Friday, July 31, 2015

December 22, 1939: P.S.

Original Letter From August and Emma to Tom

Translated by Rose

Amstelveen, Dec.22, 1939

Tall Guy,
Patti just wrote to me that the x-ray did not show anything bad so she is well. I was a bit worried about it and angry at myself that I wrote to you first about it. But perhaps these two letters will arrive together.
Your letter No.2 is still not here. Possibly the letters by boat are being held up in England due to censorship.
An acquaintance in Germany wrote me that letters sent by boat from America to Germany never arrive. I don’t really believe that, but it is not out of the question. I would advise that your mail to Mama, if not sent by Clipper (air), to be routed over me. It could really be true, that England does not allow American mail to go through, even if not officially.
Do you have a Christmas tree in college? Do you care about that? As for me I would not want to be without one. There is so much attached to it, Childhood, Bach music, Germany’s snowy landscapes and the longing beyond all times and ages.
Patti was also very happy about your letters.

Greetings from Amstelveen,


Heart felt greetings for Christmas. Earlier I went ice skating with Bob on the “Emma”.

August writes another letter the day after the last one. It’s to tell Opa of the good news that Patti’s x-rays were clear and all is well. August then talks a little about the censors and sort of mail tricks for getting letters back and forth more efficiently. It seems mail by air was better- which makes sense. I’m getting a sense for what it is like to send mail - snail mail- back and forth. I sent three letters overseas, two to Berlin and one to Australia. All were addressed to people who were in some way connected with Opa. And so I had to wait. Each day I checked the mail- hoping. I didn’t know if the letters arrived, if they were readable, if they had been sent back. I knew nothing- all I could do is wait and hope for a response. It’s fun and frustrating at the same time. (I did get a response- and Gisela is one of the folks I got connected with through those letters. Now we have her letters that she got from Opa... so snail mail works for me.)

Christmas time is very close, and August asks Opa about having a Christmas tree. He talks about the memories that Christmas trees evoke in him: “childhood, Bach music, Germany’s snowy landscapes and the longing beyond all times and ages.” I wonder what August meant by that last part. Maybe it's just the general nostalgia that ofte
n happens around the holidays.

Emma writes a short note about going ice skating with Bob on the “Emma.”  I’m thinking she and the dog did a little slipping and sliding on their walk. They lived on a street called Emmakade. Kind of a funny image. The fact that she said on the “Emma” (quotes and all)- leads me to believe there was a little bit of an inside joke going here. This adds a little light to the relationship between her and my Opa, which is nice. I still can’t get over the name. Bob. I’m going to name my next dog Joe.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

December 21, 1939: Daydreaming

Original Letter from August to Opa

Translated by Rose

21 December 1939.  August to Tom from Amstelveen. 

My dear boy,
Your letter No.3 arrived it took 13 days No.2 is not here yet. In the opposite direction the Clipper transport does not work so well, otherwise you should have my other letters by now. Perhaps the postal service here does not understand, but Emma’s letter marked Via Lisbon should have gone all right. Compare all of them and inform me of the times. Your letters give me great joy, Tom.
Also because they report about good things.
My suspicion that a new generation is growing up there which does not fit the typical European idea of the “Americans” seems to be correct. The objection that is so only in certain circles does not mean a lot, because also in Europe only a percentage is willing to tackle intellectual matters. I believe it is very good that you are starting in a small college. What is the background(family, education) of the boys there?

How is the job going? I am always asking about that, because I know how hard it is, and because I worry, you inherited from me the urge to dream and play. It can be overcome, which I did not accomplish often, over a book or daydreams, I have often neglected things which were important at that moment.
Against that only a solid schedule and energy to carry it out will help. But you have a great plus, you are healthy, I was not.

Are you over your change-of-climate illness by now?

Patti is not feeling well. For the last 3 weeks she had a raised temperature, always has a cold and feels tired. She will be x-rayed. I hope there are only disturbances of inner secretions, as Mama had once with the same symptoms. Do not write to Mama about this. As soon as I get the x-ray report, I will write to you immediately. I also believe that now she really feels alone. Sadly enough I do not have any possibility to bring her here.
How are you doing in your area? How do you like the girls there? Can’t you enlist one to teach you the English language and good speech?  

What are you doing to push through your resident permit? Do you see any chance to do something for Mama? At first maybe just some kind of affidavit. Even if at this moment it would be of no use, it would give her the feeling that her boy is doing something for her. That perhaps some institution would request her as a SPEC (I am not sure what that means, maybe it had something to do with her occupation), must now be impossible.

