Monday, August 10, 2015

January 20, 1940: Dangerous Seas and Politeness

Original Letter From Ella to Tom (note the red Nazi censor stamp on the bottom left)
Translation by Rose:

Berlin-Charlottenburg January 20th 1940  
Nr. 11 (Number 11)

My beloved little-one,

Just as I put this letter into the mailbox, came your letters of December 18th and December 28th and the postcard 1 from Norway. It was a great joy for me. Over and over I read them. And I showed the postcard to everybody! How wide the street is, how modern the houses, how good the road surfaces. Astonishing in such a small town.

It is wonderful Henschenboy that you are with nice people there and are invited quite often, but it upsets me that you wrote not very politely about one of those families. You can write like that to Papa and Patti, but you know that I do not like it! I am a teacher and I place a lot of value on politeness!!

I sent one of the letters to Austi (hard to read the name- likely August). And today came your letter dated December 28th, in which you wrote so nicely about your Christmas trip. Did you get very cold on that big country road? I shiver already when I get on to the streetcar here, how bad it must have been there.

I can see you sitting there, milking that poor cow, hopefully she has recovered from the strain! You did not write about the Christmas celebration at all, will that come later? What kind of farm does Hubert Surrey own? After your first letter I thought he lived in a small room?

It seems to be as cold there as it is here. We have a lot of snow, everything looks incredible. Every day I fear to get out into the street, still so horribly early and horribly cold.

Henschenboy it would be great if you could accept the scholarship!! I am glad to know you are with the Quakers, but I cannot give an opinion about that from here, speak to one of your professors about it. Naturally you have to see that you can continue your studies, to have a profession as soon as possible. But it is most important that your education is as thorough as possible.

In your letter to the Quakers I saw that you have exams in the middle of January. Why didn’t you write to me about that? Right now you are probably in the midst of it.

I think of you a lot my Henschenboy, and I am keeping my fingers crossed for you! (In German it actually says "Squeezing my thumbs," which also means good luck) I imagine I will have information about it, before you receive this letter.

The letters you confirmed are all of them I have written so far, I always number them.

Henschenboy I had a nice Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday Trude F… was with me again in old friendship and loyalty, on Sunday Engels came. (Must be a family name) They all send sincere greetings.

And I kiss my beloved child many times

Your Mama

Side notes:
Say hello to all your friends from me. Should I write them a few lines? Thanks them that they are so nice to you. Congratulate your room comrades.

I read your letter to Anneken and then sent it to Papa. Yesterday Papa sent me a package, but he has not written for a long time. Hopefully he is feeling well.

Tomorrow I will call Hilde W. When we get together we will send a note to you.

It is cold, bitter cold, but Ella’s heart is warm with all the letters from her son. She responds to Opa's letter and it gives us an idea of some of the details he was giving her. I love that she comments on the wide streets and modern homes. I can't help but think that the wide streets in the midwest harken back to the times when cars would park in the center aisle of the street (or when horse carriages rode through). Also- I kind of giggled at the houses being so modern, because no one was there that long before Opa arrived- ha! Any mid-western American home would likely be much newer than anything in the old cities in Germany. Even now Americans think that a house built in the 1950s is ancient, a historic monument. Meanwhile our friends in Rome and other (actual) ancient cities just laugh. 

I think it is absolutely hilarious and simultaneously sweet that Ella chastised Opa about his rudeness about one of the families in Kansas. She put it bluntly.... she doesn’t stand for that! I can appreciate it- I’m sure for her she sees that these people are offering hospitality, and she sees no room for Opa to be impolite about them. “You can write to Papa and Patti like that, but not me.”

Ella refers to a cow and Opa milking it and her hopes that the cow is alright. This is also hilarious to me. Opa was a city boy, through and through. He was raised in apartments in Berlin. I think the most agriculture he experienced were the potted plants his mother mentioned receiving for holidays. Can you imagine? He lands in this town in the middle of nowhere (sorry Kansans) and finds work doing farm labor. Oh to watch him figure out how to milk a cow and drive a tractor (if they allowed him)! Of course I say this, and I’ve never milked a cow. Maybe I would be just as funny to watch.

It’s sweet and kind of sad how much Ella wants to be a part of Opa’s life. She wants to know his friends, even to write them. She wants to be able to have them over, to get to know Opa’s “comrades.” Ella continues to struggle with the reality that she is separated, indefinitely, from her children. She keeps up hope with letters, reading every single one she can get her hands on, and multiple times.

In the meantime, Jason has provided me with the “on this day” report of what has happened in the world between the last day Ella wrote and this letter. Let me sum it up for you: U-boats. If I lived in this time and heard about all of the successful German U-boat attacks, I would be very unsure of the ability of the rest of the world to defeat Germany. Left and right U-boats are sinking ships - from a large variety of countries, not all who were decidedly in the war. Seems a little dumb on Germany’s part, but they were pretty efficient at destroying what they go after. Mines are dropped in the ocean.... it’s not a fun picture. I can’t imagine how any passenger travel could happen stress-free at this point.

So the seas aren’t safe. The borders are militarized. The war keeps closing in, trapping everyone where they are. On top of that, it’s downright freezing outside. No wonder why Ella hangs on to every word that Opa writes, it seems that any word that successfully travels overseas is a miracle.

Oh, and I'm totally going to start saying "squeezing my thumbs" instead of "crossing my fingers."

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