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.
Saturday, August 8, 2015
January 15, 1940: Things Falling Apart
Original Letter from Ella to Tom
Translation by Rose:
Berlin, Charlottenburg 4
January 15th, 1940
My very much beloved boy,
Still I have been without a message from you since the 14th of December, and I am worried that you still have not overcome (gotten over) the so called Climate Illness.
Today the first message from Ellenruth, an airmail postcard from New York, came, written shortly after their arrival there.
They were welcomed nicely by our cousins.
I assume, that in the meantime they have gotten in contact with you.
Rose is also in New York
205 W. 103 street
New York, N.Y.
I will send the addresses for the cousins in my next letter, also the one for Hilde Sonntag, who is married and lives in Kansas City. That seems to be not too far from you, and if you want to, you can make contact with her. She seems to have a nice circle of people there.
I believe one enjoys everything that somehow is connected to HOME! For Martha’s birthday, yesterday 14th of January came a nice letter from Kurt. He is still there, and earns what he needs to live on. He even invited us to come and see him, but that seems impossible at this time.
Henschenboy, has it been as terribly cold there as it has been here? It has been really unusually cold here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Luckily now it is a bit milder.
On Saturday Mr. W. forwarded the letter you had written to the Friends to me.Even though it contained nothing new to me, I was happy to see something DIRECTLY from my boy. Great, Henschenboy how you describe the same things for everybody individually! I returned it immediately, because the group wants to answer you.They met yesterday, and I assume they took that opportunity to write to you.
I am certain you can imagine how longingly I am waiting to hear from you. Today I trusted I would surely find something, because Ellenruth’s card arrived, but I was disappointed again. If only you were not ill in the middle of that large country, my beloved child. If only I could be with you!
I still see that cruel train driving away with you---------- simply away.
And since then I am still all alone and longing for you so terribly. (For you is in plural, she means all kids and family) But I am happy that you (all of you again) can learn something important and know that you will accomplish great competence.
Yesterday I received a nice letter from Patti. She made a nice Ski Tour, feels very well and also is happy about your good luck.
In front of me stand 3 good luckpotted plants(clover), which I received for New Years. Will they bring me good luck?
I want to be together with my children again.
Henschenboy I know you are writing to me!!!!!!!!
I kiss and caress my beloved boy
“Oh God, I’m dying.” This phrase from the finale of the musical, Godspell, is echoing in my mind, and it is haunting. For some reason, anytime I am confronted with evil, darkness, desperation- this song comes floating into my head. I take strange comfort in knowing that it was Jesus who spoke these words (maybe not these exact, but certainly as he cried out), and that he found life again.
You may be wondering who turned off all the lights in here, especially since this letter from Ella is so typical. She is asking for letters, thanking for letters, handing out addresses, hoping for health, and wishing with all of her being that she can hold her children close again. She has a sad undercurrent to her words, as she remembers his train going away- just away.
Ella sheds light on the communication that Opa is keeping with his Quaker friends, and it is nice to think of them still thinking of him.
In the midst of this regular letter, the war has kicked into higher gear. On January 12, 300 inmates of a Polish insane asylum were shot by the SS and Gestapo. Just, shot. That same day, the two guys who crashed in the plane that possibly delayed the French invasion- they were sentenced to death; one of their wives was killed during interrogations, and the General in charge of them, replaced. We start to see the monster rising. Then January 14-16th, 880 Jewish Polish prisoners of war are forced to march, and along the way, more than 600 are shot to death. Shot. Remember Ella’s mention of the bitter cold?
That is why I am hearing this: “Oh God, I’m dying.”
No one knows this is happening but the ones who are quickly silenced and the ones who are blindly, silently following. Ella still holds on to the notion that maybe one day soon she can visit, reunite, be with her children again. She wishes for luck from her potted clovers, for her children. And all around her, things are falling apart. The fabric of humanity rips, shot to pieces, and God cries out. God must have cried out. And it’s just the beginning.