Saturday, November 21, 2015

October 15, 1940: Refugees in Shanghai

Letter from Patti to Opa


Grenoble, 10.15.40
My dear Hunschenboy,
As I am going to pick up my English this year, I’ll write you an English letter and you must give your opinion about it. You can’t imagine how much I have been glad with your dear long letter this time. It is not longer than formerly, but it so much more heartily, more personal notwithstanding a certain lack of personal news. I find my dear little brother in this letter and not a foreign student. I’m glad you give me an answer to all my questions and I appreciate so much your having got up earlier in the morning in order to write me. My dear, I always fear you over-drive your forces by all your work. Do you feel as well as formerly, do you really? How can you manage it? I fear I couldn’t. But you are much stronger than I and I hope you’ll get through all difficulties without illness, without any loss of power. And you will do, won’t you? I am sorry you can’t make a close friendship over there and I would you felt not too lonely. Do you really imagine the unsteadiness of your life, the uncertainty of future to be an impediment for a real friendship? I don’t. But another question is your work that takes so much time and makes a rich personal life quite impossible. I know you appreciate also true comradeship and you surely have lots of good fellows in the college. I also felt very lonely during my first time here, not at the very beginning but soon afterwards, then I knew Emma and we became excellent friends in spite of two long separations (the last one a whole year).
The visa matter is rather troublesome, isn’t it? Why don’t they wish to give you the extension you applied for? I think they finally will as there is no other way for you. And now let us speak about Putschi. Do you know that she can write me now? I have a new girl friend in Switzerland who passes her letters and mine. You may imagine how much we enjoy it both of us. She doesn’t write anything about the situation there nor about her health. She spoke of having still lots of lessons and of her wish to go to Shanghai, should she not depend on Martha and Erich. For the time being they are both living with her as they could not go away yet. Poor Putschi! You certainly read the last news concerning the treatment of foreigners in Shanghai and I think we have to wait and see. In the principle we should try to get her over there and afterwards she must join you or me. We must not play with hypothesises as for the conditions of emigrating in the future, but for the time being life would be impossible for her in Shanghai. 
By the same friend in Switzerland, I got a letter from Austi yesterday! What do you say now? I yet gave up all hope in this regard and was awfully glad on receiving it. He writes that he is alright and that he has still his job, only a reduced one and he doesn’t know for how much time he may conserve it. He is learning professional photography in order to do it afterwards should there be a possibility. May-be he has already something in view. He hopes to see Pinkley in the near future and in that case he could discuss everything with him. But his visit is not sure yet. He begs me to give him news of you but only the important facts you write me. I think he avoids to write you (or he cannot) and doesn’t like for many details concerning your situation to be mentioned in our letters. It must be the same reasons for which he doesn’t write to Putschi in a direct way. He received my letter of June with my present address and did not answer me, neither did Putschi, I think they are not allowed to, both of them. So, I think it would be better if you tried not too much to write to Austi. I shall give you news of him if I receive a letter. Emma is not well and Aust will go to see a doctor with her. He hopes it will not be very serious, so do I. For the time being, Aust cannot be of any financial help for us, and I fear he troubles much about it. But I shall write him that we can do without it. 
As to your plan for Putschi, he thinks that your friends have got better information than he and I and that you inquired about it before you got anything settled. You see that we have much confidence in you and in your friends in this matter.
I am very sorry, two of your letters have been lost. I think you wrote me about your holiday work. May they still reach me? I got neither an answer from Lillie nor Hanna.
I have to beg your pardon, for I left this letter for almost a week. Even now I am very tired and I shall not make it very long.l I was interrupted by a visit in the midst of my writing, we went all to the movings [movies?], and you know how dangerous it is to let a letter for to-morrow. The next day, I had lessons and shopping and other work and now we are preparing our removing, working from early in the morning until night. I don’t remember w[h]ether I told you that we are going to live with Emma now. Mrs. Herz will not return to Gr[enoble] this year and so she leaves her apartment. Her furniture is at our disposal in the meantime; so we have to do the removal of all her furniture, books, clothes, plates, etc., work on the attic level and in the cellar. Maurice shipped 40 sacks of coal yesterday and to-day. When we have finished her removal we have to do ours and Emma’s, for we shall live together in another apartment with Mrs. H’s furniture. So we shall have a real home with kitchen, and lots of room till next summer when we shall leave Gr. for a town where Maurice can prepare his last exam. Excuse me please if my English is very bad this evening. I am rather tired. I have been astonished myself when seeing that this letter was begun so long ago and I feel ashamed. Excuse me please for this time. I send you many prints to console you. You may keep them. I shall send others to Putschi.
My dear little one, good night, and write me very often. Even if I am a bad sister who keeps a letter to her brother for so long a time. I shall write you soon again.
Your sister kisses her little Tom.
[in French] My dear Tom,
I feel very [r/vasine? r/vaseur?] this evening, after the moving, but that is not a reason for me not to write you, you who works so much and who must often be even more tired! I truly admire you, my dear Tom, and I am sure that all this courage and perseverance will have something marvelous as recompense. We have been well favored by luck, Brigitte, you and I. Finally, after some long weeks of uncertainty, some good news of the whole family. Clearly the material situation of your father is less good than earlier, but that is nothing important, that that [?] livelihood. Don’t worry at all about the question of money on Brigitte’s behalf. My parents, without being rich, get enough for the moment. And as for you, if you have a hard moment, do not hesitate, do not stand on ceremony to ask us for what you need. Au revoir, my dear Tom, I embrace you very fraternally.  Maurice

