Friday, November 15, 2013

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.

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