At age 18, Tom Doeppner was smuggled out of Nazi Germany. He was 26 before he saw anyone in his family again.
Tom was my Grandfather, “Opa.” Cleaning out my Grandmother’s desk ten years ago, I found a small box where Opa had kept letters from his family, written as early as 1938.
When I opened that box, I found a story that I never knew.
This blog tells the story of what happened to Tom and his family in that decade of separation.
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
January 1,1940: The Machine
Original Letter from Ella to Tom
Translation by Rose
Nr. 8 (letter number 8)
My beloved henschenboy,
When your card arrived, my heart started to beat faster for joy. Henschen-child if only that would be possible. Tomorrow I should be able to send the certificates (reports or references). I have to have them photocopied first, which because of the holidays cannot be done earlier.
Today is New Year, and I send my boy the very very best wishes. Lots of happiness (or luck) my beloved little one, for your work and for your life. And that all people are united again, and that we all, who belong together, can be united. I wonder if the New Year will be able to accomplish that.
Yesterday I celebrated New Year’s Eve with all of you. Nothing and nobody disturbed me, all my thinking and feelings were with you. I have a little cold and am lying in my bed, so I could be all alone with you. So now it is very harmonious (Perhaps cozy is a better word) here. I placed my bedding on the couch, in front of me stands a small table with books, telephone and a potted Good-Luck Clover plant, brought to me by Emmi S. and beside that one more table with food-and since I received a package from Papa for Christmas, many good things are on it. On the piano are flowers, all the flowers I have, stand there, so I can enjoy them.
Yesterday I had a visitor, Emmi S. and her sister, Egon and Julian Schaefer, Lizzie, Grete Sumpf, luckily they did not all come together, but one after the other. Heini has an excellent report card, except for Gym. Writing and music all Ones (which means all A) then a Two in German (means B I guess) He wanted to come and see me, but because he is a bit delicate, he was not allowed to come along.
Henschen-boy what is that funny (strange) thing there that the freshmen are despised? And how does that contempt show? Do you (meaning everybody there) believe you are doing something good for those young souls? And all the Mamas will also be sad when their henschen-children are being tortured. One should meet them nicely and offering friendship. One year more surely is not much more of a merit. And contempt isn't something that should exist between humans at all. I tend to believe that it is more in a joking manner, but please write to me about this funny (odd) custom. And always write again about your work.
Often I see you sitting at your desk, with a view from the window over large wheat fields, and there is my boy working joyfully an everybody is nice to you. Then I will stand beside him and stroke his dear head, and kiss my beloved child. So often I do that in my thinking, when can I finally do it in realty?
Henschen-child I know you are doing everything to help me!!!!!!!!
It would be a terrible shame to discontinue French. Naturally the technical studies come first, and you should not overexert yourself, but if at all possible continue your French.
Let me be present when you have your discussion evenings, write vividly about it, as you have done before.
I have a terribly high number 76204 a. No, I did not apply earlier, because I thought I could go to Pattilein. (This is an endearment for Patti, usually used by mothers) By the way, Hanna is in a Quaker school in Philadelphia, or near to it. Perhaps you could write to her
Just now Annchen was here for a short time (Sprung actually means jump, so just dropping in).
She says to tell you hello and will write to you soon.
Many many little kisses, my beloved child
"The time is near when a machine will go into motion which is going to prepare a grave for the world's criminal - Judah - from which there will be no resurrection."
A Sample of the Nazi propaganda publication: Der Sturmer
This quote was found in a Nazi newspaper, Der Stürmer (translated: The Stormer or The Attacker), published by Julius Streicher in January of 1940. The words are chilling to the soul. A machine... to prepare a grave for Judah... from which there will be no resurrection. What’s even more frightening is that as students of history, we know how close the machine came to success.
When I first read this letter and reflected on it, it was holy week, the week leading up to Easter. As a Christian, the week we call “holy week” is one of deep importance in our faith. We reflect on the life and ministry of Jesus. We talk about his death and celebrate his resurrection. This quote .. with the words grave and resurrection so ominously placed... and yet- complacently placed - as a machine would do the work... it strikes me in this holy time of my faith. It plays on the dangerous idea that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, this idea that pervaded churches for a long time (and still does exist in some churches).
As I am alive today- and as history has told its tale... the machine broke. The grave opened its foul mouth but failed to swallow the whole of Judah. There is resurrection. There is hope. Love wins, but this time- it was at a price.
Ella’s first letter in the new year is marked with hope and love. The beginning of her letter alludes to a possible way for Ella to join Opa in America. She tells him about how she spent her New Years alone, surrounded by the memories and visions of her family. How achingly lonely and beautiful. She was lying down with a cold, thinking of nothing but her family. Ella surrounded herself with beautiful things from supportive friends who visited with gifts: clover plant, food, and flowers.
I love that amidst the burden of persecution and insecurity, Ella is completely concerned by what was sure to be a little joke by Opa about the despised freshmen. I would imagine her hope and fear rest on how the rest of the world is turning. If her son is being treated well, then that would be consolation for her suffering, hope. She even paints a picture of her ideal: Opa studying at his desk with the Kansas wheat fields for a view.
Ella returns back to planning her exit, hoping to join her son and stroke his hair. She keeps hoping. Meanwhile, the machine is ignited.