Monday, August 31, 2015

March 31, 1940: Mama Illness

Letter from Ella to Opa


Berlin Charlottenburg, March 31st, 1940

My boy, my beloved Henschenboy:

So much joy I have not had for such a long long time, when finally your letter came today, the first one since December, or was it the beginning of January, and it took only about 10 days to get here.

So you should have gotten my letters as well.
Henschenboy I believe I have not written to you for almost 3 weeks. You can imagine in what state I have been running around, but your letter today has put some life back into me.

From Patti I received a letter beaming with happiness. Now I have calmed down about her and I am happy with her. The in-laws seem to be dear people, and I wish so much that her happiness will last for her whole life.

Your letters in which you wrote about your exams, about Patti’s engagement and the planned car trip, as you mentioned today, have not reached me yet. I think that now the mail service will work better.

Henschenboy where did you get a car? Does it belong to a friend or can one lease one for a day? In my thoughts I made the trip with you and I am happy that it was nice.

Are you by now able to ride? (I think it says horseback riding) Or do you have to learn it a bit? I can see my boy racing through the land on such a wild horse!

Henschenboy also be careful when driving a car. Naturally I am always worried, because as you know it is the Mama Illness to worry. For Mamas always think, that when they are not able to watch their children, it does not work right. But I know Henschenboy that both of you are doing very well without Mama now, and that I can rely on you.

Patti and Papa wrote me that you are progressing well in your work. Great!! Henschenboy it would be a crying shame (actually the same words on German) if you would have to discontinue your studies, maybe there is a chance for you to earn some money, as well as study. Naturally you should not over exert yourself.

Little Henschenboy How much I would love to be with all of you. I know you are doing all you can do, so I can come! By now it is very very urgent for me, and therefore I beg you to do everything possible, so maybe I could get to an in-between country first!!!!!!!!! Please contact Ellenruth immediately, you can reach her through Irving Hirsch or Rose.

A few days ago, Anni came by. She is serving her compulsory year, in a household in Eichkamp (Very nice area close to Berlin) and she likes it there. She looks wonderful, is kind and smart, we talked a lot about you, and I read one of your letters to her. Your very last one has not been returned to me by Patti. We looked at the postcards, all 4, from McPherson and my longing grew stronger and stronger.

You ask what I do in my free time. Luckily I do not have a lot of free time. I give many lessons, and you know how much I love to teach. When I get home I have to correct papers, prepare for the next day, do some household chores, so I do not get together with many people.

All relatives and friends are nice and kind to me. Most of all I see Stiers, Aunt Juling, Habe Yeibl(??)., Emmi Sim., Engels, Loewes, Annchen, and sometimes somebody from the Quakers. Almost every second Sunday Miss Stein is here with that delightful child, which I love very much. Right now Aunt Bertha and Tilly are here, but I sent them to the Engels, so I have silence and peace to write to all of you.

I wrote to you that Lotte Wittkowski was here to see me, I am sure. She helps me a lot, but is very very different from Anni. I have not talked to Hilde W. for a long time. I will write to her in the coming days, and arrange to meet with her, I could not reach her by phone, even after several attempts.

Henschenboy now we will write regularly every week again, since the letters seem to arrive.
I kiss my beloved little one,
Your Mama

You know the term "helicopter parenting"? It's a big deal in parenting circles right now. It's a term to describe parents who are constantly trying to control their children or keep them from having any painful or harmful experiences- to the point at which the children experience very little risk or what we call "life." I don't think Ella qualifies for helicopter parenting as she certainly allowed her children absolute independence- they are in other countries! However, her little safety reminders crack me up and remind me of this term.

Ella has a name for her over-protective behavior: "mama illness" - it's perfect. I laughed at this- hey- at least she's aware of her little obsessions about her kids being safe.

Safety becomes sort of a theme of this letter as Ella's attention turns from praising Opa for his good studies and fun times, to her own urgent need to leave the country. She says "by now it is very very urgent for me" and even talks about getting just into any country to help in the process of getting to either Opa or Patti. 

A side note- this was a common strategy for refugees, sort of a loop-hole. They would go to a country that had more relaxed immigration rules. Then from there they would apply to go to a more desirable country. Germany was bursting at the seams with people trying to leave, and only so many people were allowed into the United States (the "quota"). Going to another country was kind of like going to a different line in the grocery store- only it's like going to the cashier at the pharmacist. You basically had a different set of rules, a different quota (and less people fighting to be in line), and perhaps a better chance at getting to America from a random country that had nothing to do with the war, then say an aggressive country like Germany that would not welcome you back anytime soon. The problem is that it was still tough to get into these countries, and you weren't guaranteed to get to your desired destination. So you could potentially get stuck in a very unfamiliar country without family or friends to support you. Ella was considering this option- which to me shows how urgent she felt the need to get out of Germany. 

She than talks a little about Anni- Opa's crush from the Quaker youth group. She talks so kindly of her- it's sweet how Ella indulges Opa's crush and lets him know how Anni is doing and that she visited and they looked at pictures. I think Ella genuinely liked her, which makes me wonder how much Anni changed from this person to the woman I met in 2013. She was very interesting, but obviously disturbed and scarred by her life experiences. 

Ella stays busy with work so she doesn't have to face the silence, the mama illness, or the fear that is rising in her. She also gets visits from family, friends, neighbors, etc. The list of folks she provides is a list of mostly family. Some names we don't know. I love that Ella sends her company away so she can have peace and quiet to write her letters. Ha.

I wonder if some of her habit of listing all the folks she is in touch with and who pay her visits- if that was an act of protection. She knew her letters were being read by Nazi censors. Perhaps she thought that if she appeared to be connected to a good amount of people from all over (which she was), that she was somehow afforded a layer of protection. She wasn't a nobody that wouldn't be missed. I'm not sure she thought it out quite that detailed, but I'm sure she must have thought about it. 

It seems the letters are flowing easily now, and now Ella shouldn't have to worry as much because she'll hear more often from Opa. We (readers now) know that Germany is only about a month or so away from a large-scale attack on Western Europe that will be frighteningly successful. Who knows how that will affect their ability to get letters back and forth.

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