Over the German Jews now lurks the horrible possibility to be taken to the Polish Reservat, in realty a large concentration camp. For that reason Emma is also very worried about her people.

In your letters to me make sure you put everything that should not go to Germany in postscriptum like Nazi-friendliness and notes to Emma. Then I can cut that off before I send your letter to Mama. In your last letter I had to xxx over the word democratic.

Anneken wrote to me, I should send you some money for Christmas. So buy yourself something from her and me and put in on my bill.

We will have a tree and on Christmas Eve talk about you to make your ears ring.

The other day Emma asked Bob (the dog) “where is Thomas?”. He went to the garden gate and his ears stood up. And when is Thomas really coming back???

Could you take a photo of yourself and some of the other boys with 2 additional copies and send them across the big water?

Good greetings , long one, also from Emma.


I have to thank August for giving me a little insight into what he and Opa must have talked about, or at least what their letters discussed. August alludes to something Opa wrote by mentioning that the new generation of Americans are not what Europeans expect. I’m guessing that this is a response to Opa’s first observations of Americans. In his letter to Gisela, he wasn't overly impressed with Americans. In fact, he thought they were kind of dim. As an older adult, Opa had a very positive outlook on Americans- in his memoirs he spoke about learning new things about Americans that he did not expect: students working through college (Phil Myers in the ice truck), and the co-ed environment of college (which he enjoyed). But this is all retrospect- written from a relaxed and comfortable view. What were Opa’s first impressions of America? 

I am reading “An American Quaker Inside Nazi Germany,” a book by a Leonard S. Kenworthy, who traveled to Berlin to work with the Quakers for a year, starting in 1940. Kenworthy talked about the importance of journaling your first impressions as soon as you arrive in a foreign place: “I learned that it pays to jot down notes about a new locality in the first few days of a visit. Otherwise those early impressions are lost as differences seem to disappear and the uncommon becomes the common.” I wish so much I could have read more of Opa’s first impressions. We are lucky that we have his letter to Gisela, which I think are his most honest and non-censored letters.

So the Americans- August alludes to only a certain percentage in Europe that are willing to tackle intellectual matters as sort of an excuse or justification for what seems like a similar opinion of Americans and their intellectual p
ursuit.  I have to take some of this with a grain of salt, and a dose of self-awareness. I believe that the Doeppner gene has a hint of intellectual snobbery. There, I said it. Tackling intellectual matters is something I really enjoy doing. And so do many folks in my family- at varying levels and in varying subject areas. But ultimately, there is an understanding (at least that I recognize) that if you refuse to tackle any at all- if you are content just as you are without struggling with the deeper, darker questions, or harder problems, then you are somehow less.... not working your noggin hard enough. I confess- I have this as a foundational prejudice ingrained in me. I can get around it- but it’s my knee-jerk reaction. I wonder if the optimism and down-home feel of some of these farming Kansas folk really caught Opa’s intellectual spirit off-guard.

Maybe this is what August warned of- that daydreaming part of him that he knew Opa inherited, but hoped he could beat. I understand this. That part of us that enjoys the spinning mind, thinking about things that may not have immediate importance, but has a global focus and huge ethical importance (to us). I daydream- and it gets me into trouble. I struggle to live in the present sometimes because my mind is so consumed with larger thoughts of world struggles that are really
beyond my capacity to influence any difference. But I like to try. I think the world needs all of us- the daydreamers and the needle-threaders. All daydreamers need to learn a thing or two about work, and workers need a lesson in dreaming.  

I think my Dad also has this ability to daydream. When he was looking at colleges, he says his choices came down to journalism and the Air Force Academy. While he was interested in journalism, I think my Dad was convinced by the solid promise of a military career as an officer with earning potential and free tuition offered by Uncle Sam. How can I blame him? I went the daydreaming route, got my undergraduate in Philosophy,
Masters in Divinity, and by economy’s standards- I don't have huge earning potential. In a perfect world we would find a way to both create (daydream) and produce (work).

I went off on that track a while.... sorry.  Back to the letter. August spills the beans on Patti’s illness, probably worried and finding solace in sharing his worries with Opa. I think it’s kind of perfectly family-like that they decide to keep it from Ella. It's cheeky, but they know E
lla worries so much already.

The part where August asks if Opa has any girl that can teach him English. SUCH a male Doeppner thing to say. Trust me on this one. It’s like the humor got passed down with a box of witticisms for practice. I had to check to make sure my Dad didn't write it in somehow.
Eerie how similar the humor is.

