Friday, September 4, 2015

April 17, 1940: See You Again?

Letter from Ella to Opa


Berlin, April 17th 1940

My very beloved Hunschenson,

Yesterday was actually “Clipperday”, but neither yesterday or today did I receive mail from you. Instead all your old letters of January 26th and February 17th arrived. The second one especially made me very happy, because you wrote so nicely about yourself.  

It is good Hunschenboy that Anni means a lot to you, she is a very good girl and I think you are correct when you ask yourself how she thinks about many things. But I also have faith in you, that you out of your inner self could not do anything ugly. However one thing I have recognized: Both of you are not the children anymore that I thought you were. I never had any thought that you already might have kissed a girl, even less had that idea for Spatzi (Patti). But the questions presented to the freshmen suddenly showed me that they possibly had to be answered by you in a way, so the clubs got into action. (Perhaps that was an initiation ceremony, I have no idea.  Weird!) 

And Spatzi’s letters about her life with Maurice had me totally confused (upset) in the beginning, so that I could not find my way about it. You know I have terrible old fashioned ideas about things. I understand everything and do not judge, but for my children I want a very special purity.  Naturally that is wrong and unjustified, I do not accuse Patti, but it hurt me a lot. That feeling however did not last very long, now I am really happy for her, without any reservations. She seems very happy and that’s the most important thing. My doubts were not very convential (not sure if that should be congenial or conventional), I feared for her happiness … and since now she does not suffer, everything is good! The beautiful days she has now nothing can ever take away from her. She is a valuable person, so that happiness or sorrow will mature her and make her better yet. But I am so terribly longing for her and for you, my Hunschenboy (she actually says the longing is unbearable). In addition to that the dreaded fear that I will never see both of you again.

Grete S. brought me a questionnaire she received from Philadelphia. I filled it out immediately, gave the cousins in New York and Hanna as references, but Grete gave me little hope, since my “waiting number” is so very high. She believes that Hanna could help me the most. I don’t know if Hanna received my letter, soon I will write to her again. Papa will write to you about whatever else I initiated!

Hunschenboy, the things you write about your college are very interesting to me. I like the way (customs or style) there a lot, there seems to be a good combination of work and relaxation and high standards (Niveau) for that every single one is responsible. You too! As long as you yourself are decent, interested in the humanities, comradely, you need not doubt anybody. You know that has always been my position (belief).

Now back to Anni and your relations to other girls. You wrote you do not want to love anybody. I do not think that has anything to do with wanting at all. It just happens suddenly. If you really love Anni, you cannot love another, but I do believe that you are still too young for real love. That will come much later.

Please, Hunschenboy, write to me a lot about yourself again. I can understand that it is unpleasant for you to have a scholarship. (I am not sure if it says to receive or already have a scholarship) It is not necessary anyways. You should be able to get enough money as you need, if you can earn some additional money  in the summer. I am sure Papa wrote to you about that. Papa suggested to have the letters forwarded through him, but I do not want that. One writes differently when it goes the direct way, even if it takes a little longer. We write every 8 days, so hopefully the letters will arrive every 8 days. Again I have been without mail from you for 14 days now, maybe some will come later in the day. Write to me about concerts, lectures, your discussion topics, discussion evenings, and your comrades. (Comrades is not a good word, maybe fellow students is better)  The other day I talked to my students about popcorn and  belt-lines, they enjoyed it a lot.
Hunschenboy, I am waiting longingly for your letters. I kiss my boy a lot
Your Mama

On the side of the pages:
Is it still spring there? Please be careful when driving a car! It is still bitter cold here and sad and rainy. (that is typical for spring in Berlin, the days gray and depressing, no sun for weeks)  “You And Nature” and most of all your books I gave to Hans W. for the Quakers. That’s what you wanted. But if you want it back, I can buy it for you and other books. Write to me what you want, and I will send it. One book is already on the way for your birthday, I think it will arrive in time and give you joy. The dictionary will be sent soon, I want to add something else with it. Greetings from Aunt Berta, Mrs. Ruhstadt, Ann’chen, Aunt Martha and Jablonskies
Ella repeats herself a little bit in this letter, but I imagine the reason is two-fold: she may not remember what she had written, and also she is not guaranteed that all of her letters make it to Opa. She retells the sort of hopeless story of Grete Sumpf's visit and her stubborn hope that regardless- something could happen to help her get to the United States.

The main focus of this letter is Opa's love for Anni, and what sounds like his struggle to live on the other side of the planet while holding this love in his heart. I'm wondering if he and Anni are writing to each other in all this. Anni did not keep her letters from Opa (we asked her!). So we have to guess at what level of relationship this was. Did he have this unrequited love, or was Anni engaged with him? We know that Opa wrote to Anni and Gisela jointly for a bit, but then the letters are separate. The obvious reason for this is that they no longer lived in the same place, but I wonder if the tone of the letters also changed so that Anni's letter became more personal, love-filled.

The story we were told by Anni and Gisela was that Gisela loved Tom, Tom loved Anni, and Anni loved Werner (who died in the war). I wonder if Anni strung Opa along a little bit? He seems so committed to her. And yet- this is the ultimate long-distance relationship with little to no hope of quick reunion. That can't be fun. You can tell by Ella's response to Opa's letters that he is struggling. It seems also that he has some guilt over something because both August and Ella have reassured Opa that he isn't doing anything ugly to her. My guess is that Opa is flirting/dating with girls in the United States (we just met someone that he dated during this time period!). Or he maybe still feels guilty about that kiss with Gisela- which could be the case because Ella talks about her surprise that he had kissed a girl. 

I thought that Ella's surprise was kind of funny. The boy is 20 years old. Of course he's kissed someone! I know the opportunities were less in Germany when he went to an all-boys school, but still. Come on Ella. I love how Ella sort of talks through her shock of her children growing up in this letter. She tells herself it is normal and good and that all is well- but you can tell it was definitely an adjustment for her and she really had to process it. Her babies are all grown up! One is in America pining after some girl back home, and the other is engaged to be married in France. That's pretty grown up. 

When I talked to Helene (Patti's daughter) about Ella, one of the things she said was that Ella impressed many people with her ability to be so non-judgmental. I think I can see that in this letter. She is able to name her instincts, her knee-jerk reactions- and then with that self-awareness- move to a place of understanding and acceptance. That's noble.

The line where Ella talks about her fear of never seeing her children again just breaks me. On the surface, this letter is a response, a commentary, and informational. Below that- you witness a mother watching her children grow up and she realizes that she has lost her children. She will never see them as children again- and she has a real fear that she won't even get to see them as the adults they are growing into. She's losing her past and her future. The war sped things up and she is standing still, stuck in fear in Berlin. 

Her only link to her children are these letters- and the letters are arriving late, never, or rifled through by Nazi censors. This is why she cares so much that Opa's letters go straight to her and not through August (as August keeps suggesting)- because she can't handle one more damn censor.

In the end, Ella echoes the familiar phrase we know from the diary of Anne Frank when she says  "As long as you yourself are decent, interested in the humanities, comradely, you need not doubt anybody." Be good. It doesn't always mean that people will be good to you- but it certainly gives them a better chance.

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