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.

1 comment:

  1. I was in Grenoble this summer! I wonder if I walked the same streets and went the same places as Patti?!


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