Thursday, August 6, 2015

January 9th, 1940: Young Love

Original Letter from Ella to Tom

Translated by Rose

Nr. 9.

Berlin, Charl., January 9th, 1940

My beloved little one, why have I been without news from you? Your last letter was dated Dec.4th, and then just the card dated Dec. 14th. This week Gisela was here with me for one evening, and read one of your letters to me, and said that W. also heard from you.  Gis (Gisela) is developing very nicely, she is serious and conscientious, but also cheerful and full of hope for the future. She speaks full of love about her activity, and I am sure, that in spite of her youth, she will accomplish lot of good. Anni is still living in the country. I believe you had mail directly from both of them. How do you feel about Anni? (I think she means in a romantic way) Do you want to write to me about it, my Hunschenboy?  

Not much to write about me! I still give many lessons, very nice, very difficult students at times. You know that my profession gives me a lot of joy. I now have a 12 year old boy, the son of a student of H.O. (I do not know what H.O.means) he is a splendid boy well raised and smart.

He reminds me a lot of you, also in appearance, therefore I am always looking forward to the lessons. Otherwise my life consists of my terrible longing for all of you. When will I have you back again? I am certain Hunschenboy that you will do everything to help me! I had a long unhappy letter from Herting. She is with very nice people, but the work is too hard for her weak body. She feels really awful, is not able to sleep because of muscle pains. That poor Dear one! Perhaps you could write to her, 

But most of all write to your Mama who is waiting so longingly.

I kiss my beloved child

Your Mama

I can’t help but get caught up in Opa’s little love triangle that seems to have formed. We have been in touch with both Anni and Gisela, sisters who were still alive and living in Berlin, Germany when we contacted them in 2013. I was able to visit with both of them, and sure enough, there was some hints of romance with both of them. Apparently Opa was a little player.

The way the sisters described it (separately, because they did not communicate, and no it wasn't because of Opa)- they said that "Gisela loved Tom, Tom loved Annie, and Anni love Werner." Essentially, no one really fully had a return on their love. However, as we know from our time with Gisela, when she visited Opa in Amsterdam, they shared a little kiss! And we know from Anni that her beloved was killed in the war, and she maintained contact with Opa for a while with letters. Anni destroyed all of her letters, but Gisela kept her letters from their correspondence during the early years of the war.

This is why this project is so much fun. I get to read this letter from Ella and KNOW what she was talking about. I confirmed the love triangle. Ella is asking her son how he feels about Anni, after she had a visit from.... Gisela. I don't think Opa ever shared with her about the little kiss he and Gisela shared. He must have not been very good at hiding his affection for Anni. What was interesting in meeting the two women is that they were polar opposites. Gisela actually reminded me of my Grandmother. I think for Opa Anni was like when you hear of girls going for the "bad guys" who are edgy, different, mysterious. Most of those relationships don't work out so well. But Anni was different, she was a firecracker, she was an intellectual equal for Opa- if not a bit of a debate partner. Gisela is kind but sharp, more subdued but not afraid to speak or take control. 

It was a little awkward to ask Gisela and Anni about their little love triangle, but they freely spoke about it. Gisela said that Opa was her first kiss and first love. And though they did not have a normal relationship, something in their connection stayed with Gisela, so much so that she kept his letters all those years. She said that her husband reminded her of Opa, which is sweet since I found her to be similar to my Grandmother. Gisela spoke fondly of Opa, and had good memories of him.

I think for Anni, who never married, Opa (and the boy she loved that died in the war) were sad reminders of a life she could have had- but didn't. She had a more bittersweet remembrance of Opa, and I could see that there was a part of her that might have wondered what life would have been like if she had married either him or someone else that cared for her. Anni died in 2014, and with her a lot of stories, aches, and regrets died. She was a complicated woman.

In these letters we see the little boy being sent away to America, but Opa was also a young man, with young love. 

I don't know who Herting is, or where or why she is working so hard. I thought that maybe this was a veiled commentary on someone who was in a concentration camp but still able to write. However, I ran across one of Anni's publications titled "Our Thoughts Are Free," and in it she has a little autobiographical section that speaks about her family's experience during the war. She writes: 
...for now all girls of my age (she was about 19-20 years old) were obliged to work in munitions factories. Only those who were doing social work were free from this. So my sister went to work in a children's hospital and I, along with my father, to work on a small farm.
I wonder if Herting had a similar job that she was forced to do for the war effort.

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