Monday, July 27, 2015

December 15, 1939: Opa on Behalf of Ella

Original Letter from Opa (Tom) to AFSC Agent Miss Salmon


Dear Miss Salmon,

As you have helped me so much in entering this country, I ask your advice about another problem. After some difficulties, of what nature I do not know, my mother has succeeded in getting her registration number for emigration to USA. I do not know the number, but I shall send it to you as soon as I receive it. 

Since my mother is a teacher in French, English, German, Jewish religion, and literature for High Schools, as well as calculus, zoology, botany, and geography added to these for Elementary schools, I wonder if there would be any possibility of securing a non-quota visa for her. What are the conditions for getting a non-quota visa? 

If it is not possible to start at that point, she will have to have an affidavit. Must the affidavit be given from relatives, or is a friendship affidavit sufficient? (I hope it is the latter, as we have not relations in America.) What amount must the affidavit be? What else is to be done for getting her into USA as soon as possible? Is there anything I shall be able to do? You know that my father is in Amsterdam, my sister is studying in France, so she is quite alone in Berlin and is longing very much to be reunited with at least one of us. She was born is Guestrow, Germany, August 4th, 1889; you will get all other data very soon.

I am getting along quite well here. I like country, people, and school very much and am really thankful to everyone who has made it possible for me to be here. - I have to make up quite a bit in some courses, so that I wonder if I shall have caught up everything until the end of semester, that Christmas vacation will be a very good time to study. I also enjoy the social life very much, we have many opportunities to see plays, hear concerts or recitals or other programs. -Finances are no longer a problem, I got some work in the college library, which makes me enough money for my small expenses. 

I'm looking forward to your opinion concerning my mother and remain with my very best regards,

Sincerely Yours,

Thomas Doeppner

Opa wrote a letter on November 23rd to let the folks at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) that he had arrived nearly a week before and was happy to be there and grateful for their help. This letter is dated December 15th. So about 3 weeks after arriving to his new school, he was inquiring with the AFSC to see if there was anything they could do for his mother. That’s a good henschenboy.
This letter has a lot of immigration-speak, lingo that I was completely ignorant of until I started doing research into this project, especially recently. With these detailed files, we are now able to better see the intimate details that goes with the immigration process in this time.

I’m going to walk through the letter and see if I can clear a few things up in terms of the immigration lingo. The letter that Opa writes is with his understanding of how the immigration process worked for him. Keep in mind that I am not an expert on this stuff, I’m just a few articles, books and google searches beyond the average person. But you’d be surprised how much you can learn with a little research!

In the beginning, Opa talks about his mother securing a registration number for immigration to the USA. As I understand it, this is her number telling her where she is in line for a regular "pass" to the USA. He doesn’t know the number yet, just that she has registered successfully (which sounds like it wasn’t easy). The immigration policy of the day had a certain “quota” for each country. Simply put, only so many folks from each country were allowed in on a yearly basis. This number fluctuated from country to country. So Ella got her number in the line of folks who were waiting to be processed for immigration to the US, all within a quota limit. It is understood that not every applicant succeeds in navigating this process. So it isn’t as simple as calling your number at the DMV, getting the paper filed and getting on a boat to America. The process takes time and has a lot of red tape. The first step was getting your number in line like Ella did.

This is why Opa asks his next question: does Ella qualify for a non-quota visa? A non-quota visa is basically a visa that is not confined by her position in line or the number of Germans allowed into the US that year. This is sort of the “advance to Go” visa for people who have special expertise, professions, etc. They do not have to wait for their number to be called, or worry about quotas being filled, or pass through as many layers of red tape as the quota visa folks.

Opa lists Ella’s qualifications as a teacher and inquires into the possibility of her obtaining a non-quota visa. If you look at what she can teach- it’s kind of amazing: French, English, German, Jewish religion, and Literature for High School students. Then add to that Calculus, Zoology, Botany, and Geography for Elementary students. Those are some smart kids. My husband Jason read this letter and said incredulously: “Botany?? Zoology?? Calculus??? Elementary school?? Who teaches this in Elementary school?!” Apparently the Germans do.

***Editor's note... My lovely relative, Helene, Patti's daughter, informed me of a few things: 1) Calculus was not taught to young Germans. This is likely Opa's error in his learning of English. The German word "calculs" is simply: calculations. This makes more sense. Also- Ella taught comparative religion, not just Jewish religion. I'm not sure why Opa felt the need to single out the Jewish religion part.***

Nonetheless, Ella’s teaching skills are impressive. Is it enough for a non-quota visa?

You can tell that Opa is not completely sure that is a possibility, because he then gets back to the business of fulfilling the criteria for a regular quota-confined visa. 

He mentions securing an affidavit. An affidavit is a sworn statement (typically a notarized document). In the case of the immigration process, this affidavit is a statement of support and sponsorship by someone (or multiple someones). For a plethora of reasons, the financial independence of an incoming immigrant was very important to the US government. Interpretation of what dictates financial independence shifted as the economic and political climate shifted. 

Ella needed to prove that she would not be a financial burden to the US government. This is where the affidavit comes in. The person signing the affidavit essentially takes financial responsibility for the immigrant. Affidavits given from relatives were probably the easiest to obtain and most dependable when it came to folks who were joining their family in the US. Opa was not aware of any family in the US, so he hoped that an affidavit from a friend would be sufficient. He also had no idea how much financial backing needed to be provided. Opa’s entry into the US was a completely different route as a student, so this part of the process was new to him.

Opa gives some basic information about his mother’s situation and her birthdate for the AFSC’s record. He asks if there is anything else he can do to work on getting his mother out of Germany. Then he talks about how he is doing, adjusting but enjoying his new country. He signs off with eager hope for more information on what his next step should be.

And this is how Ella’s case file is begun with the AFSC: Opa on behalf of Ella.

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