Monday, September 7, 2015

April 26, 1940: Borders Closing

Letter from August to Opa


Amstelveen, April 26th 1940

My dear boy,

Your letter of March 28th made me very happy. It just arrived yesterday. I am answering with just a short note, because we have moved, i.e. the office to Heerengracht 433, and I have a lot to do. The picture of you is very nice and right away I sent it to Mama and hope she will get it. One of me is going by regular mail to you, and then soon $10.00, which now sadly enough costs 20 Gulden, to use for stamps and other small things. Do you still have the money from P. as a reserve? If not, write to me about it, so then I must start a new reserve for you. 

I have the $200.00 for Mama’s trip to Palestine, but now it looks like the trip will not happen, because the British, in fear of espionage, will not let any transports from the enemy countries in. I thank Dr. Nauman very much for his efforts. It is peculiar, that arranged by the Franks and through Mrs. Herz, I had already contacted a Swiss address ten days prior. It is the wife of Prof. Ragaz, who is the chairperson of the Jewish committee there. She reacted very nicely, but had to tell me that Switzerland first requests 2000,00 Franks security, secondly demands a valid visa to another country as well. Even if one has both, which is not the case, it would be quite hopeless today. She suggests to try Italy, which I passed on to Mama, very skeptically. No, there seems to be no immediate danger at this moment, but one can never know. After Hans and Hilda had written very optimistically about their trip to Palestine, that too now has been stopped.

Long one (tall one), you cannot know how happy I was about your letter. It shows a competent guy, and if you continue so you will succeed. If everything keeps going well with me, I will make things a bit easier for you financially. If things will go on like that, nobody can know under these circumstances. Lots of it will depend on, if the Allies succeed in Norway to stand up to the Germans, possibly less through strategy than prestige. 

Can’t you get a New York paper, like the New York Times in McPherson? If the Germans decide to go after Holland, I expect with a big Offensive, because Holland and Belgium are now well armed, and in addition there are land-connections, so they would be there quickly. About Emma and me, our only chance, if there were a break through, would be a request at the American legation, to be evacuated with the Americans. Questionable if they will do that. In addition, at this moment we do not have a cent of money for such an emergency. But I am not counting on it anyways.

Personally we are doing quite well since we recovered from the flu. It Is a bit lonesome around us, and the prospect of not being able to go to France, is not pleasant. I am coming along with the notes for my work, I believe they will interest you. Again there was a break (pause), because I was too tired at night, but now I will go on.

Write to me about the arrival time of my letters, also add the dates, otherwise I don’t know which ones they are. Theoretically this one going by KLM to Lissabon in the morning, must be with you in one week, and without British censorship.

Bob is very proud that you dreamed of him twice, and in addition grant him such a heroic attitude. But he really rejects your notes (in the margin) indignantly! Right now he is so filthy, that even with lots of water and soap Emma is not successful. (It is the Edeldreck, edel means fine or precious, dreck means dirt. It is slang for something you have to live with, and are almost a bit proud of.)

A stage of siege was placed over Holland, all foreigners and local Nazis are being kept well under surveillance, which is very useful. Under these conditions the “letter Secret” does not exist anymore, because all mail will be presented to the censors. As soon as I have time, I will write again. You too, write to me as often as possible, yes?  If possible by clipper (airmail), which goes so much faster.

Emma Mecz wrote to me that they are planning to build a little friendship house with Patti and Maurice. But for the time being Mecz has been drafted, and I'm afraid that will happen to Maurice soon also.

And when is my cottage finally ready? In it there must be so much money, that I can travel between you and Patti all the time.  The picture of Vaughn is very nice. Now I need one more, one of the nicest girl there. 

Your fried egg recipe is excellent. Patti sent it to Mama right away, but Emma thinks that the girl was correct to insist on the proper washing procedure. How do eggs, fried in lubricating oil taste? Did you lose a lot by washing them?  

All the best to you and keep your murre. (this is the Finnish word for dialect- not sure that's what he meant)  In the evening we often sit with you and Patti. Emma says to tell you hallo, she missed your pimples on the picture. Did they disappear? How is it going with speaking English? Could you not speak on the radio station of Schenectady which I can receive here very well? I will write to Dr. Barth, in the meantime I spoke to Mrs. Ragaz, which would be better if she contacted him.  

