the 50 residents who will be domiciled by May 1. These first arrivals will include three Americans who will have a share in" the operation of the hostel, and three Germans. They will travel from Philadelphia in the automobile which is to be a part of the Scattergood equipment. Mr. and Mrs. Albert Martin of Philadelphia will be the directors of the hostel, but will not be in residence until May. They have passed the last two years in Berlin as the representatives of the American Friends Service committee. The work of making Scattergood ready for its new role as a refugee hostel is about completed, but the first arrivals will be engaged in decorating and cleaning, and locating the new furnishings in readiness for their followers. 

So the Martin's took the post as directors of the newly minted hostel. Based on a few sources, the Martins’ time at
McMaster University
Scattergood was a little tenuous and by July of that year, Albert Martin had accepted a position to teach at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada teaching German. He taught there from 1939-1961, when he retired. He was also head of the department for a time. He has a bursary at the school named in his honor. I found an article from 1966 indicating that Albert was a visiting professor of German at Kent State, speaking on German development at a fraternity banquet and examining the works of Ernst Wiechert at a lecture.

When reviewing Anni Halle's AFSC File, there is a note on February 27, 1941 which says "It was with great distress that I heard of Anne Martin's death. I knew her well and I can understand how deeply her many friends will feel at the loss of this truly lovable woman." I have no other information on the circumstances of her death, but was saddened to read this as she was not even fifty years old and had been such an active presence in helping refugees. 

We are so thankful for the Martin’s work, sacrifices and intentionality for Opa and for so many others. Again, you will “run into” the Martin’s throughout Opa's journey to get to America, but we wanted to start our spotlights with these important people!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

December 13, 1938: Study in America

Original Letter from Tom (Opa) to Mr. Martin

Thomas Döppner

Amstelveen N.A.
Emmakade 8.

Dear Mr Martin,

I am writing to you today with a question, the answer to which may be of crucial importance to me. I know that I am one of a great many asking this question, but I believe that in my case there are various circumstances that will make assistance easier.

During the international crisis in September, in fact just a few days before the Munich Conference, I crossed the border illegally and without a passport, and am now living with my father, who is the manager of the United Press of America for Holland and Belgium. As a result of a petition to the Dutch justice minister, I am allowed to remain here under the condition that I seek to obtain a residence permit in another country. When this is accomplished, I will receive a Dutch certificate of identity, in which the visa for the relevant country can be entered.

You remember perhaps that I always wanted to study engineering in the United States?

Is there a possibility of me entering the States, at least as a student? Although my father has significant commitments to other members of the family – he supports among others my mother in Berlin and is maintaining my sister, who is studying languages in Paris in order to become an interpreter – he would agree to ensure that I do not become a burden on the American state. In practice it would admittedly not be possible for him to pay for my accommodation and studies in their entirety, but he would support me to the extent that, with the aid of some part-time work, I would get by. In addition, the United Press would also be willing to help him and me with advice and practical assistance.

I know that a study visa does not equal a permanent residence permit and work permit. I imagine, however, that at the end of my studies I could manage to obtain the permit, if not in the States, then in another American country. Besides, no one knows today what the world will look like in three or four years.

I am aware that the path will not be easy, but I want to pursue it if there is any way to do so.

My question and request to you, dear Mr Martin, is this: that you tell me what steps I must undertake to enter America, and that you, if possible, help me in doing so.

I got your address from Manfred and Lili Pollatz here in Haarlem. I have told them a lot about you and what you gave me and the other Young Friends.

When you send me your reply, would you also include a line or two to let me know how you, your wife, Haines and Dicki are getting on?

With Friendly greetings,

Thomas Döppner

(The handwritten note on top is from Mr. Martin: "An active member of the "jugindgruppe" (Quaker youth group) in Berlin, and a good boy- I should not hesitate to take him into my family.")

