Tuesday, November 17, 2015
September 11, 1940: Brutally Honest
Grenoble, 11 Sept 1940
My dear Tom,
It was yesterday morning that I received your letters of 18 and 26 August. That was the first after those of 6 June and 2 July, which I received at the same time. Have the other letters gotten lost? I don’t know whether you are with the Shelley family and I would really like to know who it is, how you found them and what you are doing.
I thank you very much for your happy birthday wishes, my big little brother [frérot]. There were not 22 children around me (?), but it was nevertheless one of the best birthdays of my life. The day before, we went up the mountain, Maurice and I, to set up a tent in a nice meadow and in the morning, early, my little Maurice lit 22 candles in front of the tent. You can imagine my joy at this dear sight. That evening, in Grenoble, there was also a small intimate party at Emma’s house, just the three of us since her husband is a prisoner of the Germans. The poor thing only rarely gets news of him, but the news is relatively good. I really am amazingly lucky to have Maurice with me.
What is the story on Shanghai for Mama? I am always disappointed in your letters because they are too confused. You say a lot of things, but almost never the essential ones, neither about your own life nor for the rest. Each time I get a letter from you (and this is unfortunately pretty rare), I [sulk] with joy, and after I’ve read it I am often very disappointed because there’s almost nothing in it. Don’t hold a grudge about this small reproach, but I’m telling you what I think, I don’t have good manners with you. Now, have you really thought about Mama? You see her all alone (Erich is nothing but a worry to her in certain respects) in a completely strange town in the troubled times we live in, and still no one knows what is happening and what will happen down there. Under what conditions did she go there? Who and what will she find down there, what means of living? Did the $400 assure her livelihood? Did she want to go there? How can you undertake something […] without telling her? Do you now have her answer? Are you sure you can give her the $70? Must we pay the rest too? All this business doesn’t seem clear enough to me and I beg you to answer my questions by return post. I am very worried about Putschi and don’t at all wish her to launch into the unknown at this moment. But even though I don’t know all the details, I can’t advise you and I heartily wish her life to be made easier as soon as possible.
Why don’t you tell me about her letters in more detail? You know that I can’t receive them and I have already asked you many times to tell me about them. Don’t you know anything about Papa? Answer my questions, at least. I am very anxious about our parents of whom I have been without news since May. Are you so uncaring that you can’t imagine my worry? Do you know whether Papa is still in good health, whether he is working at the U.P.? If you don’t know anything, tell me that at least. I think that a letter has been lost, I can’t otherwise explain your silence on the subject of all these questions. At the end of July I wrote directly to our parents, since I’d been told that that was possible, but I had no response from either of them. Now I have sent a letter to each via the Red Cross in Geneva and asked for news from a friend in Switzerland. I hope that this time I’ll have an answer.
You must already have taken up your studies again, lucky little dog, and I wish you as great success as last year. Aren’t you too tired after your hard vacation work? Have you thought sufficiently about resting? What luck that they’re giving you a scholarship for next year! I think that your situation, passport, etc. is being regularized and meanwhile you can stay without difficulties. Now, you’ll write more about what you’re doing and about your friends and patrons. At heart, I admire you and am very happy that you are doing everything you can to help Mama. But you should understand my worry if you tell me things just halfway, and you yourself tell me that the atmosphere where you live is often thoughtless.
As for us, everything is going well. Until now we have been leading a life completely on vacation, but courses are starting the first of October. You ask me how we can live together without money? Maurice has his scholarship and his parents help us for the time being, something that I find very disagreeable. During vacations things are difficult, but afterwards I will surely find teaching work. It’s all that I can do for the moment, since I don’t have the right to work; I am not yet naturalized, and I don’t know whether there’s any hope on that subject. Since the war there have been new laws. I always hope that Papa will arrange to send me money even so and that my situation will be regularized later. I have received money via the U.P. in Paris in May and June, but after that I haven’t been able to correspond with Paris again. I hope that all this is just temporary.
As for my studies, I have already written that I cannot return to Paris as long as it is occupied by the Germans and that I will try to work here a bit for myself. I may enroll here for English. Apart from that, I keep busy with our “household” which is small but where there is no little work even so. For the moment, you will be neither uncle nor aunt, we must first figure out how to live ourselves.
Have you sent all the photos to Mama? Have you saved none at all of them for yourself? Tell me! For the moment I won’t send them to you; it’s too expensive: both the photos and ?the supplementary passport.
I have received no letters either from Lillie or Hanna. Always confirm that you’ve received my letters, would you, and tell me the date of arrival?
This week Maurice left for his parents’ house, where I don’t want to accompany him since it’s in an occupied zone. Between our trips to the mountains that I’ll tell you about another time in more detail, we have spent a week with Maurice’s parents 90 km from here, where we went on bicycles. We were very cordially received and will return there for some days at the end of the month. I will write you then from there.
For now I close this letter, embracing you very affectionately, my dear little brother.
Oh Patti, you can't help but be honest, and brutally honest you are. She gives Opa a proper scolding for not give her enough information about their parents. I feel for her too- because Opa is the only one she can get information about them from- and Opa doesn't seem to be clear in his letters. I wonder if with all the letter writing he is a little bit rushed and not as intentional about what he writes. Patti flat out told him he writes a lot with little content. Ha! My hope is that Opa takes the scolding lightly and gives her the information she is seeking without being too hurt by her reproach.
I think it is still so ironic that Opa is the information center for Ella and Patti- they are so much closer geographically- and yet must wait on news from the United States to know what is happening next door.
Obviously Opa's letter is confusing because Patti is all sorts of confused about the Shanghai thing. She talks about how Erich gets in Ella's way and how sending Ella to some random town she's never been to might not be the brightest idea. And she says all this with the assumption that Opa is orchestrating the plan and idea. The truth is that Ella asked Opa for the money and her pleading to get out of Berlin is enough for her son to grant her wish. Patti has not seen her mother's letters lately, and even if she did- she'd likely want to chastise her mother of the same non-information-giving crime she accused Opa. Patti is desperate for information on her family, desperate to know that everything is being thought about, worked on, processed. She has absolutely no control- in fact- her little brother is the one who is holding the reigns in many ways. I think that was hard for her. I think Opa could have forwarded Ella's letters and Patti would still feel frustrated for lack of information.
We get a glimpse into the restrictions that Patti faced due to her fear of running into the German occupying forces. One of her friends is already a guest in a German prison. The fear is very real. Patti and Maurice biked 90 km to his parents! That's almost 56 miles! I feel like that isn't normal. It shows how careful they have to be about money, and about traveling.
I hope the next letter sounds more satisfied. She had a wonderful birthday, but it didn't stop her from telling Opa exactly what she thought. And that is why I love Patti- because she steps outside the German stereotype of stoicism once in a while and writes what is on her mind. Even if she is being brutally honest.