Monday, July 20, 2015

December 3, 1939: Calm and Happy Now

Original Letter from Ella to Tom, with side notes from family

Translation by Rose:

Berlin, Dec. 3 1939

My very much loved henschenboy,

Finally today came your, with great longing, awaited letter. I am calm and happy now, that I know that you feel so well.

Surely you will work well and accomplish something of competence in your new surroundings. Write quickly if you have taken steps to extend your residence permit, so you can at least finish your studies. Thank you for the dear and nice report my henschenboy.

Why didn’t you look up Hanna in New York? She would have been so happy! More likely she would have shown you different things of the city than Gerd. Too bad, but we cannot change that now.

I just read your letter to Annchen, then sent it to Papa, who has to send it back to me. I suppose you have written to Papa before, and think that I will receive it from him in the next days.

As I read your letter I could imagine it all, and in my thoughts I will probably sit in that room and watch my beloved child.
Henschenboy, Today I had a lovely day. A friend of Erna’s is staying with me for a few days, he took me to a wonderful concert, Haendel, Mendelsohn and Bizet, it was a pleasure I have done so long without. I was especially receptive with the happy heart that your letter had given me.

I am so grateful for your luck, my boy. Please write to me often and always give many details. Also report about your comrades and inform me about your work (small details etc.) 

That you can jump-over (That means to skip one year) is great, and that you can organize your work schedule so varied (many choices, I guess), pleases me. It especially pleases me, that in addition to your special studies, you take literature.

I am impatiently waiting for more reports. I will call up Wohlrabe (Willy Wohlrabe was the leader of the Quaker youth group...may be talking about his wife) and tell her about your letter. I am sure you will write to the Quakers yourself!

Henschenboy, this is the 4th letter I am sending to you, I always number them. Did you not have one from me by Nov.22? Please confirm my letters.

Say hello to your comrades from me, I am happy that you like them.

I kiss you, my beloved child

Your Mama

Side notes:

We just heard about your good news and wish you the best of all. 
Hearty greeting from all of us,
Aunt Martha (maybe Ella's aunt)

Annchen (Opa's aunt/August's sister) and Stiers (Opa's aunt and uncle, Ella's sister and brother-in-law) send greeting.

Did I write to you that Ellenruth (Opa's cousin, Stier's daughter) and her husband will leave from Oslo to New York on Dec.13th?

One more kiss, my henschenboy,
Did you receive the german textbooks when still at Papa’s? 
(Sundermeier and another name I cannot read)

I’ve heard some sermons make note of how many times a certain word is repeated in the scriptures in order to highlight the big picture- the point of it all.  If I could do that with this letter it would be: calm, happy.  Relief...  Opa’s mother experiences days in the clouds in response to her son’s detailed letter.  It must have been satisfactorily detailed, or she probably would have let him know.  

She was calm, happy, able even to enjoy the concert that she went to with some male friend (ooh lah lah? I doubt it). She doesn’t even have
as much time to advise and chastise - it’s mostly- say hello, write to these, these say hello to you, I’m so HAPPY! Oh- of course she does sort of chastise him for not visiting with Hanna, apparently Mama’s choice over Gerd. Sometimes I wonder if some of the stereotypes of the Jewish mother are in fact, a bit more true than not.  

I am digging deeper into the research, and finding out wonderful and awful things. I learn more and more about what was going on in the world around them at the time of these letters... astonished at the grand scale of things. On December 3rd, Russia was invading Finland
; England was declaring war on Germany; and bombs were being dropped. Some days I feel just- shadowed- by the enormity of this big bulky evil that slowly creeps into every village, town, city, country. War is rising. I read these letters knowing too much - wincing when Ella writes that she hopes that Opa can extend his visa at least until he finishes school- in full anticipation that he will return “home” after. We know that Berlin was not the same after the war. We know that any version of “home” will be impossible to return to in a war-torn Germany.  

But Ella doesn’t know the big picture, she can’t see the details of the monster creeping. Ella enjoys the concert. Ella enjoys her son’s letter. Ella enjoys the company of her friends. She enjoys the small victories of Opa being able to “skip a grade.” She enjoys the details that his letter gave her- a space filling her mind where she can imagine her son thriving, learning, being safe and well.

I think there is something to note here. There is a time to look at the big picture. There is also a time to feel the small joys. We should not prevent ourselves from joy for the sake of the larger darkness. Just a small light pierces the darkness... and even though Ella is largely unaware of the extent to which the darkness is creeping, she still fights off anxiety and loneliness at least long enough to enjoy her moment of calm, happy. Maybe we should allow ourselves a moment to shut out the big picture and enjoy the small moment. Otherwise, we will have no light to shine in the dark. And ulti
mately, all these little sparks of light together can change the darkness and win.


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  2. Thank you for this feedback! I just brainstormed some ways that we can include more images that are more interactive and contextualize the letters in their current events. Any time we have images from our own personal resources, we include them- but I can see the value in finding some outside images or video. Thanks!


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