Thursday, April 30, 2015

September 27, 1939: Hospitality

 Letter from Phil Myers at McPherson College to Charlotte Salmon at AFSC

Charlotte Salmon
American Friends Service Committee
Philadelphia, Penns.

Dear Miss Salmon:

I have at hand your letter of September 25, stating that Thomas Doeppner has obtained his passport. This is certainly good news for him and for us and I am sure that we both thank you for your diligent efforts in his behalf.

I am not certain about my time schedule but if he leaves there the 7th he should be here about the 18th or 19th, should he not? I presume that since it is so late he will come to McPherson immediately. If you would communicate to me the time and place of his arrival in McPherson- I will be very happy to meet him or to make arrangements for someone else to meet him.

We have arrangements all completed for his boarding place etc. He is to room with the President of the Student Christian Movement in the boys dormitory. Coming late as he is, what or rather how much of a academic load would you suggest that he take? If you have any other suggestions or ideas that might make his adjustment easier and his stay more pleasant we would appreciate knowing them.

Thanking you again for your continued efforts, I am

Sincerely yours,
Phil Myers

Phil Myers is the kind of guy I would want greeting me if I stepped off a bus, plane, or train into an unfamiliar place. His letter communicates one thing: we are ready to welcome Tom. The focus never strays too far from the ultimate reason for this whole shindig- to bring a refugee safely out of harm’s way. Sure, he’ll attend school. Sure, he’ll be an asset to the college with his European perspective and experiences. But ultimately, the goal is to help this boy have a chance at freedom.

The other day while my Dad and I were discussing this project, he told me about three themes he noticed that kept showing up in everything we read and learned, three themes that were consistent in my Grandparent’s values: 1) the value of hard work, 2) the value of education, and 3) the value of freedom.

Phil Myers and the hospitable McPherson College were confident that Opa would work hard and pursue his education. Their responsibility was to ensure his freedom, and I deeply appreciate their commitment to doing everything in their power to give him that.

I think about how simple hospitality is. How kind and healing it can be. There is hospitality in Phil's kind question about what kind of course load would be most appropriate for Opa, who would be arriving late and likely in a bit of culture shock. He wants Opa to feel comfortable, to succeed, to adjust easily. 

What would my life look like if I gave this kind of hospitality freely? What would it be like if I accepted it from others? I know that Opa was grateful, but I wonder if he ever knew the amount of preparation and effort that went into this moment of welcome.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

September 26, 1939: See you at Ellis Island!

Thomas Doppner    
Amstelveen, September 26, 1939
Emmakade 8

Dear President Schwalm,

     Thank you very much for your kind letter of August 17, in which you tell me that I have been admitted to your college. I appreciate all the help you have given me in this connection, and the personal interest you have taken. I should have liked to reply sooner, but thought it would be better to wait until I had my papers arranged and I could tell you what time I could be expected. There have been some difficulties in obtaining the visa; it was refused the first time I tried to obtain it, although only by word of mouth, then there were the difficulties in obtaining the Dutch identification card, which I had to secure instead of a passport. Now everything seems ready, and I intend to sail on the seventh of October from Antwerp on the "Volendam" of the Holland-America-line. I am very happy that I shall be able to study again, and I am looking forward to the year in your college very much. I know, it will be a stimulating experience. 

    Please give my thanks and sincere greetings to Mr. Phil Myers, who wrote me such a kind letter of welcome. 

With kindest regards, I am faithfully yours

Mrs. Allison T. Palmer
Protestant Episcopal City Mission
Ellis Island
New York

Dear Mrs. Palmer:

      I have just learned of a service that you have been giving to new arrivals at Ellis Island, and I should like to ask your help for Thomas Doeppner, a refugee student who plans to sail from Holland on the Volendam on October 7. He has a scholarship at McPherson College, McPherson, Kansas. The students there have raised enough money to take care of his expenses during the school year, and he has been granted free tuition from the college. The American Friends Service Committee feels responsibility for seeing that he is taken care of during his summer vacations or during holidays.

