Letter from Ella to Opa
Berlin Charlottenburg, 10/29/40
14 Droysen St.
My very dear boy,
I want to be sitting by you now, holding your hand and stroking your dear head over and over—and I want to try to make you happy and cheerful again. I know, my dear boy, what pain you’re in; but you can’t let it do you in. We can’t allow any experience to make us weak; we must come out of each one stronger. Hunschen, enjoy the positive things that you can get from being with Esther, and don’t let that kind of friendship be destroyed. Unless you’re seeing Esther through rose-colored glasses, she must be a very good person. I am so glad, Hunschen, that you’re not just wasting your time, that you are always drawn to worthy people. To be honest I can’t believe at all that my little bub is practically a man, that he really loves a girl.
Hunschen, it occurred to me how identical—or rather, similar—your fate is to Maurice’s. Age, even name, is the same. And the fact that your feelings weren’t returned in the same way is due to the fact that Esther is still too young. I once spoke exactly the way she speaks, wanted what she wants, and then suddenly real life experience comes along, and all of one’s principles fade away. The same will probably happen to Esther at some point. Our Patti child spent years longing for someone to whom she could be friend and beloved—and so now she can give Maurice her total, true love. Esther does really like you and would be sad to lose you as a friend. I know how terribly hard it is to remain friends with someone when your heart wants something else. It’s easier to just make a clean break. Hunschenboy, you wrote that you are trying to forget. Believe me, my dear little one, that doesn’t work, and it won’t work. You don’t seriously believe you’ve forgotten Anni—and you can’t forget Esther, either—not if you live to be a hundred. These experiences stay with you for a lifetime. We can only be careful that they stay neatly in our memories and that they bring us forward in our own development. Already the memory of these two girls will hold you back from starting up frivolous relationships with frivolous girls.
You have your work, which will help you get over all of this—a lot of work, from what you write, and varied. It’s great, Hunschen, that you’re not busying yourself with other things. I am so sure that you will achieve something significant. Your gifts and the happy way other things have fallen into place make it your duty to. Your fate isn’t just any ordinary fate, and your accomplishments shouldn’t be ordinary, either. And you can’t let personal experiences hold you back from that. I was happy to read the words that Esther wrote in your yearbook: Always live so that everyone must value you. You will also find, I am quite sure, the love of a very worthy woman who wants to be with you. For now you are still far too young for a lasting commitment. You’re still growing up, and right now deep in the “Sturm und Drang” phase. Write to me about it more, Hunschen. Sometimes these hard things lose some of their painfulness when we’re able to talk about them—or write about them. And for me it is worth so much just to have my children come to me, if I can live with you even just in that way.
My Hunschen, what should I write about myself, then? You can imagine how it is for me without you both. I already wrote that Papa’s colleague brought me greetings, and a couple of other generic things. Then a few weeks ago came a very sweet card. Naturally Papa knows that Patti got married, and also at least in a general sense how you are doing. Annchen writes regularly. Have I actually thanked Jim Erill for his nice words? I’m just all mixed up these days so I never know what I wrote and to whom.
By the way, Hunschen, Martha had a very difficult mastotomy. But that’s something her children don’t need to find out for any reason. They would just worry and wouldn’t be able to help anyway. They didn’t even know she was sick. Everything went well, and it healed extraordinarily well and quickly. She’s been in the hospital for four weeks and comes home—that is, to my house—tomorrow or the day after. If and when the Shanghai plan will work, we can’t know. I’m glad that you share my viewpoint. I realize more every day how completely impossible it would be for me to be dependent on Erich. Even though I already know him, I’m always astonished at his attitude toward all the important things. Two worlds without a bridge! I asked about Hertig. She’s doing fine. She’s written to Uschi several times, but never gotten an answer—Erich’s daughter. If you know anything, write to our Hertig.
A couple weeks ago Tilli was here for a few days. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see each other much. We never got the opportunity to be alone even for a few hours. Hopefully she can come back again soon.
So, my dear boy, now our chat time is over! If you’d like, say hi to Esther from me, and Jim Erill and Winton and above all the Shelleys. I know them all—and I’m thankful to them for meaning something to my boy. As always, write again about everyone so I’m caught up. Did the Shelleys get my letter?
My dear, dear boy! If I could only be with you!
I’m hugging and kissing you!
Ella has words of comfort for her heart-broken son. He has a new girl, Esther, who has broken his heart. Opa seems to allow himself to get his heart broken a lot. Ella is so kind in how she compassionately writes to her son and affirms his feelings, while also opening space for him to heal and move forward. She talks about what he can learn from the experience, how every experience can be opportunities to grow stronger. Ella doesn't just say "Oh get over it- it's just a girl." I have to imagine this is a little unusual- that she is really more in tune to her child's needs and emotions than a typical German mother might have been. She does not belittle his trials or skip past them. She takes this opportunity to be a mother, to dote on her son even from afar. She wishes she could sit with him and comfort him through this normal rite of passage in a young man's life: heartbreak. She wants him to keep writing about these things, keep needing her, keep confiding.
Ella encourages Opa in her usual way, with high expectations but in her hopeful and confident manner. She tells Opa that she has no doubt he will do something extraordinary, that he has been so lucky and has a responsibility to utilize his good luck and fortune.
It sounds like Ella's sister had a major surgery, which must have been a huge impact on their life in Ella's apartment. I'm sure it delayed their Shanghai plans as well. It seems like Ella and Opa are going back and forth about how they feel about the whole Shanghai deal- and I think that they are agreed that it isn't ideal. There is definitely some awkward tension between Ella and Erich- I don't know but it seems like Ella is really uncomfortable with living under his care/financial support.
I'm reminded that sometimes, all you need is someone to hold your hand and tell you that everything is going to be OK, that you're normal to feel how you feel, and that you have extraordinary things in your future of your own making.