Wednesday, March 26, 2014

May 9, 1939: Charlotte Has a Bad Day

Letter from Charlotte Salmon of AFSC to Howard Jeske at Cornell College


Dear Mr. Jeske:

In trying to choose three refugee students as possible recipients of a Cornell College scholarship I have run into the same difficulties that constantly beset us in the matter of refugee scholarships. First of all, its practically useless to consider any of the many splendid students who are still abroad. Second, the students in this country are for the most part advanced over the American student of the same age, because of the difference in the two school systems. Most of them in whom we have been interested are specializing in chemistry, engineering, medicine, or some graduate study.

I do not have complete records of Thomas Doeppner, although I have asked him to send them. I enclose a recommendation for him that we received recently from Professor Einstein. Thomas Doeppner wants to study engineering, but he has not gotten a college degree, and it would be very valuable for him to take preparatory work before he begins straight engineering. I also enclose some material on a very interesting boy, Jan Rosenbach. I do not have complete information about him since the case was referred only recently, but I'll ask the Fellowship of Reconciliation to send you more material if they have it.

Must you have a young man? I believe I sent you information about Ellen Schelberg, and I know of two other young women already in this country, who have unusually good school records, family background and adaptable personalities. Ellen Schelberg has completed photostatic copies of her school records. Sabine Heller could also get them. Ursula Bondy has traveled about from one school to another so she has no complete school records. She is, however, prepared for college, if not more advanced work. If you are interested in a young woman you can write directly to get the records of the other two girls.

Please let me know if I can give you any more information.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte S. Salmon

Charlotte sees the writing on the wall and is starting to let people know about it. In this letter, it almost seems like she is giving up. You can hear the discouragement and the frustration. Maybe it was raining outside, maybe she had just learned that yet another student that she had worked tirelessly to help emigrate to America had been rejected by the American Consul for a visa. We don’t know- but it is helpful to remember that these folks, these people who worked day in and out for people like my Opa to have a shot at coming to safety in the US- they were human. They had bad days. They got discouraged. They needed hope. This letter reads almost like a Psalm to me. If you’ve read any psalms from the bible, you’ll recognize in many of them an odd pattern: they’ll start out sort of sad and miserable “woe is me” but somehow, in the next stanza- you’ll find optimism and hope. Sometimes the hope is sort of a bought hope- “You will come through God!” Sometimes it is based on past experience: “You have been there before, and will come alongside us again..” You get the idea.

And don’t we have emotional roller coasters like this? We feel defeated in one moment, but then we trudge on with hope- whether we had to borrow it or we genuinely have it. We move on, knowing that it’s the only way. My son has a book called “The Bear Hunt” when a family goes through all sorts of adventures in search of a bear. Each new obstacle to finding the bear is met with the same repeated mantra: “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, oh no, we’ve got to go through it!” I never really thought about those words and their deeper meaning until now. We will get discouraged, we will get frustrated, life will be hard sometimes. But we’ve got to go through it… Borrowing hope if necessary.

Sorry to get so philosophical. I just hadn’t seen this side of Charlotte before, and it was sort of sobering. I’ve put her up on a pedestal- and seeing her humanity makes me appreciate her all the more.

Charlotte moves forward, giving information about my Opa- who seems to be quite a good fit for the school in terms of age, experience and his own needs. She alludes that she has requested his records and that they should be on their way, but once again, here’s a recommendation from Einstein to chew on while you’re waiting. Not too shabby. She mentions another viable candidate named Jan Rosenbach.

Then Charlotte asks the obvious and good question: how about a woman? She mentions a couple of good candidates who are already in the country but in need of a school and help to stay in the country.

Charlotte signs this letter and sends it on its way. I wonder what Howard thought of the difficulties in getting German Jews out of Germany. Did this outrage folks, or just deflate them? It’s hard to want to help someone and feel pretty powerless in helping them. Likely this was Charlotte’s daily struggle. 

1 comment:

I would love to hear feedback! Share your thoughts and your stories.