Tuesday, July 19, 2016

November 28, 1940: Wait, Work, and a Little Hope

Letter from Patti to Opa

(transcribing this was a beast- thanks to Jason for tackling it! I included the edits and my own because it's confusing without them. I'm not sure who did the editing- perhaps Patti herself or Opa?)

My dear little Hunschenboy,

About a week ago I received your letter of last July controlled by the Germans. I think that is the reason that it took so long to reach me. I was much pleased with it, in spite of the old news. But since I got this letter, I have an even stronger impression that you worked too much during the holidays, that you overtaxed your strength (is it English?). And you dear little brother offered to send me your money! I was so much touched by it and I thank you very, very heartily for your care. I would never accept this money you earned by such hard work, even if I were short of money. But I am not at all. In the beginning I wrote you that papa could help me no longer and that I don't have the right to work here, and indeed, that idea troubled me very much at that moment. But I am sorry I've told you so, since it made you such worry. I hope it is not because of me that you worked so much beyond your strength. I couldn’t bear it, tell me the truth, my dear boy! You need not be concerned about me at all. We lack nothing. My parents-in-law take care of both of us so kindly, and Maurice has his scholarship, a monthly sum of about 700 francs, not very much, not even enough for one person, but his parents are helping us, they are able to do it for the moment. Of course, I am not very satisfied with this solution of the financial question, I would prefer to earn some money myself, but it is not possible for the moment, unless I do work such as a charwoman or the like, and that Maurice would never permit nor would his parents. I hope I’ll be able to give some lessons. Till now I could not look for it, for there were so many other things to look for: our money (?) and finally I got the measles. I have recovered from it but I still cannot go outside. It was not very hard but for some awful days, and Maurice cared so well for me, attended me in such a perfect and loving manner that I recovered very quickly. I don’t know where the devil I got this illness. I am not a child, am I?
I hope you got my last letter about 3 or 4 weeks ago, with many prints, and I hope you were pleased with it. I told you that we were living together with Emma who has her lodging in the schoolhouse where she works. Her husband who was a war prisoner of the Germans came back 3 weeks ago, to our great surprise. He has been reformed because of an illness of the stomach and therefore he was freed so we were living together all 4 of us! Only I am not allowed to live in the schoolhouse, the mayor refused authorization because of my nationality, so we hired a little room in the neighbourhood to sleep in. We live 3 km from the town, but since we have bicycles, the distance doesn’t matter. I told you that I picked up my English (which does not prevent me from making many mistakes) and enrolled at the University for 2 exams in June, philologie and Etudes practiques. I intend to continue studying Russian for myself, to give some lessons, and to do some work in our household (we have ?? town, but not supper). I shall have plenty of work. But up to now I have done very little of this program. I could never do your work, I would be fired after a fourth of it, I suppose.
I got another letter from Putschi from Switzerland. I am always so awfully glad when I hear from her. She doesn’t write anything new to me, always the same life of waiting, work and sorrow and maybe a little hope. Do you have any new information as to her travel? I asked you once whether her liking would be assured over there. She would never allow herself to be dependent of Stiers and I can understand that very well. It seems that Erich has already annoyed many people at the Droysenstr. He is an impossible man. 
I am astonished to hear that Ellen takes so much care of Putschi, that she tries to help her. Why did you never tell me? You always wrote in a puzzled way about her, as if you didn’t know her address, as if she never wrote you etc. What is the matter? She never wrote me since she left G (Germany). and as I told you so, you answered me it was the same with you. Do you correspond with her since you know she did something for Putschi? Does she know I am married? Write me her address, please, if she does not take the attitude I supposed. I never got any news from Lillie neither from Hanna since I wrote them. Did you hear from them? 
Yesterday I got a letter from Mr. Vos of Switzerland. Do you know him from your being in Amsterdam? Is he American or Dutch? Do you like him? I don’t know him at all and remember only the name from Papa’s telling me. He wrote me a kind letter telling me he got one from Papa who begs him to send him a letter from me as he didn’t get any for a long time. However, I wrote him some weeks ago and my friend in Switzerland surely forwarded the letter. It reached him perhaps after he wrote. I even sent him prints in that letter. Papa writes that they are quite well except for the financial side of the question. And Putschi wrote me that he intended to join you. I wonder whether he will be able to do so. I answered today and wrote also many things about you. 
I didn’t get any letter but the old one from you for a very long time. Do write me, my little Hunschen. I always long for your letter as I can’t see you. I hope you are well and you enjoy your work. Is your visa matter settled now? Tell me much about you.
Many kisses of your loving sister