Thomas Doeppner is a refugee from Germany, but his father has established a residence in Holland as European representative for the United Press Association. Therefore, the boy was able to get his student visa in order to take advantage of the scholarship granted him. Because of the War his sailing was delayed so that he will be late arriving at college. McPherson opened about the middle of September. We are hoping that he won't have to delay in New York any longer than is absolutely necessary. We know that in the past some students arriving on student visas have been held at Ellis Island for as long as a week. If there is anything you could do to facilitate Thomas Doeppner's examination there we shall appreciate it very much. If there is any way in which a representative of the Friends Service Committee could help, we would be glad to do it, but I know that you have had long experience and can really do much more to help this boy.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte S. Salmon
Placement Worker

Opa wrote the president of McPherson College to personally thank him and explain his delay. Now that the swarm of activity had slowed down and he had only to pack and board the ship- he was able to express his sincere appreciation and explain what took him so long.

My favorite part of these selected letters is the very last part of the letter from Charlotte Salmon to the Protestant Episcopal City Mission in Ellis Island. The part when Charlotte asks for help and recognizes that this mission has more experience with helping refugees at Ellis Island. Apparently it is common for refugees to get held up for as long as a week. This seems pretty ridiculous considering the incredibly tedious process that is required before they even arrive. I certainly would be a grumpy girl if I faced more questions and red-tape after getting off a ship that had been across the Atlantic. The refugees were used to roadblocks, but in this tenuous time with so much fear lingering from the places they’ve been, it seems cruel that they would have to jump yet another series of hurdles when they arrived.

Luckily, there were groups like this Protestant Episcopal City Mission who acted as chaplains and social workers to the weary immigrants. We will learn more about that organization and Alice Palmer a bit later. 

I think that the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) were able to be as successful as they were because of their ability to delegate and work with other organizations. They didn’t try to do it all or be experts in every part of the process. They facilitated every part of the process, and when they were beyond their abilities, they connected with someone who was able.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

September 25-26: I'm coming!

 Telegram from Opa to Charlotte at AFSC



Letter from Charlotte Salmon of AFSC to Phil Meyer at McPherson College


September 25, 1939

Phil Meyers,
1722 East Gordon Street,
McPherson, Kansas.

Dear Phil Meyers:

A cable came from Thomas Doeppner this morning: "Got visa leaving October seventh Volendam will cable case earlier boat please inform McPherson Stop appreciate being met aboard avoid difficulties many thanks".

I am delighted that he can get out. Holland must be a very precarious place for a young man to be these days. I hope that it won't matter that he will arrive late for college. He will have to work harder to catch up, I know, but it seems to be that his safe arrival will be worth waiting for.

Will see that he is met at the boat and I hope that there will be no difficulties. Will try to get him out to Kansas as soon as possible.

We surely appreciate your patience and your cooperation in putting this thing through.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte Salmon
Placement Worker

 Letter from Opa to Charlotte Salmon at AFSC


Amsterdam, September 26th, 1939
Emmakade 8

Dear Miss Salmon,

As you already know from my cable I have received my visa and have booked on the "Volendam", Holland-America-line, which sails on the seventh of October from Antwerp. I would have liked very much to be in time for the beginning of the term, but it has been very difficult to get the visa. After I had succeeded in getting the Dutch-identification-card, the Rotterdam American Consul refused the visa, because I have no country to return to, when the passport expires. After many efforts we succeeded in obtaining the visa from the American consul in Amsterdam by the help of Mary Champney and some connections of my father. You hardly can imagine how happy I was, when the stamp was placed on my passport.

I know what I owe you. I shall have to prove now to be worthy of so much help.

The consul appeared not to be quite sure that the visa would be sufficient to get me in. He, therefore, suggested that an American citizen might meet me at the boat. For this reason, I asked you in my cable for arranging such a meeting.

I am looking forward to the day I can come to you in order to thank you personally.

With kindest regards, I am
sincerely yours
Thomas Doppner.

The other day I confessed to my husband that I never learned how to do a cartwheel as a child. He was astonished. He told me he thought he could still do one. My husband is 6’3” and well over 200 lbs. I scoffed. He then walked out into the grass and proceeded to do the most hilariously perfect cartwheel. It really was perfect. I laughed so hard.

After reading these letters, I really do wish I had learned to do cartwheels, because that’s pretty much the only response I can picture for this news. He got the stamp on his passport- finally he can leave! Time is increasingly precious and Opa has secured himself a ticket on the Volendam, set to depart on October 7th. He might be late for school, but better late than never! (This cliche was a little too perfect- so I had to use it.)

Charlotte immediately forwards the information from the cable in a letter to Phil Meyers, who I’m sure was thrilled to share with the folks on McPherson’s campus, that their “delayed refugee” was one step closer.