Go and cause trouble with the postal minister, if this letter does not reach you in one week. When playing chess, just stick the king into your pocket, then he cannot be in check.  

Your old August

This letter is pretty fascinating to me. First- it wasn't short like August said it was going to be. Second- August reveals a lot of information about the world around him that we don't get from Ella's letters (likely because of the Nazi Censors). Third- I learned something about history that I didn't know. And Fourth, I noticed something about August's letters that I hadn't noticed before. 

Ok- we don't really need to talk about how long the letter was. So let's talk about my second point: we learn a lot about the slowly closing borders around Ella as she keeps looking for a way out. August reports that the Palestinian borders are closing due to Britain's nervousness about German spies. I understand the fear- but this is a very big deal for many Jews- including a handful in my family. Hans and Hilda (who are Emma's parents) are unable to go, and Ella is given no chance. This part also taught me something I didn't know: that Britain had control over Palestine for a short while in recent history. I should have known that- but I had to go look that up and read up on it! The British really have had their hands in every pot haven't they? No wonder American films are filled with British villains- haha. (I know- there are a thousand other reasons.)

Switzerland might be neutral, but they sure aren't neutral about who is allowed inside their country: rich people! August passes along the tip that perhaps Italy is a place to escape to (and he says it skeptically). This frantic searching for a place to go- any place to go- shows how scared Ella is. 

I'm writing this blog in the height (we hope it doesn't get worse) of the Syrian refugee crisis. We live in a time when the news is instantaneous. We have drone planes showing us aerial views of the refugee camps. We have images of drowned families with young children washing ashore. Yet the borders are still closing. The help is still slow. The hands are still tied. This makes me angry. I am researching the best options for my family to help the refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. I will do something- but I feel helpless. I feel like I can throw money at the crisis, but the borders will still be too closed, the fear of the unknown and unfamiliar will still keep refugees fenced out/in/around. We look back at the Jewish genocide and think "we should have done better"- why can't we do better today? I don't understand why we fear our neighbors so much. 

When I met with Lucile, Opa's little girlfriend at McPherson, she and I talked about how we felt like we'd known each other for longer than twenty minutes. We talked about how we are all connected (humanity) and that the more we see this connectedness, the more grace, mercy, love can abound. This is why people are so drawn to the work of the photographer behind Humans of New York. This man photographs ordinary people throughout one of the most diverse cities and tells just a snippet of their story. We are drawn in by the photos and captions because we see ourselves. We see something familiar in a face that looks very unfamiliar. We feel connected. When this photographer was given grants to travel abroad and took pictures in Iran and other countries that Americans are wary of or only hear bad news from- he did the same miraculous thing: he took pictures of ordinary people and they told their stories- and we felt connected. We felt familiar. We saw something we knew. We are all connected. That refugee family that drowned, they were scared people escaping something beyond their control, and the images of their town showed us that to stay would have been certain death. That family is our family. We are connected. 

Oy- back to 1940. August hopes that the German advance gets stalled in Norway, his situation is good right now and a German invasion certainly would shift that. I wonder if he has a feeling for the inevitability of the invasion reaching Holland. He must know that the danger is very real, because he is thinking about escape plans for he and Emma- hoping to hop a ship reserved for the Americans- although he knows that this is sort of wishful thinking.

I do love that August asks Opa if he can get a New York newspaper. Clearly he doesn't think that Kansas is doing it right.

So the last thing I wanted to note was the mention of the "letter Secret"- Opa had mentioned at some point (later in life) that he had some secret codes that he and his family had used. I never really could see that in the letters- so I kind of forgot about it and figured that Opa was just filling in the story. But here August says something that makes me think maybe there was a code! And now I wish I was smart enough to read original German and crack codes. Maybe some of those random things August wrote were actually code?! 

Oh my goodness- I just made the connection with the egg-boiling comment from that last letter from Patti! Here August talks about it- and laughs that the girl (we're guessing Lucile) that Opa took the road trip with insisted on cleaning something before they cooked the eggs. So they must have cooked some eggs on the car! Or maybe this is a really weird secret code. Hahaha. 

August is still hoping for that cabin in the woods, and now he wants it stocked with money so he can travel with his wife. 

I can't help but think- things are about to be drastically different for August and Emma. 

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