Saturday, June 27, 2015

November 16-17, 1939: Arrival at Ellis Island

Original Letter from Alice Palmer of Protestant Episcopal City Mission Society 
to Charlotte Salmon of AFSC

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

My dear Miss Salmon:

I met Mr. Doeppner on the "Pennland" and was able to get him through the inspectors without any trouble. He was also through the Customs in a very short time. He had a friend to whom he was going here in New York.

I gave him Miss Clancy's name and address, and he was going to contact her as soon as he decided what to do. He felt that the best thing for him to do was to get to McPherson College as soon as possible. I think he will contact you soon. I gave him the letter and he was very appreciative of our services.

He came in on a visitor's visa instead of a student's visa and the Inspector gave him only eight months. When that time is up, he will have to ask for an extension if he wants to remain here. I think he understands that.

Thanking you for referring him to us,
I am,
Sincerely yours,

Alice G. Palmer
Director of Immigrant Aid 

 Letter from Charlotte Salmon to Alice Palmer

November 17, 1939

Mrs. Alice G. Palmer,
The New York Protestant Episcopal
City Mission Society,
38 Bleeker Street,
New York City.

Dear Mrs. Palmer:

Thomas Doeppner came through Philadelphia yesterday and we very much enjoyed making his acquaintance. He told us how helpful it was to be met by you. I know he got past the immigration authorities much more quickly than he could have done by himself.

Thank you so much for your help.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte S. Salmon,
Placement Worker.

Ellis Island Immigration Station

Opa has arrived! Finally news of Opa’s safe arrival- and a little insight into his entry on Ellis Island. His autobiography alludes to Ellis Island negatively:
I must add here that my reception at Ellis Island was, to say the least, unfriendly. I was given a visitor’s permit (instead of a student visa), but because two months had already passed, they cut it down from nine months to only seven months… When I finally got out of Ellis Island, there were a Quaker lady as well as a former school friend waiting for me. The Quaker lady suggested that I go first to Philadelphia, to the Quakers’ “American Friends Services Committee” Headquarters and asked me if I had enough money for the bus ride. I assured her that I did, and she told me which bus to take. I spent the night with my friend and left the next day for Philadelphia.
It’s funny how our memory of past events can be shaped by perspective, or I guess even current events-  for Opa, his experience at Ellis Island was a negative one, but for Alice Palmer, it was less trouble than she expected. Opa also didn’t remember that Alice Palmer was with him and guiding him on Ellis Island, not outside it.

We have no idea who Opa’s friend is, but it makes me happy that Opa’s first night in America was spent with a familiar face who spoke a familiar language. After a couple weeks on a boat with mostly Americans, it was probably nice to have a little reminder of home, and maybe some helpful hints from a German who has some experience in America.

Alice Palmer was so kind to provide a helping hand to Opa and walk him quickly through the process at Ellis Island. I can’t imagine how chaotic and frightening that must have been for people coming for the first time to America. What a gift that mission was to bring peace to the chaos awaiting immigrants. We did a spotlight on this ministry if you missed it, please check it out here.

We see that Opa’s hard-earned student visa has been thrown out the window for a visitor’s permit, which is confusing, frustrating, and ironic considering the pains that were taken to get that coveted Student Visa. Also, I thought it was easier to obtain a student visa- but maybe not. Alice alluded that Opa understood this switch-up, but there was some doubt of his full comprehension.

Charlotte Salmon was grateful to Alice, and shared that she got to meet Opa. I’m so glad Opa met her!! I wonder if he knew just how instrumental Charlotte was in his successful entry to the United States. I know Opa's original plan on the earlier boat, Charlotte was not going to be able to meet him, but this one worked out where she could. 

I'm trying to imagine how Charlotte felt. What a victory! Can you imagine meeting the person you worked for months to gain passage into the United States- healthy, smiling, standing right in front of you on American soil? I don’t know- I feel like I would just be so overwhelmed by the tangible proof of my hard work. It’s one thing to see it all in letters, but to meet the individual… that had to have been such a morale boost for the whole AFSC office. 

