Thursday, April 3, 2014
May 18-27, 1939: Tying Loose Ends
Letter from Thomas (Opa) to Charlotte at AFSC
Dear Miss Salmon,
Please accept my very best thanks again for your letter of May 8th, and all the work connected with it.
I have asked one of my teachers in Berlin to fill out the form you have sent me. I shall forward it to you as soon as I have received it.
As for my funds, the situation is, that I would be very happy, if getting a tuition scholarship. Although my father will hardly be able to spend $400 to $450 a year, he will send me a corresponding sum during the first months, and I am confident, that I can manage very soon to earn some money by myself.
At any rate, the question of a full scholarship must by no means be a handicap.
I am acquainted with the difficulty in getting a student visa. However, I hope to get over this difficulty.
Yours sincerely,Thomas Doppner.
It is the nature of almost any correspondence, especially by “snail mail” - that answers and questions cross over the ocean. So, although Opa has already sent Charlotte a letter about his curriculum and letters of recommendation, he still has a few more loose ends and questions to tie up for Charlotte.
He lets Charlotte know that he has sent his teacher the form and will forward it as soon as he gets it. Then he answers the lingering question that Charlotte has about the scholarship (can he do with less?), although he has already mentioned it before and she has already assumed he could do with less before. But now it is in black and white in response to her question- my translation: “just get me there.”
I absolutely LOVE Opa’s response to Charlotte’s Debbie-downer question in a previous letter of whether or not he knows how hard it is to get a student visa: “I am acquainted with the difficulty in getting a student visa. However, I hope to get over this difficulty.”
There are many ways I could take this statement - this is the challenge with the written word, it is hard to know the emotion behind the words. Was Opa frustrated with Charlotte’s negative statement? Or un-phased? It’s hard for me to know because the Opa I knew was an older, wiser Opa with a pretty solid handle on life. Plus, I was his granddaughter- so any vulnerability he was feeling was not shared with me. So I never really thought of Opa as a worrier. Although he did have a little bit of a temper. He didn’t like it when people didn’t do things the way he thought they should. Ha. I’m remembering my Grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary party- they had pre-ordered baked Alaska for dessert. I was pretty excited about it because I’d never had it and it sounded cool. Somehow the order got confused and it was confessed that there was no baked Alaska. I saw Opa get mad, but in that scary calm German way. He left to “take care of it” and when he came back it was announced we would all have ice cream sundaes. I was pretty excited about that, too- but to this day I still have not had a baked Alaska. Maybe on my 50th wedding anniversary.
So was “young Opa” someone who felt the pressure of this situation? Or was he more like a typical High School graduate who feels more or less invincible? Was this statement bravery, assurance, veiled optimism, or completely void of emotion? I’ve been talking to Opa’s niece, Helene, about the cultural norms of emotional expression. We talked about the stereotypical German stoicism, and even within American culture, the generational differences of emotional expression and the need for positive feedback and assurance. Helene pointed out that my generation and younger have been raised in a culture that normalizes excessive praise and encouragement, while her generation and the ones further back were more stoic and/or at least spoke the bad news with the good news. I know these are generalizations- but it is interesting to think that a letter I read might feel significantly more negative to me than it did to my Opa. Charlotte’s reminder that Opa faces an obstacle ahead with securing a student visa may have been read more nonchalantly and fact-giving than fear-inducing.
Either way, Opa’s response is hope. Emotional or not, hope was the power to move forward for Opa and many others who faced similar obstacles.
Letter from Charlotte at AFSC to Helen-Mary Forbush at Oberlin College
Dear Helen-Mary Forbush:
It seems to take a long time for Thomas Doeppner to get together the necessary material. I had a letter from him on May 23 in which he said he had forwarded to you a curriculum vitae and a copy of his final high school report. Because he had to leave Germany so hurriedly I think that he probably has no more complete records.
Today I received from him the following letter:
"Please accept my very best thanks again for your letter of May 8th, and all the work connected with it. I have asked one of my teachers in Berlin to fill out the form you have sent me. I shall forward it to you as soon as I have received it.
As for my funds, the situation is, that I would be very happy, if getting a tuition scholarship. Although my father will hardly be able to spend $400 to $450 a year, he will send me a corresponding sum during the first months, and I am confident, that I can manage very soon to earn some money by myself. At any rate, the question of a full scholarship must by no means be a handicap. I am acquainted with the difficulty in getting a student visa. However, I hope to get over this difficulty."
We shall be eager to hear the result of your scholarship award and, of course, will be very happy if Thomas Doeppner could come.
Charlotte S. Salmon
After receiving Opa’s letter, Charlotte wrote to Helen-Mary Forbush of Oberlin. She essentially forwarded Opa’s letter with a little of her own commentary. She writes “It seems to take a long time for Thomas Doeppner to get together the necessary material.” My first read, I sort of thought that Charlotte was throwing Opa under the bus. But after a second read, I realize she more likely was just stating a fact- the materials took a while to get back to Oberlin. Charlotte knew Oberlin was on a time schedule, but she also knew that the logistics of getting all the necessary paperwork from Opa was taking time. This wasn’t anyone’s “fault” so much as just fact. Charlotte even alludes to Opa’s quick escape as to the reason why he doesn’t have all the material with him to begin with.
Charlotte uses Opa’s words to convey his gratefulness, his promise of paperwork, and his ability to work and function with a lesser scholarship. I like that Charlotte used Opa’s words- it likely gave Helen-Mary and the folks at Oberlin a better feel (even a small one) for Opa’s personality and willingness to do what it takes to get to America.
Charlotte closes that she is looking forward to hearing who they have picked- and would be happy if Thomas Doeppner could come. Me too, Charlotte!