(French note from Maurice)

At top upside down:
Your last letter was from July 29th, The one before, that is the real last one from September 29th. 

This letter is confusing. Let me run by a synopsis: Patti is pleased that Opa wrote, she's upset that he worked so hard to make money and is afraid that he did it for her. Patti confirmed that she is safe and does not want for anything, however she gives that comforting information with a host of caveats that makes you realize how tentative her financial situation is: she is not allowed to work (except now perhaps she can give lessons/tutor), her husband gets a scholarship stipend that barely covers one person, and her in-laws are filling in the rest while they can. She is reassuring Opa that she is OK- but I'm not convinced. Then she tells Opa about her little bout with the Measles, which sounds awful. She treats it like a nuisance to be brushed off, but she is still unable to go outside- that's pretty intense. Then she talks about her friend whose husband returned from a prison because he was ill. I thought this was some weird code, but Patti's daughter Helene told me that the friend is named Emma (not to be confused with August's wife), but everyone called her Mickey. Emma and Patti were best friends. When Patti and Emma were first friends, Emma's husband was a French jew who went off to war but then was discharged due to a mental illness he developed while at war (perhaps what we call PTSD). He and Emma divorced. Patti mentions that she and Maurice are living with them and then she says that no- they are living in a rented room because of her German nationality. Helene told me this happened because the mayor found out Patti's nationality, so they were forced to move. Patti talks about picking up her English and taking classes. Helene tells me these are advanced level english course, including English Literature. Patti talks about learning Russian, which Ella also studied for her work at the Russian embassy. Helene said that Patti had many Russian friends and became fluent in Russian. I remember reading in Opa's autobiography that Patti even hoped to emigrate to Russia in the beginning of the war. She ended up in France instead. Patti talks about not Maurice not wanting her to be a charwoman- which is like a housekeeper or a maid. Apparently that was not a kosher thing to be doing. 

Patti starts talking about Putschi (Ella) and says she got a letter through her friend in Switzerland. I love the way she describes Ella's letters: waiting, work, sorrow, and maybe a little hope. She asks Opa about her "travel" and if she would be liked "over there"- my guess is she's asking if Opa's gotten any further in the work to get his mother to the United States. Then we learn about how much everyone seemed to like Erich (Ella's brother-in-law, Opa and Patti's uncle)- not a whole lot. I wonder why he was so difficult to be around?

Patti got word from August through another friend in Switzerland, and he sent his good tidings. Everything was fine with August except the financial side of things. That was one way that Hitler did seem to attack his enemies, whoever they were- by ostracizing them financially. Helene remembers hearing that August was paid fairly well, so I wonder when the financial burden began. We know that conditions in Holland worsen as the war goes on. Apparently August still has dreams of traveling to the United States. I wonder if he is working some of his newspaper friend channels. 

As always, Patti asks for more letters. She and her mother are alike in that request. 

This letter is a jumble of information, questions, and frail reassurances. It's got to be exhausting to keep writing back and forth to your family the paragraph equivalents of "Still Alive." Especially when there is nothing anyone can really do about anything. Waiting, working, hoping.

I think back to my first year of marriage when I had moved to a new city, a new job, and my husband and I were managing the normal adjustments of adult married life. It was challenging... then I read here of Patti rooming with her friend and ex-POW, being evicted because of her nationality, not having the ability to work and depending on her in-laws for financial survival, and then the measles. I wonder what their evening conversations were like. Did they drink coffee in the morning and have even a few minutes without worry? The adrenaline of the wartime allowed them to continue in the state of waiting, working, and hoping.