Wednesday, August 26, 2015

March 11, 1940: No Hundsgemeinheit Here!

Letter from August to Tom (Opa)

Translation- (and I'm going to comment throughout the letter this post):
Translated by Rosemarie

Amstelveen, 11 March 1940

My dear TALL ONE,

A few days after our exchange of telegrams, your long letter of February 2nd arrived. And at the same time the official notice from the college of your exam results. To be on the safe side, give them my complete address, because they wrote “Amstelveen” only. I congratulate you to the results, which considering your difficult circumstances, are extraordinary good, and made me very happy.  Emma spoke proudly about it, when the Buurman’s were here for my birthday. So now I have ½ century behind me. 

FINALLY someone finds out Opa's exam scores!! It took the school mailing his results, but hallelujah- he did well! Something for August to brag about on his 50th birthday (really young if you think about it!).

What do you say about our Patti? 1 ½ years ago, I met the boy at the C√łte. (I think he is talking about the French Riviera) He is very nice and intelligent, although he looks a lot like you, was born on the same day and studies Math. Isn’t that peculiar? I assume that Patti wrote to you about everything. The two of them are happy and want to get married as soon as circumstances allow. Pretty soon he will be drafted, and who knows what the future will bring. Naturally, at first Mama was frightened (startled), but now she seems to have accepted it. I would have liked it differently also, but considering the situation in Europe, one cannot say much about it. Both are decent people and that’s what counts. In any case, now she is not so much alone, even though they have to part again now, because she is going to Paris for her exams.

It is kind of odd and yet not that Patti found someone who is a little like her brother. (They even share the same exact birthday!) In a sweet way, we all sort of look for positive attributes in our companions that we admire in our family members. August is supportive of Patti's relationship, and confirms that Ella is too- although they both had their misgivings about it. It was odd because as I was reading this, I was thinking- oh- Patti will kind of be like the war brides we hear about from way back.... wait- this is the same time period.... Patti was going to be a war bride! In America, before the men went off to war, they married their girlfriends because no one knew what was going to happen in the future. It was this energy of "seize the day" because tomorrow was so unpredictable. Now that I'm combining my perception of the war brides in the United States and Patti's experience, it just puts flesh and blood and personality on those events. Of course those people got married. Why the hell not?! Everyone was just waiting for the hammer to fall in the "spring offense"- so why not grab all the happiness you could get now? Even August and Ella get this.

Your letter of February 10th has been the only one for the last 6-7 weeks, that came here or to Mama. Also the one, in which you wrote to Mama about your Exams, is still missing. It is really better if you send everything through me. Your letters give me great joy, my boy! I passed on the most important details to Mama, also to Patti, and read only the general things to Emma. Don’t you have to start thinking about your extension? Write to me about that! By taking all in account, you have to use all possibilities, to not be put on a ship.  

August tells Opa to send everything to him (likely because he thinks mail from the USA to Germany is taking longer than it would if he received it and then sent it along). However, he follows that command with the statements that he sent the highlights of his February 10th letter to Mama and Patti and just the general stuff to Emma. Perhaps he is censoring on Opa's behalf- but if I were a 20 year old boy, I would prefer to do my own censoring. Not that it matters because they all seem to swap all his letters anyway. It's a little bit funny (and expected) that Emma doesn't get many details.

August is concerned about Opa's visa extension. Opa was only technically given seven months upon arrival, which means he has three months left at the end of March (the month this letter was written in). That's not a lot of time, I see why August would be anxious. He tells Opa to do all he can to keep from being shipped back. I imagine August is also keeping in mind the threat of a spring offense from the Germans, and so Opa's ability to stay put in the USA is especially pertinent.

The Leap Year story was a lot of fun. In regards to your old ties here, that is something you naturally have to decide yourself. Personally I don’t think you have any obligation, when a new experience is really strong, and mutual comes to you. For all that you were way too young in Berlin. In regards to the other lighter (easier) things, they are personal views and beliefs, and depend on the partner. But you do know you have to be very cautious over there? I do not see a “Hundsgemeinheit” (lovely long German word!! Treating somebody like a dog) to Anni in that. Only you may never promise something you will or cannot keep.  

I love that Opa is telling his Dad about his girl problems. It seems like he is flirting with or interested in some girls state-side and feels a sense of obligation to Anni. The irony, of course, is that he has kissed Gisela, and Annie has not returned his affections. Either way- August gives Opa permission to flirt and cautions him not to make any promises he can't keep. I love the long German word that means "to treat someone like a dog." We need some more words like this in English! Not so sure why Opa is looking for romance advice from his Dad who is married to his mother's cousin.