This letter to Mr. Martin, who we have yet to find descendants or connections to, is a simple, earnest request for help. Mr. Martin was an American who mingled with the Berlin Quakers for a bit and connected with Opa. Jason will do a spotlight on him following this blog- so look out for it! Opa hoped his connection with Mr. Martin might bring some possible solutions to his problem: he was stuck in Amsterdam with about a million or more refugees looking for a place to have a future. Opa hoped his connection and his particular situation would be just unique enough that he would stand out and find success.

The way I understood my Opa’s story was through the autobiography he wrote. He mentions in it that he was called to register for military service, which I understood as an involuntary draft, and he decided then and there that staying in Germany was no longer a possibility if he aimed to avoid Hitler and the Nazis. I never really thought about the urgency and suddenness that surrounded his emigration­ which at the beginning, as he tells Mr. Martin, was a race across the border illegally. When we spoke to Gisela and Bern, we got the impression that while his leaving was sudden, he did get a chance to say goodbye to some folks­ Bern remembered him saying goodbye. I always assumed that the draft into Hitler’s army was the catalyst for his departure­ but I never really knew the historical context for that. Having just read about the Munich Agreement, you can see how by learning a little historical context, Opa's departure began to make even more sense. 

So­ the part that you were supposed to remember­ about the militarization gearing up for an attack on Czechoslovakia­, that might explain why Opa took his military registration so seriously. It wasn’t like they were asking him to join the Nazi Army for exercises in the Rhine. There was a real event happening, and as Opa lived in Berlin, close to the border of then Czechoslovakia, this wasn’t an “ignore it for now” order. I don’t know that registration for the Nazi military was ever that­ but this crisis certainly put a tighter twist of urgency to it. If Opa didn’t want to fight for the Nazis, he had to get out, and right then. Opa probably couldn’t fathom that there would be an international “peace” agreement at the very last minute­ and either way, it forced his inevitable decision to leave Nazi Germany.

(A little aside, and I’ll need to do better research to confirm this as a possibility... But I recall reading about so-called “punishment brigades”- groups of unwanted’s in the military who were sent to the front lines as less-than-valuable human shields. These groups consisted of political undesirables and those of Jewish descent, like Opa. I wonder if Opa had been forced to join up in the military, if he might have been in one of these type brigades. I have no idea. But it is interesting to wonder...)

You remember he had a failed attempt to escape: got over the border, then didn’t know what to do, so snuck back in and hid out while his father came up with a plan. Then he was successfully smuggled, and living with his Dad and step­mother and no real clue what his future held. This is when he had lots of time to think and seek out options. He remembered Mr. Martin and thought­ what the heck­ I’ll give it a shot, maybe he has some connections. Opa probably figured that Mr. Martin had at least an idea of who he should contact.

I questioned if Opa really did care particularly about the United States, or if he was barking up every tree with choices. It seems from this letter that he really did have a dream to study engineering in the US­ at least enough that he had shared it with Mr. Martin. So he pitches the question to Mr. Martin­ is there a chance for me to get into the US as a student? He mentions that while he is one of many who are hoping to get out of Europe (especially Germany)­ he has some advantages. He will have a certificate of identity in Holland (which makes him a little less of a nomad), he has his father’s financial (limited) support, he has somehow misplaced (destroyed) his German passport, and he has some peripheral support from the United Press (the company August worked for). So does he have a shot? Can Mr. Martin help?

Also interesting to me is that Opa seems to be aware and even hopeful that he remains in America indefinitely. He’s pretty much kissing Germany goodbye. He knows that a study visa does not guarantee permanent residency, but he also knows the unpredictability of the world. “No one knows today what the world will look like in three or four years.” This was written in December 1938. Three to four years down the road­ 1941­42, the United States had just joined the international crisis as a response to the Pearl Harbor attacks in December of 1941.

So Opa pleads with Mr. Martin­ “What can I do? Will you help me? I’ll do whatever it takes.”