Saturday, May 2, 2015

September 29, 1939: Safety Net

Original Letter from Alice Palmer of Protestant Episcopal City Mission Society to Charlotte Salmon of American Friends Service Committee 

Miss Charlotte S. Salmon
Placement Worker
American Friends Service Committee
20 South Twelfth Street
Philadelphia, Penna.

My dear Miss Salmon:

I have your letter of September 26th, in reference to Thomas Doeppner, a refugee student, who sails from Holland on the Volendam on October 7th.

We will be very glad to meet him and do everything in our power to facilitate his entry.

If we can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to call upon us.

Very sincerely,

Alice G. Palmer
Social Worker
 Original letter from Charlotte S Salmon of AFSC to Thomas Doeppner (Opa)


September 29, 1939
Thomas Doeppner
c/o Mrs. Allison Palmer
Protestant Episcopal City Mission
Ellis Island, New York City

Dear Thomas Doeppner:

I have asked Mrs. Palmer to help you through the examination at Ellis Island so that you won't lose any more time there than is necessary. She has been working at Ellis Island doing just this sort of work for several years so can be more helpful to you than anybody else.

If you need help of any kind in New York City, the American Friends Service Committee has an office at 165 West 46th Street. Miss Louise Clancy is the representative in charge there. She will be glad to give you information or advice, or to help you in any way.

We have a hostel in Bryn Mawr, very near Philadelphia, where we have transient guests. It is in care of Mrs. Solmitz, 11 Elliot Avenue, Bryn Mawr. We should be glad to have you stay there overnight if there is any reason why you need to come to Philadelphia. However, I expect you will want to get on out to McPherson as soon as you can.

Since I probably won't see you before you go to Kansas let me tell you how glad I am that you are safely here. I hope that you will have a pleasant and profitable year at McPherson, and will be interested in hearing from you.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte S. Salmon
Placement Worker

These two letters continue the line of support for Opa as he makes his final plans to arrive in America. Mrs. Palmer from the Protestant City Mission agrees immediately to assist Opa upon his arrival and help in any way she can. She is a thread in the safety net that grows stronger for Opa.

Charlotte Salmon sends Opa a letter through Mrs. Palmer to tell him who this helpful person is, and how very glad she is that he has arrived safely to the United States. Of course, she is writing this before confirmation of his arrival, but as of the 29th, it is too late for her to send a letter to him. His ship is set to sail on October 7th, just a little over a week away. Can you imagine stepping off the ship and having a stranger holding this letter out to you? I bet it was a relief.

Charlotte gives Opa a set of contacts and an address or two in case he needs to linger before he goes to McPherson.

The thought occurred to me: Opa is about to step onto a large boat for the first time in his life. This boat will carry him and hundreds of strangers across an ocean he has never seen, to a land he has only heard of. When he arrives at this new place, he has no idea what to expect. He has only the hope and trust that his Friends in America will be there if he needs them. That his safety net he has grown to depend on, will be there. 

His ultimate goal is to then make the trip from New York City to McPherson, Kansas… a town few have heard of even today. And even there, he will be an urban stranger plopped into a rural farmland.

That’s incredibly brave. Opa just had to trust that things would work out and that moving forward was better than staying still. It makes me want to be braver about uncharted territory. What am I holding myself back from because I’ve never been there? Who am I not trusting that has shown themselves to be trustworthy? Where is the line of support in our lives leading us? What safety nets are woven beneath us that we haven't noticed or been brave enough to trust?

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