So now Opa is on American soil. He speaks a little English, has just enough cash to get himself safely to Kansas, and other than his friend's familiar face for his first night- he has no idea what awaits him in the near future. His freedom is still tenuous, a temporary pass of eight months to get him a foothold in America. School has been in session for over two months and Opa is eager to get to McPherson soon.

I think at this point I would be in "go" mode. There is no turning back now. Just keep stepping towards the future and roll with it. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

November 15, 1939: Ship Manifest of Alien Passengers

List or Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States Immigrant Inspector at Port of Arrival
Arriving at Port of New York on November 15th, 1939
(from the S.S. Pennland)
(check out passenger number 5!!)

Transcription of Opa's listing: 
(I'm just going to list the categories and Opa's corresponding info)

Family name: Doeppner
Given name: Thomas, Walter 
Yrs.: 19
Sex: M 
Married or Single: S
Calling or Occupation: Student
Able to- Read: yes
     -what language: German
     -write: yes 
Nationality: without (this is underneath, then written over top is this:) Holland CERT. of Identity
Race or People: German
Place of Birth-
   Country: Germany
   City: Berlin
Immigration Visa, Passport Visa, or Reentry Permit number: PV. 281
  Place: Amsterdam
  Date: 9/22/39
Last permanent residence-
  Country: Holland
  City or town: Amstelveen.
The name and complete address of nearest relative or friend in country whence alien came, or if none there, then in country of which a citizen or subject: Father - Döppner, Aug. Holland. Emmakade 8 Amstelveen.
Final Destination(*Intended future permanent residence) - 
    Foreign country via (port of departure)-      NY
    In USA, its territories or possessions - 
    City or Town: McPherson
Whether having a ticket to such final destination: No
By whom was passage paid? Myself
Whether ever before in the United States, and if so, when and where? No
Whether going to join a relative or friend; state name and complete address, and if relative, exact relationship: McPherson College. Macpherson, Kansas
Whether alien intended to return to country whence he came after engaging temporarily in laboring permits in the United States: Yes
Length of time alien intends to remain in the United States: 8 months
Whether alien intends to become a citizen of the United States: No
Ever in prison or ???, or institution for care and treatment of the insane or supported by charity? If so, which?
Whether a polygamist: No
Whether an anarchist: No
Whether coming by reasons of any offer, solicitation, ???, or agreement, expressed or implied, to labor in the United States: No
Whether excluded and deported within one year: No
Whether arrested and deported at any time: No
Condition of health, mental and physical: Good
Deformed or crippled. Nature, length of time, and cause: No
(Handwritten above these last set of questions: Protestant City Mission Society)
Height - Feet & Inches: 5'7''
Complexion: Fair
Color of Hair:Brown, Eyes:Brown
Marks of Identification: None  

Seeing Opa’s name on the manifest, with his language listed as German and his age listed as 19... it emphasizes in plain ink his youth and alien state. Can you imagine sailing on a giant ship by yourself at 19, not speaking the language of choice, and being from a commonly recognized enemy country? Or even worse- traveling "without" a country to call home? I thought that part was really fascinating- his German nationality completely revoked or refused. He really was a refugee with no place to call home. 

Now that I look at the details in black and white, I can see just how lucky Opa was. He was allowed entry into the United States based on some flimsy foundations. He had no country, but rather a certificate of identification from Holland. This is pretty shaky. He was born in the capital of a hostile country. His only listed relative or next of kin was McPherson College, a small liberal arts school in the middle of Kansas. 

Opa said he had a hard time at Ellis Island, but looking at the stats on him, I'm kind of amazed that they let him in, especially considering all the obstacles they had in place to give any official an excuse to turn away immigrants. 

The questions that Opa (and all other immigrants) had to answer upon arrival are bizarre and confusing. Can you imagine English not being your first language and having to answer whether or not you were a polygamist? Who could have even understood such bizarre questions? The words "Protestant City Mission Society" are handwritten over the top of Opa's answers to these questions. My guess is that Alice Palmer was there to either answer these questions on Opa's behalf or at least explain the questions to him in a way he could understand and answer intelligently. I wonder if Alice spoke multiple languages- a skill that would be handy in this line of work. 

