Saturday, July 18, 2015

November 26, 1939: Faint Hope

Original Letter from Ella to Tom

Nov 26th 1939
Nr. 3.  (letter number 3)
My beloved Henschenchild*, 

(*this term alludes to a childhood folk song about a little boy who leaves home but later returns to his mother)
When you receive this letter, you surely have gotten used to your new life, and I think a long detailed letter is on the way to me. You cannot imagine how much I am waiting for it.  I now dream so vividly of you two, so when I wake up my longing is even greater. How beautiful it would be, if we could all be together again, and have a HOME together. Well it has to come!

I now received a number (waiting number) from the American consulate but from where can I get an affidavit? Perhaps you can do something from there. Ellen Ruth is now married and will go to Oslo on Dec.10th and from there to New York. She is leaving with a heavy heart. May she be happy there. She promised me, to immediately try to do something for me.

Yesterday I went to the Quakers. Grete Sumpf spoke about Nansen. As usual being among them one feels one is with good people. Like always my own worries seem to be small and not important, and I could see the great tasks ahead.

Henschenchild, myself I am probably too tired, but you have to give all your freshness (vigor) and strength to mankind.
There are so many people who lived their life like Nansen, you know them all (cannot read the name) and many others. First you have to learn something of competence and give to others as much as you can.

Henschenchild, it is so hard that I do not know where you are, what your people there are like, how you are doing and if they are kind (nice or good) to you. Right now I worry about you, want to be with you, hold my big boy close, love and caress him, and give him all the small loving attentions I could.

Please henschenchild, write to me often and a lot. And send the letters direct, and I will send them to Papa.

Papa is not as lonely as I. I am waiting longingly for the first letter from my boy.

I kiss you, my beloved child,

Your Mama

Ella writes her third letter, desperate for details from her son... I’m a little at a loss for words after doing the reading for this letter and some research around it.  We’re finding more information by the minute about my Grandfather’s life and surrounding friends and family in Nazi Germany. History is astounding. And it is made up of letters from mothers, estranged relationships, intimate loves, hopes, fears, secrets, blinding truth, and all the daily minutia in between. I’m just in awe of it...

The vivid dreams of Opa’s mother involved her two children, home and safe with her. She echoes the family dream: the beautiful reunion. Home.

Ella speaks about her number from the American consulate, and awaiting an affidavit. This
is the process for citizens who hoped to emigrate to America. She talks about Ellen Ruth’s promises to try to help her get the information necessary to gain entry into the safety of America. We actually know a decent amount about Ellen Ruth, and are in touch with her daughter, but that will be another post!  

Two names are mentioned in this letter: Grete Sumpf and Fridtjof Nansen. Jason will do spotlights on both of these people at some point soon. Nansen is basically a Nordic super-hero, with Arctic explorations, scientific discoveries, refugee-saving, hungry-feeding, outdoorsman without fear of politically scary situations. Seriously- you need to find out more about this man. Grete Sumpf is a Quaker woman who is a part of the Berlin group of Quakers that worked tirelessly to help the Jews and other victims of the Nazi regime. She
was brave, stubborn, and outspoken about all the wrong things for a Nazi-controlled country. She was feisty and I want to be her friend, and take comfort in the fact that she was likely a support for Ella- my great-grandmother.  

So Ella dreams of home- not a location, but a gathering of her loved ones in a safe place. She seeks comfort with the Quakers, a group that seems to provide her some of the most happy memories in these dark times. She takes comfort in imagining her son to be like Nansen- to live a full life in vigor to the building up of the human race. These words of hers echo in my mind:

Right now I worry about you, want to be with you, hold my big boy close, love and caress him, and give him all the small loving attentions I could...
Please write to me often and a lot.  And send the letters direct, and I will send them to Papa.  Papa is not as lonely as I.
I read a memoir of a woman who grew up in the shadow of Eagle’s Nest, a Nazi by default. The author is Irmgard Hunt, the book “On Hitler’s Mountain.” This book was recommended in the comments by a blog reader- so thank you again for this great suggestion! Hunt’s story is fascinating and tangible. She speaks well of the common life of a German family through the generations of breaking hardship, facing starvation, impossible inflation, and political confusion. Her specific experience is of being a little girl during the Nazi regime and juggling the emotions, indoctrination, and basic struggle to discern how to survive in a time where there is no true North to be found. This book sits in my mind as a juxtaposition against the letters I am reading from Ella.

Ella is in a radically different situation, and yet, not. She is Jewish, in imminent danger, whether she is yet aware of it or not. She is alone without her immediate family, and she lives in Berlin- the hub of politics and activity- impossible to ignor
e. But she aches. And Hunt’s family- surrounded by beautiful mountains but poverty, safely Aryan but constantly watched, and missing her father as a fallen soldier but otherwise together... they ached. And the whole country ached.

What are we capable of accepting when we ache like that? What thoughts do we entertain when hope becomes faint? What do we do when our energy fails to rise within us and we find ourselves tired, defeated, and scared?

Ella longed to caress her children, love and talk with them. A simple request that she had very
little hope of fulfilling.

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