August then turns to a more serious topic: Ella’s escape from Berlin. August has given up any hope that he can bring her to Holland, I’m not sure why- perhaps it’s more about the relationship with Emma than ability. I feel like that wouldn’t stand in the way if it was the only thing though... He encourages Opa to try to get the affidavit- even if only to give Ella hope. August alludes to the concentration camp, although even he won’t know exactly what goes on there. He calls it the Polish Reservat- is that Auschwitz? The fact that August already hears rum
ors and has a pretty good idea of what that place really is- is scary and interesting. So many people chose to ignore the evidence.

Then August mentions how they must be careful what they write because of the Nazi censors. Which reminds me- we have found the censor stamps (if you look at some of the letters, you will see red stamps with numbers on them). These are basically Nazi censors who opened and read every letter sent back and forth. Wild. So each “approved” page was stamped. I’m trying to dig up some more information on these censors and stamps so I can do a little spotlight on it, or let Jason do one. If you have any information about these red squared number stamps- please comment and let me know. Resources are greatly appreciated! Jason and I are reading a few books to continue our research of this time and we welcome suggestions from others who have found good resources.

SO even Bob, the dog (how hilarious is that name?!), is looking for Opa’s eventual return.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

December 19, 1939: Always a Mother

Original Letter from Ella to Opa

Translated by Rose:

Berlin, Dec. 19th, 1939

My very beloved boy,

So far away are you and I am longing for you so terribly. Hilde W. visited on Sunday, I think your ears must have been ringing, as much as we talked about you. She read to me from a letter from the Young Friends in Holland, in which they all said they were sorry that you were not with them anymore.
They had actually expected to hear from you and wrote that Tom has so many new things and did not think of his old friends. But surely they know that you are a true friend and will remain one.
In the meantime you have probably written to them and all your Berliner friends. I also have not heard from you since the first letter. I sent that letter to Papa and Patti and am waiting impatiently to have it returned to me. Papa did not send me your letter.
Lilli Pollatz wrote also, how happy they were that you spent your last evening with them as well as the first. I am so glad that everybody likes you and hope that it is that way where you are now.
I am awaiting your next letter longingly.
Henschenkind, I already asked you to keep a daily log and send me every word of it, about your work, your thinking, about your inner and outer life. I want to at least live with you that way, even though it cannot be done in person.
In the meantime you should have heard from Ellenruth, and with her together try very hard so I can come to be with all of you.
Patti sent a contented note, also sent some nice pictures.
I saw pictures of you, which Hilde had. They were taken on Isa’s (I think) roof. In one of them you are singing with a lovely young girl. Why don’t I have these pictures?
I would really love to have some pictures of your new home, the college, your room, your friends and of course especially of you, my boy.
I will write more in detail during the Christmas holidays.
Today I kiss my child very very very very very much.
Your Mama

A note from the translator: The last sentence ending: mein Kind ganz doll, is Berlin slang "doll" which stands for very very much, it has nothing to do with a toy doll.

As I read this letter, I couldn’t help but think: Ella really was first and foremost a Mother wasn’t she? And I mean this in the way that we all mean it when our mothers are making us a little crazy with their guilt trips. 

My Grandmother, who you will learn about later in this blog (she’s the Marjorie of Tom and Marjorie), was an expert at guilt trips. You would think she and Ella were blood related. When I would call Grandmother to tell her I planned to come by, she would say “Oh I know you are so busy, I hate to bother you!” Basically assuming that every time I came by was an inconvenience to me. I got used to it eventually, understanding that her guilt trips were from years of parenting practice and from a genuine desire not to impose on me (she harbored an unfair amount of self-guilt over feeling she was burdensome on others). But my parents and I laughed about it when I would give them updates on how she was doing. She was so politely guilt-trippy. It was an art form.

So here we have Ella, whom I have developed a deep admiration and connection with - if only through letters and my imagination of what she was like. But letters like this remind me that above all else, she was my Opa’s mother- and just as crazy as the rest of us mothers. (I have a theory that all women become insane the moment they have children- it’s a rampant disease.)

It actually made me laugh and warmed my heart. She misses her son so very much, and it doesn’t stop her from this amazing guilt trip:

“They had actually expected to hear from you and wrote that Tom has so many new things and did not think of his old friends. But surely they know that you are a true friend and will remain one. In the meantime you have probably written to them and all your Berliner friends.”