For Opa, this simple sheet of answers obtained on a busy port of arrival- became a document almost as significant as a birth certificate. It is his record of his arrival and passing through the insane obstacle course put before hopeful immigrants to the United States. This is documentation of his first solid victory towards freedom. 

PS- Opa was not 5'7". He was more like 6'2".... so I'm wondering if he was a late bloomer or if the person measuring him was more concerned with getting a number on paper than having accuracy.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Spotlight on the Protestant Episcopal Mission Society

AFSC was the main organization who helped Opa, but we have also seen the ways the AFSC is in dialogue with other organizations as well. We have seen that Charlotte worked with Alice Palmer who was at the Protestant Episcopal City Mission to try and find someone who can meet Opa at Ellis Island. 

The Protestant Episcopal City Mission was established in 1831. 
This link gives a great timeline of the work of the Mission over the years:

As mentioned in the timeline, the Mission established a presence on Ellis Island in 1907 to help those who were entering the country. 

Charlotte sounds as if she just learned of their work. Alice Palmer, who Charlotte is working with, worked at the Protestant Episcopal Mission Society as Director of Immigration Aid.

From what I could find on Alice Palmer, she began her work at New York Harbor in 1930. She spent the rest of her time fighting for immigrants and helping transition people into the U.S. I did not find much else. She died on April 10, 1964.  

In trying to learn more about Alice and the City Mission’s work, I had trouble finding much from 1939, but I found this report below from 1907-1908. It is the Annual Report for the Chaplains from the Protestant Episcopal Church Mission on Ellis Island in its first year in existence. It is a little long, but fascinating. It gives a wonderful snapshot of the work they did at the beginning and what Ellis Island would have looked like in the early 20th century. 

Annual Report Volumes 77-78 - 1907-1908

“Since the undertaking of the work on Ellis Island by the City Mission Society, in March, 1907, it has been possible to claim that every department of government, whether municipal, state or federal, is now covered at some point by our field of service. And, as this report is the first to mark the completion of a full year’s work in this new field, it may be well to have a brief description of the activities of the Immigration Service on Ellis Island. 
The raison d’ etre of this department is found in Section 2 of the Immigration Law, which enacts “That the following classes of aliens be excluded from admission into the United States: All idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons and persons who have been insane within five years previous; persons who have had two or more attacks of insanity at any time previously; paupers; persons likely to become a public charge; professional beggars; persons afflicted with tuberculosis or with a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease; persons not comprehended within any of the foregoing excluded classes who are found to be and are certified by the examining surgeon as being mentally or physically defective, such mental or physical defect being of a nature which may affect the ability of such an alien to earn a living; persons who have been convicted of or admit having committed a felony or other crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude; polygamists, or persons who admit their belief in the practice of polygamy; anarchists, or persons who believe in or advocate the overthrow by force or violence of the government of the United States, or of all forms of law, or the assassination of public officials; prostitutes; procurers; contract laborers; assisted aliens, and children under sixteen when unaccompanied by one or both parents.”
This section of the law may be said to constitute the net through which poured the living stream of humanity that amounted, in the twelve months ending August 31st, 1908, to 782,764 men, women and children, of every nation, race, and tongue. In the one month of October, 1908, the meshes of this net were sufficiently close to debar 589 persons of the classes listed as above, and of this enormous total about eleven-thirteenths were examined, admitted and sent on to their destination through Ellis Island. 