Patti is pleased with Opa, he's written a more personal letter. Now that he is not solely responsible for all the information from Ella and August, I think Patti can relax her standards a little bit. 

I love how gifted Patti is with language. That genetic trait did not carry over to the rest of the family. We are fantastic over here with English - but that's about it. Patti just decides to practice her English and writes an entire letter in it. Although it isn't perfect- it's significantly better than what I could write in Spanish after many years of learning it. I bet Opa found it a little bit fun to be able to correct something of his sister's related to language. (Side note, Opa was the supreme editor in his later life- even of personal notes- he loved to make things grammatically correct.)

Once again everyone is worried about Opa working himself too hard. Little do they know it is the American Way to work hard. We could probably learn a little of the French lessons on leisure. 

Patti's mention of how Opa feels lonely, like he can't find a true friend - reminds me that Opa is still a German boy in a foreign country. Few speak his language, fewer still (if any) can understand his situation. I can't imagine how isolating that must have been to be the only refugee for miles. No one really has an understanding of what he is going through. Opa has lost contact with many of his friends, he does not hear from his father, his mother is in danger every day she remains in Berlin. His sister's safety is marginal. He hasn't seen his family for at least a year, more like two or three for his sister and mother. He has no guarantee of ever seeing them again. His culture and world-understanding is completely foreign to everyone around him. On top of that- he's in Kansas, a landscape and culture further removed from his own than perhaps a town on the north east coast would be. I have these moments when I feel alone because of how I see the world and what I care about- it's hard to find friends as an adult who you can truly connect with. It's hard enough within your own culture. I imagine Opa's loneliness weighed on him- who can he tell about his fears and worries?

Patti doesn't seem to be overly worried about Opa's visa- like everyone else. I think he isn't convinced or he wouldn't have shown concern to Patti. She's most concerned about Ella (Putschi) and whether or not she should go to Shanghai. Apparently the foreigners aren't being treated well there. However, I did little searching, and though that might have been the case at some point- here is a link to an article on the Holocaust Museum website. There you can read a little bit about why Shanghai actually became one of the only valid locations to emigrate to from Germany. When other countries where closing their borders, Shanghai remained open. The article is really interesting- don't forget to read it!

Now we have more information on August's situation, but it isn't helpful in any way. All we know is that somehow he's managed to write to Patti and Ella, but not to Opa - and not directly to anyone. I'm really confused about all of this. Patti also says he still has his job- but not the full job. I wonder if this is right, or if the information is old and Ella was right when she said he lost his job.  He is learning professional photography- so hopefully that is helpful to him. How entrepreneurial everyone had to be when their options were slowly stripped away. 

August and Patti both approve of whatever plan Opa has for Ella- they talk about friends having better information. That may have been intended to be code- but it really is likely the "Friends" or Quakers that they are referring to. I'm confused though, because last time we checked- the Quakers basically told Opa that there was no hope for Ella. Maybe something has opened up? Patti and August trust him - what responsibility!

Patti leaves her letter and comes back to it a week later- she and Maurice are moving in with their friend Emma. I'm sure that wasn't the plan- but she's being positive about it. They have a place to live and furniture- that's good! Patti then hands the letter over to Maurice, who writes a nice note. He reassures Opa of their situation, and reminds Opa to ask if he needs anything. It's funny because it's kind of like Maurice is taking the big brother role- but he's exactly the same age as Opa. He is being sweet though- which I appreciate. He calls Patti by her real name "Brigitte" which reminds me that likely she is only known as Patti to her family. 

This was a good letter! So now- go read that article on the refugees in Shanghai.

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