Europe is in a state of light tension again.  The disgusting Ribbentropf in Rome, negotiators from Finland in Moskau (Moskow?). The whole world is waiting for the results, and in spring, which starts next week, will bring the great offensive. I really cannot believe in a Nazi Offensive in the West, because the allied defense is much too strong.  One has to wait and see if the Allies in Finland and at the Baltic Sea will act. Here in Holland things are fairly quiet. Too much speaks against a Nazi Attack, Holland has strengthened his defenses very much. Perhaps soon we will know more.

So after this mention of Ribbentropf, I decided to do some light research. I say light because I am not an expert on this man or all his shenanigans, but I did at least learn a few things. One is this: NO one liked him except Hitler himself. Apparently Ribbentropf was sort of what I like to call a "tool box." He was a suck-up and had a lot of bluster and hot air and not a whole lot of substance. Despite what seems to be his reputation for being a fool- Hitler loved the guy and kept him close as a foreign minister. Ribbentropf did a great job at making a fool of himself in many countries, being as demanding as a rock star without a concert to offer. NO one liked him. Oh, except Stalin, because they hated the British together. But if your top two admirers are Hitler and Stalin and your common ground is hatred... I think things are not good. Ribbentropf was also one of the first to be hung for his war crimes at Nuremburg, and none of his Nazi colleagues were that upset about it. Really sort of a sad existence. 

I'm getting ahead of myself. So when August says that the "disgusting Ribbentropf" is in Rome (negotiating some foreign alliance with Mussolini)- he is joined by most folks in rolling his eyes. All of these movements and talks are just the slow falling into place of alliances, enemies, pacts, agreements, and general political maneuvering that is paving the way for what we know as the ultimate Axis and Allies of World War II. 

Everything here is running smoothly as usual.  Emma sends packages to Anneken, To Mama, Heiner and Hilde regularly, mostly butter, bacon and coffee. By their reactions we can see, that these things are really needed, especially since the Jews receive less than the Noble Race. Hans and Hilde seem to have a chance to go to Palestine. I do not see a way for Ella yet. My office will move in one week, so write to Amstelveen, til I give you the new address. Also write to me about the length of travel for that letter.

Emma has the job of sending packages to their German relatives of extra supplies that are rationed in Germany, but more available to August and Emma. Anneken (August's sister) is not Jewish, but the rest on that list are and their access to the goods mentioned are significantly limited. August's sarcasm about the "Noble Race" is sharp. He mentions Hans and Hilde may have a chance to go to Palestine. This was a common place for Jews to flee- in fact, this area was where today's nation of Israel was formed. Hilde was Emma's sister, so Hans was her brother in law. Their move to Palestine seems hopeful, however Ella's path is still very muddy.

Amsterdam will get an AIR-ROUTE to Lissabon, which would be great, but who knows what will happen in between again.  

Emma sends hearty greetings, she laughed a lot about your laundry and ironing story. - Hopefully your other letters will drift in soon. How are your three vices:  Zits, Bad (poor) language, Hands-in-the-face?

Poor Emma, she just isn't part of the crew. She tries. Poor Opa- August starts to wrap up his letter with mention of his zits- which I guess is part of why Emma obsessed over him having his hands on his face? It does make me sort of chuckle thinking about Opa with all the typical trappings of a young adult: zits, parents with too many questions, and girl problems. Life still moves in similar ways throughout time.

How was the Winter? How is the spring? Say hello to the Indians, your Wife and all other comrades. There was no Photo enclosed! And when will we get photos of you? Three, one for Mama, Pat and me?

To clarify: the Indians are indeed the native americans, and I'm pretty sure that was August's attempt at a joke. It is very similar to how my Dad attempts to be funny. The "Wife" I now understand from previous letters is Opa's roommate and that is what they called each other at McPherson College. 

Now all Opa has to do is push his letters across the Atlantic with greater effectiveness and put three photos in them for the family to gawk at. 


  1. The city "Moskau" mentioned in the letter is supposed to mean Moscow, Russia.
    The word "Indianer" that August uses is a German term for Native Americans- but obviously not politicly correct anymore but I still remember using it in the 1990s.
    I have to say: I truly love the story you are sharing of your grandpa's life. Thank you so much! It is amazing how attached I feel to all these people by only reading the letters and your analyses.

    1. Jasmin- I have so enjoyed your insights and thoughts along the way! I am so glad that you are on this journey with me and find it meaningful- it's encouraging and inspiring to know that these people I am attached to are also finding other folks who can connect to them. Thank you for reading and commenting! It is my joy to share this with you and others. :)


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