The method of handling so tremendous a throng that averaged over 2,000 a day for every day in the year, will perhaps be more clearly understood if we picture the arrival of the transatlantic liner at this port. After the first and second cabin passengers-excepting always those who for any reason are under suspension-have been landed at the pier, the steerage passengers, numbering say 800 are conveyed on barges to Ellis Island. (Of course, the United States citizen, who can prove his citizenship, is free to land at this pier.) With them goes a ship’s officer, bearing the manifest sheets, which contain the answers to some thirty questions - name, age, sex, race, amount of money possessed, etc. - respecting every passenger. The immigrants first pass the medical examination. Two doctors examine each person in the line, the first looking after the general physical condition, the second especially examining the eyes. Every one who is not manifestly sound is held for further and more careful scrutiny. Those who pass this medical bar are then ordered and aligned to correspond with the manifest sheet which bears their names, and with their number on that particular sheet. Then they are questioned as to name, age, point of departure, intended destination, amount of money, etc., and any discrepancy between their answers and the sworn statement of the ship’s surgeon is carefully noted. When this test is successfully met they are directed to the railroad rooms, where they secure their railroad transportation and whence they are taken, again by barges, to the different railroad stations. 
Those who give as their destination some address in New York are held to permit their friends to call and claim them. This gives the officials the opportunity to probe into the fitness of such friends to care for their newly-arrived relatives and to prevent women and girls from falling into undesirable hands. And just here begins our work. At the close of the day we go into the temporary detention room, pick out those forlorn ones whose friends, for one reason or other, have not called for them, and wherever practicable assume the responsibility of taking them to their friends and seeing that these friends are fit persons to receive them. Now and then a sturdy young fellow is detained because he is penniless and has no address more definite than just “New York.” If he is English, Irish, Scotch, or of any other race uncared for by a particular Church or National Society, we feel that he belongs to us, and do our best to find him work and a home. Of the two classes described above, between 150 and 175 persons have been admitted to us during the past year. And of this number not more that two or three have since proven themselves poor timber for American citizenship. 
This sort of case has, of course, to be handled immediately. Now and then we hurry to catch the ferry to New York with three or four penniless and friendless immigrants following trustingly in our train wondering ourselves what in the world we are to do with them. If they are women, we take the girls who belong to the English Church to Sister Eleanor’s Home, 212 East 46th Street. If they are of Protestant Churches, we take them to the Methodist-Episcopal Home, 9 State Street. The men we take to various lodging-houses, principally the excellent one at 47 Whitehall Street. 
While the immigrants who are to reach their destination by train are waiting at the Island, we go among them, take the names of any who belong to the Church of England, and in whatever way is possible help them. Occasionally, some one arrives with a prepaid railroad ticket, but without money for the food necessary on the journey. Then we are called upon. It is a pleasure to say that much money is always repaid and letters sent us which display an encouraging sense of gratitude for such aid. 
We notify, in every case where there is one of our churches, the rector that such and such a person has arrived in his parish, and give the address to which the alien is destined. But, obviously, this cannot be done with perfect accuracy in every case. The addresses given may be vague or incorrect. Again, the alien may change his mind and decide upon some other home in the same place. But we do our best to notify the clergy of possible additions to their parishes, and, on the whole, from the letters and reports we receive decide that this work is worthwhile. 
So much of our work, if done at all, must be done quickly. The six or eight hundred steerage passengers have been brought to the Island, examined, and passed through-all in two or three hours. In such a hurried company, nervous and excited over the entirely unexpected examination, there is neither time nor opportunity for service other than to help, so far as we can, to hasten them on their way.

But for the unfortunates, detained on account of failure to meet the medical or other tests, we have time for more thorough work. We go about among the detained, learn what we can from them about their cases, explain the various causes for which they are held, confer with their friends, find missing relatives, etc., etc. 

Occasionally a whole family is detained because a single member is ill in the Immigrant Hospital. Here we parole the rest of the family, assuming the responsibility for their return when demanded. Then we find suitable homes where they may await the recovery of the person detained. About seventy-five persons were so entrusted to our care last year. Again, we look into merits of the different cases, advise whatever course of action it seems best to take, write their appeals from adverse decisions, etc. A considerable number of young girls come over in order to marry the sweethearts who have come ahead and made a home for them. Before admission, as the law now reads, such persons must be married. And so, occasionally, we have a wedding ceremony to perform. 
And now, it is time to visit the hospital. Here are detained usually about one hundred people, most of them under observation, to determine whether or not they are afflicted with some suspected disease. Of course, practically none of them are seriously ill. But they are distressed, all of them, at the enforced separation from their family or friends, and about their own physical condition. Here our ministrations are more purely clerical. We try to comfort, help and advise them, and explain the delay to their expectant friends. 