Opa sent a follow up letter that would arrive later to fill in the details of the cable. He had secured his visa with even more finagling and connections. My guess is that the slew of letters we read in this blog had some help to contribute. Opa ran into the same problem most refugees were running into- the infinite catch-22 that the refugees would not have a home to return to. This no-mans-land stranded them wherever they were unless through some cunning, persistence, and luck- they were able to find a loophole. Opa’s luck had not run out: his father’s residency in unoccupied Holland and Opa’s age-appropriate desire to attend college in America worked the trick. He would sail for the USA on October 7th. 

It amazed me to see that this letter was stamped by the AFSC "October 25, 1939." I believe that is the day they received it. I think mail has gotten a little slower for Europe because of the changing political climate. 

Opa offers his sincere appreciation for all that the AFSC had done for him, and made the vow to “be worthy of so much help.”

Lastly, he explains that even his stamped passport may not be solid enough when he arrives on American soil, and requests that an American citizen meet him at the port.

I tried to imagine what Opa felt like during this process. Every single victory was such a tenuous thing. Every single step forward was achieved by so much effort, and none of it was a sure step forward. All of it could be erased in a minute, a military strike, a signature. Even this victory was held in balance by the warning of the consul that Opa have an American citizen meet him at the boat. My stomach knots just imagining this process. I have heard (and even said) that when something is right, it just falls into place. This is clearly not always the case. Sometimes the right thing must be fought for: every tiny step and victory must be carved out of a relentless and merciless system. But even then, it's worth it.

Maybe Charlotte did do a cartwheel. Let’s pretend she did.

Friday, April 24, 2015

September 22, 1939: Refugee Delayed

 Spectator (McPherson College Newspaper) Article from September 22, 1939


Refugee Student Is Delayed In Europe
  Doeppner Is Unable To Secure Passport

Macampusans have been not a little worried over the fate of their non-Aryan student, Thomas Doeppner of Berlin, Germany. Doeppner cabled the Friends Service Committee this week that he is unable to secure a passport but will continue to try.

Last year the International Relations Club and the Student Christian Movement completed a money-raising movement on the campus, to make possible the securing of a non-Aryan Christian student refugee for McPherson college. The Friends Service Committee of America cooperated in securing the highly-recommended German youth.

Thomas Doeppner wired an acceptance to the scholarship offer from Amsterdam on August 15 and stated that he was applying for a passport. In the mad rush for passports caused by the war in Europe he was unable to secure one. If he can not come, another refugee student who is already in America will be secured.

It will be of great interest and benefit to have a student on the campus who is so aware of the European situation and of Hitler's purge there. The student will live in the dormitory and will probably do part-time work. Thomas Doeppner will be classed as a sophomore or a junior.

Letter from Charlotte Salmon of AFSC to Phil Meyers at McPherson College


September 22, 1939

Phil Meyers
1722 E. Gordon Street
McPherson, Kansas

Dear Phil Meyers:

This is just to let you know that we have word from the consul as follows:

"If Thomas Doeppner can prove that his father has a permanent residence in Holland he will be given a student visa." 

We should have the definite word in a few days now. However, I consider this encouraging, for I believe that his father can establish residence there. I will keep you informed.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte S. Salmon
Placement Worker 

The letter from Charlotte helps to explain what I mentioned in the last blog. There must have been some communication between the Consul and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). The letters from August (Opa’s Dad) and his boss that confirmed August’s permanent residency in Amsterdam most certainly should solve the problem. Charlotte seems confident and lets Phil Myers know that things should be moving along smoothly from here on out.

Meanwhile, the local newspaper of McPherson College’s town- The Spectator- writes a little news bit on the delay of Opa. This article was obviously written without the information from Charlotte, but it does a nice job of summing up the information and reason for Opa’s delay. The article shows how invested the entire town of McPherson was in my Opa’s plight and the plight of other German refugees. They waited and looked for him. He wasn’t just some side charity that a few people knew about. What a wonderful community of caring! Also- I am a bit fascinated by how they call him a non-Aryan. I guess technically he was by some standard… It is such an odd descriptor to me.

Is this just my experience? I don’t think that the Jewish population in America are distinguished on any form or paperwork like we distinguish other races and ethnicities. I wonder when and why this shifted. Does anyone out there know?