Hahahahaha! The next best thing is she follows this paragraph with:

“I also have not heard from you since the first letter.”

Ella just puts it out there- plain and simple. He knows what she meant. There’s a bit of energy in this letter, Ella is up to her mothering standards: loving him, chastising him, and asking for pictures and details. I love it.

And though I hope Opa saw the love in it, I’m sure he wondered how he was supposed to write every friend and relative while keeping a detailed diary, making new friends, excelling in school work, and mastering the English language. He also had to earn a living. He couldn’t depend on financial help from home, so he worked several jobs in order to pay rent, buy groceries stamps. I wonder if any of Opa’s letters to Ella said: “MAMA! I’m busy!” I would bet they didn’t- because as much as he may have thought these things, surely he always remembered that she loved and missed him.

It seems natural, when you are a part of someone’s everyday life and suddenly are stripped from all the details that you took for granted, you hunger for the minutia. You no longer know what time they left for school that morning, what they had for lunch, who they hung out with in the afternoon, what they talked about in the family room. You don’t know what they wear, what they smell like, did they brush their teeth? You go from an abundance of details that make up the bigger picture of our daily lives, to only the highlights- if even that. You miss the nuances that you’ve trained yourself to notice. You can’t ask the right questions based on the moods. Communication is relegated to the hall of fame of your month, and misses the casual conversation around the dinner table. 

I think the details are why I get homesick for my family. The little jokes and funny expressions that don’t happen over the phone or a letter. What’s worse is that you get used to it. You get used to missing that person from your life. You get used to not knowing. And that is something that Mama Ella wasn’t ready to accept. She wanted details, she wanted to know Opa’s inner thoughts and the names of his friends. She wasn’t ready to let go just yet. She yearned to join him.

Always there is the hint of the background noise that is Nazi Germany... Ella asks Opa to work with Ellen Ruth “very hard” so that she can join them in the US.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

December 19 & 29, 1939: I Said IF

Letter from Charlotte Salmon to Tom Doeppner (Opa)


Dear Thomas Doeppner:

It was very thoughtful of you to write such an appreciative letter to let us know how you are, and what you are doing. Those of us here in Philadelphia who have known about you take a much greater personal interest in you than you would imagine. One of the joys of this kind of job is seeing our new friends make good in this country, and when a happy letter comes in from any one of "our" students in college throughout the United States it is an exciting day in the office. 

I enclose some information on the subject of non-quota visas. There has been some question as to whether a high school teacher would be eligible for the special professorial visa. However, it is so difficult for a teacher who has not had a wide reputation in European universities to get a position here before arriving in the country, that I don't know whether one could get a non-quota visa or not.

Please let us know when she thinks she will be able to come to the United States under the quota. If it is not too long to wait that would be much easier than trying to get a non-quota visa. I know you are eager to help her leave as soon as possible. However, the waiting period is not so long now.

In regard to the affidavit it need not be given by a relative if it can be strongly proven that the affiant is particularly interested and sure to stand by his pledge. An affidavit must be strong if it is not given by a relative. I will refer your request to the staff member here who handles affidavits and will ask her to get in touch with you.

Wherever you are for the Christmas holidays, I hope that your new friends will make you feel at home and that you will have such a happy vacation that you won't have time to be homesick. With best wishes for the New Year.

Sincerely yours,
Charlotte S. Salmon
Placement Worker

Letter from Annaliese Thieman to Tom Doeppner (Opa)


Dear Mr. Doeppner:

Charlotte Salmon gave me your letter of December 15th with regard to the questions you have about the immigration of your mother. The most important thing for us to know before we can decide if we can be of assistance to your mother is the date of her registration with the American Consul. She would not be eligible for a non-quota visa, unless she has taught on some university faculty during the past two years- uninterruptedly. High schools in general employ only citizens and if the refugee is not so outstanding in his or her line of teaching, there is very little hope for finding a place.

Affidavits are preferable from relatives. The Consul puts much more importance on an affidavit from relatives, even though the financial backing may be much smaller than another one given by a friend because he apparently feels that blood ties are generally more reliable than friendship ties. However, if friends of yours are giving not only a good affidavit - which means with financial backing - but also writing letters to the Consul that they are genuinely interested in helping your mother and feel a strong responsibility in doing so, the Consul might be satisfied.

For your own interest I am enclosing some mimeographed material about affidavits. It is difficult to say what amount an affidavit must be because the different consuls have different opinions about this point, but the more money the better it is. If you know of someone who would not be able to give a strong affidavit, you perhaps could find several people who would be willing to give affidavits, which in itself would not be strong enough but together may be considered by the Consul.

