Monday, March 24, 2014

May 9, 1939: From Amsterdam to Pinkley

Original Letter from August (my Opa's Dad) to Virgil Pinkley of United Press


Dear Pinkley,

here is a personal re-quest concerning my son Thomas again.

As you know, he was communicating with the Quakers in America in order to get a university or a college which would be ready to accept him as a student. On the basis of a statement like that, I would have to apply for a visa for him here in Amsterdam.

To get such a statement of an American university requires some recommendations of American citizens. We succeeded in getting Professor Albert Einstein, the famous physicist, to write a very nice letter recommending Thomas. Besides, a leading personality of the Quakers to whom Thomas got acquainted in Berlin, is willing to write the second letter. The third one is lacking. Am I right assuming that VP will be kind enough to write it?

The situation is that just this evening a letter arrived in which the Refugee Section of the American Friends Service Committee, Philadelphia, is telling Thomas that the Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, is considering Thomas for a scholarship.

I would appreciate very much if you would not mention the fact that I am UP manager for obvious reasons, but simply tell them, that I am working for the United Press for about five years. Regarding Thomas himself, I should think, that a personal recommendation would be sufficient. Thomas has asked me to assure you that he has decided to prove an excellent citizen of your country later.

May I ask you to send the letter to Miss Helen-Mary Forbush c/o Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, and give me a copy?

Please accept my very best thanks in advance.

With best regards, 

Yours sincerely


Mr. Pinkley is August's boss at the United Press (UP) when August writes this letter. He is partially responsible for August’s happy exit from Nazi Germany (see here when I wrote about him in connection with August).

August writes to Mr. Pinkley, requesting that he write a letter of recommendation for his son, Thomas (my Opa). This letter was found in my Opa’s box of letters, not the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) case files. And wow- it’s kind of amazing to see how much more this letter makes sense in the context of the AFSC files!

We are pretty sure that Pinkley and August knew each other well, and that Pinkley met Opa, and perhaps even interacted with him more than just on a couple occassions. Opa helped his Dad out in the office, and so may have had an opportunity to work with Pinkley or at least show his face to him somewhat regularly. We don’t know exactly the extent of their relationship, but I would say it was more personal than Einstein’s connection to my Opa. Pinkley would be another positive recommendation, as someone who had a good reputation in the publishing/journalism world. So Einstein, Pinkley, and the Martin’s (who were respected in the Quaker community) are Opa’s triumvirate of recommendations. It looks like Opa needed three recommendations from America. I may be a bit slow- but that seems pretty insane. A student in Germany at 18+/- years old is supposed to somehow have personal connections to three esteemed folks in the USA?? How exactly does that happen if you don’t have the neat connections like Opa had? I’m beginning to see just how hard it was for someone to be approved for study in the USA. How did anyone make it?!

A couple of things about this letter stood out to me. In the first part of the letter, August mentions that he would have to apply for a visa for Opa in Amsterdam. To me, the way this is written, it sounds like August has not yet applied for Opa’s visa. I thought by this time Opa was somewhat a legal resident via a visa of some sort. Of course he may have had some other lesser type visa or identification that didn’t count as a visa. Either way, may I say to August in May of 1939- “Get on it!”?

Another part that caught my eye was August’s request that Pinkley not mention August’s position as manager in the UP. He requests it for “obvious reasons” and I’m guessing that he is alluding to the fact that he is financially capable of supporting Opa through his higher level position’s salary. The irony, of course, is that only one year later, when the Nazis invade Holland- August’s thick salary will mean nothing.

I also love this line: “Thomas has asked me to assure you that he has decided to prove an excellent citizen of your country later.” First, I’m sure Opa had no idea what he was talking about. Did he really expect to stay in the USA? Maybe. But it is a sweet promise, and incidentally, one that he upheld in more ways than you can imagine.

August signs off with one of my favorite ways of asking for someone’s help: “thanks in advance.” This assumes that you are definitely going to do what they ask. I kind of love the forwardness of that. This whole letter, from the slightly shifty request to keep his position kept quiet, to the bold request on behalf of his beloved son- it all fits in perfectly with who I imagine August to have been. And it was fun to get another letter from August. We haven’t heard from him in a while.

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