Tuesday, September 8, 2015

April 27, 1940: Losing My Courage

Letter from Ella to Opa


Berlin Charlottenburg April 27, 1940

My beloved boy,

Since your last letter, dated March 18th, I have not heard from you. But I do believe that you continue to write every week!! Last week a former student came by and read letters from his 14 year old daughter to me, she lives close to Baltimore, and punctually writes every Friday. After 2 months all the letters arrived together. And now I am also waiting to receive such a collection from you. Papa also writes that he is without word from you. Naturally I am very restless. You are so terribly far away, and I do not know anything about you. Whenever the letters arrive, everything will be outdated.

Hunschen, under no circumstances should you discontinue your studies, just see that you can finish as fast as possible, so I can come to you. Did you contact Ellenruth, Rose and Hanna about that? Otherwise do it immediately!!!!

Hunschen, hopefully you are enjoying spring now, which must be beautiful there. Spend a lot of time outside, but do not make any foolish (daredevil) car trips!!! Pattilein cannot write to me anymore, which of course makes me terribly unhappy. Maurice sent a nice letter, of which Papa told me only what was most important. Such a summary is nothing, even less than a real letter, only a weak substitute for a few loving words from mouth to mouth. Please, henschenchild, Write to me in detail all you hear about our Patti-child.  

It is so terribly lonely here without all of you. Luckily I am very busy, and you know that my occupation gives me lots of joy. From Kurt (her brother) I received a not very hopeful letter, and Aunt Martha Loewe's letters sound desperate. I wanted to go to Werner, but that won’t work anymore, the only chance remaining is Shanghai, but also that is impossible, since I cannot find the required $700.00 for it. Often I am so close to lose my courage, but then I pull myself back up, after all I have both of you, very dear children, and how many do not have that! I only want to be with you.

Write regularly, my beloved boy.
I kiss you with love
Your Mama

I think I already wrote you, that I received questionnaire from Philadelphia

When I read these letters in a row, themes start to pop out and I realize information that has been staring me in the face for several letters! People have been telling Opa not to stop his studies and to basically hurry up and finish. I thought this was just the typical "keep with your education- don't give up" talk. It seemed odd because I didn't think Opa had any troubles with school. I just chalked it up to him maybe writing that if he didn't get a scholarship that he would take a break and work a bit to get money to go back. But now I see that there is something else going on here. It is connected to Ella's ability to go to the USA. Why didn't I see this before?! 

The trick to getting Ella over to the United States is that she needs (primarily) a really solid affidavit. An affidavit in the immigration lingo is someone who will be responsible (financially is the part the US is most concerned about) for the incoming immigrant. Americans were recovering from the depression and were in no mood to share their resources with folks from "the outside"- especially not poor refugees. Sounds bad and it is- though you can see the logic behind the cruelty. Ella's best shot at a solid affidavit was a family member with a job. This would convince an embassy's consul (who has the power to grant or deny visas) that this person would not be a drain on the American people. So that is why Ella was so urgently in touch with Ellen (her niece), and why perhaps Opa considered pausing and getting a job so that Ella would have an affidavit in him.

Ella (and August in a previous letter) both tell Opa a resounding "no!" to this plan and tell him to finish school- but do it quickly so that he could get a job with his degree and then get his Mom out of Germany.

This is kind of a big deal. I'm almost convinced this is what was happening. If that is so- what an incredible amount of pressure on Opa. He is the one out of the sinking boat and everyone has their plans for how he can save his mother. What if he does the wrong thing? Makes the wrong choice? 

Ella's letter reveals (despite her efforts to keep a positive front) her growing terror, and the growing fears of those around her (her family, etc.) 

Toward the end of the letter, Ella writes these words that echo in my brain: 
Often I am so close to lose my courage, but then I pull myself back up, after all I have both of you, very dear children, and how many do not have that! I only want to be with you.
She is aching for her children, and for the freedom to be without fear. When she is almost hopeless- she remembers her children. I want to reach back in time and snatch her out of that horrible place and treat her like a guest in my home with smiling children, good food, sunshine, and freedom. I can't imagine what happened to Opa's soul when he received these letters.

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