There is nothing else which you can do to get your mother into the United States of America as soon as possible. The most important thing is her registration date. Also if and when she is able to come, somebody in this country would have to take care of the passage money, as the passage is to be paid in dollars as you may know.

As soon as you write us in more detail about your mother's situation, we probably will know better if and how we can be of assistance to her. Also write us her address, so that if necessary our representatives in Berlin can go to see her.

Sincerely yours,
Annaliese Thieman
Case Worker

If you look back at the letters from Ella to Opa, she wrote a letter on December 19th saying that she hadn’t heard from him and was longing for word. Little did she know that he was not only writing to her but also writing on behalf of her. Mail in and out of Germany was being monitored and delayed, which probably aggravated Opa to no end.

In the USA, mail was running smoothly, so Opa was able to correspond easily with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and get a quick response. Opa’s original letter received two initial responses: the first letter which acknowledged his request and thanked him for sharing his heart-warming happiness, and the second letter was from a person who began working on the case for Ella’s immigration. 

These two letters are kind of like night and day. They were sent 10 days apart and likely received about that far apart. After the first letter I would have felt quite optimistic. Then comes the second letter. It’s kind of a Debbie downer. Something that becomes clear from that letter is that Ella’s date of registration (and number I guess) is extremely important. If you remember from my last blog, the date of registration and her number were essentially her place in line to get out of the country. The “quota” we have been talking about was a set number of folks who were allowed to immigrate into the USA from a certain country. Your registration number indicated where you were in the line of people attempting to gain entrance to the US.

The first letter, from Charlotte Salmon, opens a window into the thankless job of the AFSC social workers. They were so encouraged by any positive report, that a happy letter makes for an exciting day for the whole office. I have been a part of projects that seem daunting, but never have I had a job or a position in which my work everyday is to pick at a giant brick wall with a tiny tweezer and hope that something is making a difference. That is how I imagine the work of any social worker is, and in this case, the ones who worked to help German refugees enter the USA safely. The system was not set up to make it easy, so when they had success and the person was happy - that had to have been exceedingly heart-warming. This warmth was infused throughout Charlotte’s letter. Charlotte seemed to be flying on this happy cloud that was a success story of a German Jew saved. She wished Opa a happy Christmas and New Year, sent him some affidavit information and was encouraging the whole way.

The next letter, from Annaliese Thieman, is a little more business-like. It isn’t negative, but it isn’t bubbly either. Annaliese’s second statement is a little unsettling: “The most important thing for us to know before we can decide IF we can be of assistance to your mother is the date of her registration with the American Consul.” The all-caps for “IF” is mine, but seriously, all I could hear was the evil stepmother from Cinderella: “IF you finish your chores… you can go to the ball.” 

Well, shoot. It seems like everything hangs on this minor detail. That seems very tenuous. She pretty solidly shoots down the non-quota visa idea, so that it is clear that everything really does hang on the registration number/date. Non-quota means Ella would get to skip to the front of the line and try to enter the USA based on her professional expertise, but it seems a High School teacher wasn’t what this type of visa was reserved for. Then Annaliese pretty much tells Opa it would be preferable if he could create some family out of thin air, because family affidavits are better. But, in case he can’t- she says: get as much support and as much money as you can. That will only increase your chances.
“There is nothing else which you can do to get your mother into the United States of America as soon as possible. The most important thing is her registration date…”

So now Opa gets to wait for the wonky mail to work with Nazi censors and militarized waters. Because the most important thing is finding out: What is Ella’s registration date?

Monday, July 27, 2015

December 16, 1939: Good Announcement

Article in Gospel Messenger, A Publication by the Church of the Brethren

(in the top right column, second paragraph down, there is a blurb about Opa coming to McPherson College)

The Gospel Messenger - December 16, 1939

Recently there has come to our camps Thomas Daeppner, a German refugee student. Mr. Daeppner is a sophomore, a non-Aryan, and is supported on our campus by other students and groups from the city of McPherson.

Opa's arrival is mentioned in this little blurb in the Gospel Messenger, a publication by the Church of the Brethren. McPherson College was built by the Church of the Brethren, which is why Opa was asked to promise not to drink, smoke, or dance. ha. 

I love how invested the community has been in Opa. They may have spelled his last name wrong and awkwardly called him non-Aryan, but all-in-all, these are really good people.