But, after everything has been done, there is a small percentage on every ship that cannot be admitted to the United States. These are notified, in ample time, of their exclusion and deportation. On Friday-deportation day-a sad little company is gathered and taken back to the ship on which they came. Here are tears and sorrow and tragedy that no one could witness unmoved. 

As to the racial limits of our work, we feel that, in addition to the English-speaking people who are our special province, we are here to help anyone who is not cared for by any other body-religious or national. To this end Mr. Lugscheider, with his extensive range of linguistic skill, is able to care for the Oriental races in general, and these are precisely the cases hitherto least cared for. But in looking over the record of aliens discharged, or paroled to us, no nation or race lacks representatives. We are here to help all.
And the great bulk of this tremendous volume is well worth helping. These people come to better themselves. And they better the country by their coming. They are clean and strong in body, frugal, sober and honest. They want to be Americans. And if the church today recognizes and performs her duty to these people of every race and speech, the Church of the future will have reason to thank God for their coming. 

For the year before us we hope to enter into closer relation with the Churches abroad that are in communion with us. A great deal of the leakage that is now inevitable can be avoided if the clergy abroad will help us in the work of recommending immigrants to the parishes of their future homes. And we hope, also, to see the Church impressed with a new sense of the value of these people, as material for the extension of God’s Kingdom on earth, and a new feeling of her duty in every village and hamlet of our land, to “go out...and gather them in.”

Thursday, June 18, 2015

November 14, 1939: Dear Long Tom

Original Letter from August and Emma to Tom

Translation by Rose:

Amstelveen, Nov.14th, 1939

Dear Thomas

We did not get your card from Southampton til Saturday morning. Now we are waiting for your telegram that you arrived well in New York but also consider that your Steamer might be late by a few days.

Hopefully you had a good trip and learned not only to curse but speak in English. When you are reading these lines the next stage of your journey will be behind you, and perhaps you are getting used to your new area of living.

I wish you for this, now beginning part of your life, good luck, which has never failed you before, but also willpower, goal understanding from your side for even with all the luck are needed to create a dignified existence.

Hopefully the Amstelveen time does not belong to your worst memories since the complications of our situation and perhaps different personalities sometimes would cast small shadows on our daily life together.

One day after you left I went to Mr. Busser the police inspector of Nieuwer-Amstel to report that you had left. As usual he was very nice and asked that you should send him a picture postcard. Do that and thank him again for all his friendliness. Also you have to thank Mrs. Boas and Mr. Mosse for their going-away-greetings. Address: Baarn, Amsterdamschestraatweg 15.

From Jan Meyboom came an invitation for you.  I wrote to him that you had already left.
Who does the book of Dutch poetry belong to?
Did you purposely leave your shoetrees behind? Would a trip to America be worth it to bring them to you?

Approximately half a dozen Americans are now in the office, so it has become somewhat busy. VP is here now also and stays in your Zolderkammer. (attic room)

The other day we were a total of 7 people for dinner. Imagine the crowd at our much too small table, and then the dishwashing, which I had to do all by myself.

But at least now there are no black spots on the stairs! Wonder why that is?

Finally after long fights we gloriously defeated our stove (furnace) since now we have the same coal as Bergs.(that must be a family name for friends)

It is really a miracle how the stove now burns. For many hours one does not have to tend to it, it burns great. So why do they write in the instructions and repeat it orally again to use Brechkoks 40x60? (you can google Brechkoks, it is used for central heating)

Bob continues his worry laden life. (Bob is their dog) As of now that unfaithful fellow has not missed you. The important thing for him is that somebody feeds him.

A few days here were somewhat uneasy, but now one has calmed down again and hopes to remain neutral. Personally I do not yearn to see bombs raining down.

