Sunday, March 23, 2014

May 8, 1939: Charlotte's Making Me Nervous

 Original Letter from Charlotte Salmon to Tom (Opa)

Dear Thomas Doeppner:

Oberlin College has written again about your academic record. They are considering a number of candidates, and it may be that they will have to make their decision before your records arrive. In case the Oberlin scholarship is awarded to another student, I'll try to use your records in applying for another scholarship for you.

The Oberlin committee asks that the enclosed forms be filled out by one of your teachers. I have already filled out as best I could an application blank for you, and another recommendation blank was sent to Mrs. Anne Martin.

The letter from Oberlin says, "We would like to know more about the financial support he would be able to get. The scholarship will be for tuition only, so he would have to pay about $400.00 or $450.00 in addition to it. Also I wondered if he could come to Oberlin with a $200.00 scholarship. It may be possible for us to grant this sum to an applicant who may not qualify as highly as those chosen for the tuition scholarships."

Can you let me know whether you will need a full scholarship, or whether you have enough to use a tuition scholarship? It may be possible for you to earn some money in your spare time.

You are probably aware of the difficulty in getting student visas. I enclose a memorandum on this subject. Have you thought about this, and will you be able to establish to the consul's satisfaction, a permanent residence to which you could return? 

Sincerely Yours,
Charlotte S. Salmon

If I were Opa and I received this letter from Charlotte, I would have needed either a pint of ice cream or a glass of wine… or a run around the block. She is stressing me out and I know how this all ends (big picture ending anyway- I’m here).

Charlotte reminds Opa that he needs to send his academic records, and then lets him know the time-table he is on: by the time they receive your records, it might be too late. Well if that’s not a motivator- I don’t know what is. I hope he sent for them immediately! She says that even if the records don’t arrive on time, she can use his records in applying for another scholarship. Again, I’m not sure why she didn’t ask for them sooner- isn’t the whole idea to get Opa into a college (hopefully) on scholarship?

Charlotte forwards the paperwork that Oberlin sent, asking Opa to have a teacher fill it out. So now Opa has to fill out his information, send the form to the teacher to fill out and attach his transcript, and then have it all sent to the USA. In as little time as possible, with no guarantee that it will be on time. Whew. Charlotte is trying to help, she sent the recommendation form to Mrs. Anne Martin (remember her? She’s Mr. Martin’s wife, I talk about them here).

Charlotte also asks Opa the question that I asked, and that he essentially has already answered (it just hasn’t arrived to her desk yet): “can you do without a scholarship?.” Opa was good with money and not afraid to work hard- so I have no doubt he could indeed make it work.

Then in case Opa wasn’t already a little anxious about the quick turnaround needed for the only school (that he knew at this point) who had expressed sincere interest in him… Charlotte goes ahead and asks if he remembers how hard it is to get a student visa. Thanks for the pep talk Charlotte. She even attaches a memo on the difficulties of obtaining a student visa. Motivational poster for the bedroom. I suppose she is trying to make Opa aware of all the bases he needs to have covered in order to satisfy the US consul. As we already know, the US consuls are not easily satisfied these days. The main hang up in Opa’s process (in Charlotte’s mind) is going to be on his ability to prove that he has a permanent residence to which he can return. Perhaps this is Charlotte's subtle way of making sure Opa has established some residency in Holland, with a visa or something official.

Here is where I am going to jump ahead just a little bit to show you something- it’s the privilege we have of being able to look back on history, knowing what happens next. You might remember that Hitler was on the war-path in 1939. On the date of this letter, May 8, 1939 - Opa lives in Amstelveen, Holland- inside the Netherlands. Exactly one year and two days later on May 10, 1940- the Netherlands were invaded and soon occupied by the Nazis. It’s kind of interesting that right now, right this minute the US consul could make a decision to approve Opa’s student visa based on the fact that the Netherlands were a place where Jewish people could live and prosper- therefore Opa would have a place to return to. If Opa had started this process later into the following May, he would have no hope of obtaining a visa. They don’t know this, and he doesn’t know this. I just found it eerie that Charlotte would ask Opa to establish that he would have a permanent residence to return to after school almost exactly one year before the country would be overtaken by the Nazis.

One last random note: Opa’s name. I have now gotten used to seeing Opa’s name written Doppner and Doeppner, interchangeably. I am so used to both those spellings that I didn’t really think about the fact that he had the “new” spelling well before he even stepped foot on American soil. Our legend of our name was always that they didn’t have an umlaut on the American typewriter on Ellis Island, so they threw an “e” in there- sort of a slap-dash fix for Opa who didn’t have enough command of the English language to sound out a better phonetic spelling. Turns out, that can’t be right. He has been using an “English” spelling for a while now. Oh well, that just means he really had plenty of time to drop the “o” so people would pronounce it the way they should “Dep-ner.” Opa, Opa, Opa- you had time to fix it!

Update: So I was rightly corrected by both my Dad's cousin and a blog reader (you can see the comment by Jasmin below).  Here is what Helene wrote (which is almost verbatim what Jasmine wrote!): 
In German, the umlaut takes the place of e and is merely an alternative spelling, e.g. danke schön and danke schoen are equally correct, though I think vowel-with-umlaut more common. The umlaut changes the sound of the "o" to something closer to Deppner, which is how Tom pronounced his name so Americans would have less trouble than with the correct pronunciation. So Doeppner and Döppner were both correct; they were corruptions of the toepfer/ töpfer= potter.  Same with, e.g.,  müller/mueller = miller; umlaut changes sound of "u".
So here is the mind-blowing moment: I've been the one mispronouncing my name. They sound of oe/o(with umlaut) in German just isn't part of our English sounds. So that professor I had in college who pronounced my name correctly but with what I called a "German accent"- he had it more right than I did. 
This is sort of insane to me. I mean- I know it isn't all that unusual- but for the amount of times I corrected people to pronounce my name Dep-ner... I was actually not exactly authentic either. 
And now I am going to ask for the German version of Rosetta Stone for my birthday. It's in August. Or maybe Easter? Yeah- anyone who has a few hundred dollars to drop on some random person- let me know. ;) 
Thank you to my readers and family who keep me informed and learning more every day!


  1. In the German language all umlaute" (ä,ö,ü) can also be written as ae (ä), oe (ö) and ue (ü). The pronunciation of the word stays the same! The changing of the umlaute is mostly used in an international context since they are missing in most other languages. So, your grandpa did not "invent" the spelling of his name as Doeppner, he just used it because he was talking/ writing to people outside of Germany.
    Further, in the German language, the pronounciation of the name "Depner" differs from "Doepner" / "Döpner" (this two are pronounced the same)

    1. Jasmin- thank you! I woke up this morning to your comment and an almost word-for-word replica from my Dad's cousin, who also knows the German language. Ha- so I suppose we were doomed, in fact- I think I may have been mispronouncing my name my whole life! Thanks to you and Helene, I will write a little addendum correction. I appreciate your thoughts and insight- especially when it comes to educating me on the things I know very little about! I've got to learn German!!


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