Letter from Ella to Opa
20.VI.40 (20 June 1940)
My very beloved boy,
Finally today I received news from you. However I am not quite comforted about you, I hope you can withstand this heavy farm work of harvesting in the heat. Please, henschenkind, write more often, inspite of being very tired. Today’s letter was dated June 2nd, 1940, the one before May 18th 1940. In the meantime you had your birthday, which you did not mention at all. Have you had news from Papa at all? Please write to me about it. I don’t hear anything from him.
Through Kurt I heard that Pattilein had gotten married already. I cannot tell you how much these news have calmed me down and made me happy. If only I could give my very very best wishes for my child. (she actually says as much as burning wishes, which is used in German for something you really really want) How hard it is for me, not to be able to take her into my arms, and tell her everything I wish for her, for her future. But I believe she can feel how I am with both of you! Her in-laws must be splendid people, I am very thankful, that they have given my child a home. And I believe that their love is so strong, that both of them will remain happy. I have to think of her continuously, of her and you.
Thank you for the picture. But please do not stuff your hands into your pant pockets! The Amercans have many good things you can accept for yourself, but hands in pant pockets is a bad habit.
Who is Esther ??? You never wrote details about her, or has the letter gotten lost? Anni was here last week, and always when she comes by, I am glad. She is so fresh and natural, everything about her is genuine and self evident, that is our Anni. I read your letter to her and showed her the pictures, which she took along to show to Gis, who right now has very little time. I mean pictures from the last letter.
Henschenkind on the picture of you and Professor Myers, I don’t like either one of you, must have been a bad picture, but you look very nice on the picture with Professor ?? And in Garden City you must have been giving a speech. Sports shirts look better on you than stiff collars. I will write to the Shelley family on Sunday, I am too tired today, it is very late already. In the meantime tell them that I am very grateful for their kindness to my child. I am to tell you hello from all our friends and old acquaintances, especially from Anni, who is still working way too hard. I always have to read your letters to her, and now and then I share one with her. It is good that we have different tastes, she really liked the picture of you high on the horse, and I the one in the laboratory. Hopefully she will like the one with Phil Myers this time!!!! Will I hear anything about your birthday and the wedding at the farm? I am glad you did not drive to Chicago.
Did you write to Ellenruth? Have you heard anything from Herting? If you ever see her, give her many many greetings from me. I think of her and worry and would love to hear from her, to know she is well. Uschi is doing quite well.
I kiss you,my beloved boy. And I congratulate you for Pattilein’s wedding.
Your Mama, who is longing for all of you so terribly
I used to think that Ella's constant request for letters was a bit over the top. But now I realize that they were for her a life line. They are her only source of information, her only source of hope. Also, I think I mentioned this before, they were a sign to the Nazi censors that someone somewhere cared about her and about what happened to her. As a vulnerable Jewish woman living by herself, having a handful of letters coming from around the world, especially America, may possibly have given Ella even a thin shell of protection. I don't have anything to back this up, but I get the impression that Ella is asking for letters for many reasons, so of which we may not know.
I love that Anni visits Ella. When we visited with her in Germany in 2013, she didn't really remember Ella very well. I wish she had. Ann was also mentally a little bit off, I believe the war and its consequences did significant damage to her soul. She was not a whole, healthy person. She had become estranged from most of her friends and family. I think she always had that strong personality, but obviously not so strong or disoriented when she was with Ella. She provided Ella with a lot of comfort. I think some of the comfort she offered was that she was a very real connection to Opa. Ella saw in her that same adventurous and inquisitive spirit. For Ella- visiting with Anni and talking about Opa might have been as close as she could get to the feeling of being with Opa.
I remember something similar to this happening to someone I know. My little sister's very dear friend was killed by a drunk driver when she was in middle school. Her parents were completely devastated. But I remember they wanted to spend time with their daughter's friends. My mom marveled at how they could do that, she thought it would be too hard for her if she were in their place. But then she said maybe it was because it was the closest they could get to having even just a part of their daughter near them again- in the memories and behaviors of these middle school kids.
I wonder if that was how Ella felt about Anni when she visited, and Gisela.
Until Ella sees her children again, she will continue mothering them from afar- critiquing their poses and shirt choices. If she were any different, I think it would feel inauthentic.