We had a satisfying note from Brigitte (Opa's sister) and also a long letter from Annchen (August's sister). She was happy about your lines. (letter)

Heiner (not sure who this is- maybe August's brother?) now has employment as a sculptor he makes small models of buildings. In any case he earns more and regularly than ever before. 

Today is Blackout Drill in Amstelveen, so I hope that Papa comes home earlier. Yesterday, because of the blackout, he could not come through, and I had to wait 1 and ½ hours with my warm dinner for the three men. (VP and Beatty).
Now write in detail about your new life, and many heartfelt greetings from me.
Long one, (used for somebody very tall!)
Just now your cable arrived with lots of hullabaloo from the whole office. Thank God that you have finished the first part of the trip. Am I going to receive the log of your trip soon?
Everything will work out you are a clever guy.

Giving you a lot of advice is because we are not with you, and that you will have to conquer America all by yourself. Which of course you will do immediately!!

Through Annchen I sent a wire to Mama so she will be informed today already. Your card from Southampton took only one week. Did my first airmail letter arrive and when? I  should have overtaken you.

So this is my second letter. Be careful with your mail to Mama, the damned Nazis control everything more than before. Mama does not seem to be able to telephone to foreign countries, as she indicated in one of her letters. 

Break-a leg my boy, lots of luck, and write to me often. Emma says the Bergs are sending greetings, I think you should write to them also.
What’s up with my cottage? (a previous letter hinted about getting a cottage in the US, so it is a little tease)
How is your weather there? What are the Indians doing?
Now I have to also write to Mama.

August and Emma (Opa’s father and stepmother) write, finding out in the middle of their writing, that Opa has arrived safely to America. Emma writes the first bit, full of advice, and an interesting allusion to some personality conflicts between her and Opa. I really wish I knew better what the relationship was between Opa and his stepmother. She obviously cared for Opa, but there is formality in her writing, hesitance in her words. She calls him Thomas. Helene, Opa's niece, told me of the tension between Opa and Emma. She said that they were civil, but that Opa harbored some resentment towards Emma and that she wasn't incredibly mothering towards him. I think this kind of shows in her letter.

Emma indicating that they may have had some bomb scares is telling that the climate is changing in Holland. She seems afraid, but still distant from the threat.

August writes a shorter bit, teasing him throughout. (
With jokes like asking how the Indians are doing in America.) August starts with “Long Tom”- his little pet-name for Opa. Opa was a tall man, I wonder if he towered over his family! August gives him the business of thank you’s and details of correspondence. I do appreciate that he keeps Ella well-informed and seems to respect her. Annchen is August’s sister in Berlin, a non-Jewish connection to Ella, and someone who seems to have better communication abilities under Nazi control. I love that August says “damned Nazi’s.” It sort of encapsulates him for me. A newspaper man, annoyed with the Nazi’s for their tightening control.  

There is something I noticed with August’s letters that I haven’t mentioned before. He signs them “August.” Not Dad, Papa, Father, etc. I wonder why? Did Opa call him August? I am getting more and more signs that Opa’s relationship with August was one hinged on respect, but not closeness. They have a sort of jovial, intellectual banter going between the two of them.

I can’t help but wonder at the way our relationships affect the generations below us. Growing up, my Dad hardly ever talked about his work. We knew that he was a helicopter test pilot, but he hardly ever went into detail, except that one time when he brought home the video of the “hard landing” (read: crash). I remember being more intentional about asking him about his day at work as I got older, assuming his reticence was more about getting two words in with three daughters and a wife. One day when I asked him why he didn’t talk about work much, he told me that he remembers his Dad (Opa) sitting at the dinner table, telling his family all about his work. My Dad said he was bored out of his mind and made an effort not to do the same to his family. But maybe, maybe Opa was trying to cancel out his father’s legacy: absence. Maybe Opa was trying to share his life, but only knew how to share his occupation (perhaps inherited from August). And so my Dad went the opposite way, choosing not to bore his daughters. Of course, Dad is a test pilot- so I feel like some of his stories could have been pretty interesting. As we have grown older, he has shared more of his work with us and I feel more connected to that part of his life. Over a Christmas break Jason and I got to attend a New Year’s Eve party hosted by a work friend of my Dad’s and it was great to see the people my Dad interacted with every day. I got to see my Dad in his work element, how people respected him but also enjoyed his company. The people were nice and friendly. It was weirdly wonderful to experience that my Dad works with nice and friendly people.

