Wednesday, September 2, 2015

April 8, 1940: Survival by Distraction

Letter from Ella to Opa


Berlin. Charlottenburg, April 8th, 1940
Droysenstrasse 14

My beloved boy,
One day after your letter dated March 16th, 1940 came, a postcard from January Ist, and a couple of days later your letter to Annchen of January 6th arrived, I believe that now gradually all of your letters will come. The most important thing is that you are well and can continue your studies.

I am impatiently waiting for your letter in which you will tell your thoughts about Spatzi’s (Nickname means little bird) engagement. But now you may not say like a small boy would, “Me too!!!” That should be a long long time off. (I think she means for your Dad not to get serious about a girl.)

A friend in Philadelphia wrote to me and Grete S. brought a questionnaire, but otherwise gave me very little hope. She thinks that Hanna could do the most for me, since she teaches at a Quaker school. Henschenboy are you trying there for whatever is possible? In addition I am sure Ellenruth and her husband are checking things out for me. They wrote very nicely to me, while Uschi has not seen a reason to send me a note.

It is getting high time that I can be together with all of you again, I am sick with longing. And I also do not get many letters. With every mail I await the announced photos, as soon as I come home, I look for that mail, up to now it has been a sad disappointment for me.

Henschenboy I believe that in the meantime you received my registration number, but just in case I send it again:
Number 762204 a
I sent it to you on January 2nd,1940,also with photocopies of my certificates, I think I sent it by registered mail.

I did not number the last letters, this one I will number 20 and then it will continue. I also want to write to Patti today, therefore just a note. The Knauer Lexikon will be mailed today or tomorrow. When did you write to Walter? Just one letter I read!!! I still could not reach H.W., but then again I did not write either.

Please write a lot and as many details as last time.

I kiss my beloved boy
Your Mama

The notes on the side are very hard to read, I am not sure about the name of the person who wrote them. Here we go:

My dear boy
Now that I am here with our dear Putschi for a while, I hear more about you, and I am happy about the cheery sound of your letters. Remain our lucky boy (blessed boy) and you will get along well for ever. I am happy that you are in a place which is good for you, but I miss you a lot when I am here!!! Do you remember when we used to discuss serious and funny topics? Read Fraeulein Tugendschoen and other classics?

I am and remain old heartfelt friendship,

Your Bertine

This entire letter has a glaring, underlying focus by Ella: Get me out of here! She is thrilled to be getting letters from Opa, and hopes that he can continue studying in America (he still hasn't perfectly sorted that out with McPherson, and Ella won't find out for a while when he does because the mail takes so long). Ella then mentions Patti's engagement, and then she gets right to the point: the business of emigration. She makes sure Opa has every bit of information that he needs. Although Grete Sumpf gave her very little hope of being able to go to America, Ella does not give up.

Ella's friend Hanna and her niece Ellenruth seem to be her two best hopes. Ella is homesick for her children and anxious. Her main distractions are work, friends and family, and the letters of her children. A relative (we think) who is visiting, adds a post script to Ella's letter. Again I wonder if Ella is more intentional about adding these names and giving space for these folks to write so that the Nazi censors know that Ella is not alone and not isolated or expendable.

I can't help but love the line about Uschi who has not seen a reason to write to Ella. Ella's totally judging her. 

Can you imagine living a life where the only way to survive is to live in constant distraction from reality? How unsettling.

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