This is my tangent - but it makes me think. What relationship quirks do we have within our family that affect how we interact with the rest of our family? Could we trace some of our behavior patterns back a few generations? What are some things we assumed was best, but is only a reaction to what we didn’t like in our past? Did August have a strained relationship with his father and think his connection to Opa was a step up? Was his father too serious, therefore encouraging August to interact with Opa with humor? Or maybe he didn’t think about it at all. Do any of you have any experiences like this? Generational ping-pong of relational reactions? Say that five times fast. Think about what relationship quirk you’ve inherited or passed down, and tell me about it in the comments.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

November 13, 1939: Dear Little Brotherboy

Original Letter from Patti to Tom

I transcribed this in case it was difficult to read the original handwriting: 

Grenoble, November 13th 39.

My dear little brotherboy,

What a strange feeling to receive a card of the Pennland with the last greetings of the old world from my grand little hunschenjung (the nickname Ella and Patti had for their "boy that left home." An homage to the children's song that I reference in this blog). I was so awfully sad knowing that you are driving farther and farther away from me. I called all our childhood to my mind, I saw my little brother in the vast different situations, than the separation, each of us developing under different circumstances, and I have the feeling that both of us we have so much changed that we cannot have a clear idea of each other. But in spite of the great distances of time and space we must not feel separated. We are sure that one day we shall meet again, and under better conditions than in the time of our separation.

How are you, my little boy? When this letter reaches you, you will have had so many new impressions and experiences, you will live in a wholly new and different atmosphere. And I wish you so much that it will be to your advantage, that you may feel quite at home in your new house. It is your first time in a completely foreign environment. I remember my first impressions here, the marvelous feeling of freedom, independence and the many lonely hours when I longed for all of you. Even now from time to time I wish to throw myself into the arms of our Putschi (a pet name for their mother) and to confess myself, to tell all I have on my heart. But never would I like to change my life of today with the last years in Berlin.

Do not smile of my letter, do not say it is awfully sentimental. If it is a little sentimental, it is true and not artificial, and this is the main thing. We never were alike, you always had a much thicker skin than I, and if you pass over your leaving without any feeling of regret or loneliness (I don’t believe it), I can tell you that your departure was very hard for me. Tell me sincerely what impression you had on reading this letter, will you? Do promise it!

I am so anxious to get news from you, write me about everything, please my dear Hunschen! And do not forget Putschi. You know how much she suffers, and even if you are tired or if you are amusing yourself and forgetting everything (I know such periods) write regularly to Putschi. I hope it is superfluous to speak about it. You will think of it yourself. You will know that the love of our Putschi augments with the distance if it is possible.

Tell me your impressions of the crossing, your first days in America, about the people you met, your school and teachers, about every detail. Think that I am so far away, that I never have made a crossing, that I only dreamt of seeing once nothing but the sea during several days!

How do you get on with the language? I think that up to now, in spite of the mistakes I am sure to make in this letter, I know it better than you, but after some time you have to correct my mistakes as I corrected your French ones.

I would like to tell you so much now, my dear! But everything I can tell you about my everyday life seems so trivial to me in this moment. My thoughts are over the seas and I try to imagine how my little brother is going on.

Another time I shall write you about my studies, about Grenoble and my friends. Now I have to write you personally and not only to Papajung who reads my letters to you.  

As letters take so awfully much time from America to Europe, especially now in wartime, I propose that we shall write once a week, without waiting for an answer. What do you think about it? I think it is necessary, if we will not become strange to each other.

Now I wish you so much luck, my Tomboy, I trust you will work very well and hard in order to be able to pass the examinations at the end of the year. I wish the work will please and interest you. If you have some photos, send them at once!

Does the address of Lilli Ochs in New York interest you? New York City, 523 W 187 St. Apt 5E. At any rate write her that you are in America and tell her everything about us. I shall write her soon.  

I wish so much we shall become again nearer to each other and I trust it will be possible now you begin the same kind of independent life.

Looking forward to your letter I kiss my little brother,

Patti, Opa’s sister, is the one who reminds me of Kelly, my older sister. (You can read my introduction to her in this blog.) In this letter though, she kind of reminds me of myself. She has a moment of truth... of reckoning. The world comes into focus as a whole- with all four corners contained, and the distance of her family a stark reality. Patti is homesick for her brother and her old life, but knows that there is no going back, and that going away and forward from Nazi Germany is the best thing for her whole family. She echoes August’s dreams of the beautiful reunion after all is over and done.

Patti writes about “the separation” like a world event. I figure she means the separation of her family: August leaving for Holland, Patti leaving for France, and finally Opa leaving for America; Ella left alone in Nazi Germany. The strings that connect the family unit
are being stretched tighter and tighter, farther and farther. I selfishly think about my own life, nothing compared to this historical time... but I do often feel so geographically separated from my family. No one lives in the same state. We can call each other on the phone, see each other through skype or FaceTime, and we see one another at least twice a year. But it still is not enough. The village is separated. I can’t touch my sister’s arm. Hug my niece’s tummy. Squeeze my mother’s hand. Drink wine with my Dad by sunset. I have to wait until we’re all together. My sisters and I often end up on a small couch or chair, squished next to each other, giggling and making funny faces, taking pictures of ourselves. Maybe we’re making up for lost time and lost touch. I am close to my family, I long to be with them.  

From the language in the letters written to Opa- his family is close, they long to be together and to squeeze one another. I cannot imagine the separation they endured. It was without guarantee of reunion, without guarantee of communication, without guarantee of safety. Patti feared that she and Opa would forget who each other was
. Her heart was fighting the realization that it was nearly inevitable that they would become strangers. She remembered her childhood, remembered her little brother. And with that world focus, saw her new reality- two grown adults separated by a growing conflict of nations.

one of our family gatherings, my older sister said she was starting to realize and accept that we would not all live in the same town. There is something to be grieved there, and Patti has started her grieving. It is beyond homesickness, it is knowing that home is no longer there.

I love the vulnerability of Patti when she confessed to wanting to throw herself in the arms of her “Putschi” and pour her heart out. The hallmark of homesickness is the desire to be held by your mama. The name “Putschi” I have only been able to discern is a term of endearment for their mother. I have asked many people if they know a German meaning - so far nothing. That leads me to believe it is obscure enough or borne out of a type of intimate connection, the sweetness of an inside joke. Opa and his sister were with their mother for a while by themselves, enduring some economic and cultural hardships. They must have been a tightly knit group. Pet names for each other is just a sign of this family closeness.  

Patti wants to know what Opa thinks about how frank she is being about missing her family and her brother. She wants him to tell her honestly, and take her seriously even if she is being “sentimental.” I wonder if Opa read this letter with his own heart heavy with homesickness, or if he was too shell-shocked by his new environment to take it all in. Did he feel the softness of his si
ster, and the sorrow of their separation? Was he surprised by it? 

I love Patti’s tender care for her mother- while thinking of being held and comforted by her, she protectively defends her and tells Opa to write to her and not to neglect her. I imagine Patti had a sense of Ella’s loneliness - and knew that Opa may not be so in tune to that.

I love this letter. To me it is a letter expressing grief. Loss of childhood, family, closeness, security. It is achingly hopeful... promises of future letters, confessions of love and memories, encouragement for the times to come. How cathartic would it be to write our feelings to our family in those moments of clarity? When we know that the past is gone and the future is changed.

One of my favorite theologians is Julian of Norwich. She is famous for her refrain: “all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” I have a bracelet that has this quote inscribed on it and often put it on when I have a challenging day ahead of me. Maybe August’s and Patti’s refrain “we will be reunited and everything will be beautiful” carried some comfort for Opa in unsure times of homesickness for a home that was no longer.