Friday, September 30, 2016

April 1, 1941: Happy Ella

Letter from Ella to Opa


Berlin,Charlottenburg 4
April 1st 1941 

My very beloved boy,

Today is April 1st! Do you remember how we used to fool each other? Like we fooled Ann'chen (she is using slang, actually says something like the English version "pulling one's leg”). Today we do not enjoy such fun, we are so terribly serious! I did not have a chance to write to you on Sunday, because Ellenruth received a letter, and then there was so much activity in my place, that there just was no time left for it. I believe that Ellenruth, especially now in her new position, will take well care of all things for me. She is smart and capable, energetic, has good intentions and willpower.

Hunschen, you misunderstood me, are informed wrong: My number has not been called up and in no foreseeable is there the possibility that it will be called up. Because I always thought to be able to get to Patti, I registered much too late. But I heard that one will receive preferred treatment, if one has children there. All of that is very vague, but I am not losing hope, or my will to survive. The passage (travel cost) has to be paid from over there, also a room on a steamer, the trip to Lisbon I can pay from here. All that Ellenruth will know best, she will also be informed about all changes, which come daily. What is valid for the passage today, can be different tomorrow. I cannot initiate anything from here, until I have the sufficient affidavit. Do you think we will see each in the summer of 1941, I actually thought it would be much earlier. What do you think, if perhaps I should go to Jenny's uncle temporarily? I would not like to do that, I don't like him very much, although he is very nice to me, and seems to value me. I value him also, but an intimate relationship does not develop because he is a stranger to my inner feelings, and I am afraid, if I go to him, he will want to keep me there. I will definitely not do that!!

I have not seen Anni for a long time, I believe she declined the scholarship, naturally she could have another one, if she wanted to. As soon as she comes to see me again, I will talk to her about it again. I also have not talked to Mr. W. for a long time. I am afraid he does not feel well. He received your letter, it was read to everybody at the Friends, Heini told me about it.

Hunschen, what does leap year mean? I thought it was the German Schaltjahr, but since 1941 is not one, it must have another meaning. I think I will have to learn an awful lot of English when I get there. It makes me happy, when I read in your letters how happy you are in your work. I believe that your work is work and your play is play. That is so splendid, my beloved boy, and I am happy that you can have all that. If only I would hear from Pattilein! Always write to me when you hear from her. H. H. told Ann'chen that Papa receives letters from her regularly, but bad (mean) Papa does not write to me at all. I think I wrote to you that H.H., through Ann'chen, brought a picture of August to me. He did not bother to come to see me or call. Up to now, I could write at the H.V., because the sales representative was thoughtful enough to return later than planned, so I had a free hour. Then when I came home, I found your letter, which made me very happy. My dear boy, you are so correct. Enjoy your life!

On Sunday I will reply in detail to your letter, today just thanks and thank you for the pictures.

When your last letter arrived, asking about Lux and Lise, they just happened to be here with me. They are so very much interested and will love the picture you sent. Why can't you write to Papa?

Hunschen boy, continue to write so regularly and nicely as in these last letters.

I kiss my dear boy
Your Mama

Mrs. R. says thanks for your greeting.  She is taking such good care of me!

I've occasionally made it a point to pay attention to Ella's handwriting. This letter is vey neat, even lines, long in length. She's happy. She's full of hope, something seems to have happened from Ellenruth's end that makes Ella almost sure she will see Opa by the summer. She makes it sound almost as if Ellenruth has some sort of inside track on what will get her across to the US. If I were Opa, unless Ellenruth has been sharing this same information with me, I would be very cautious and maybe even annoyed. Is Ellenruth really able to help Ella? Is she giving Ella false hope? I would be so skeptical, yet the last letter from the folks at the AFSC also seemed hopeful. It is so drastic how quickly the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other for immigration. One minute there is no hope for anyone, the next it seems a broad highway has been suddenly cleared. 

Ella doesn't engage in her April fools antics, but her spirit is light today.

I love how she asks about the leap year meaning. Is Opa writing in English? Or using english phrases? That would be interesting if he is writing to her in English. I don't know why that seems odd to me. 

What is also odd is that it seems (I had to reread this part several times to make sense of it) that Patti is able to write regularly to August. I think Ella is angry because she doesn't hear word from Patti and August doesn't forward the news. Then there is this mystery of why August won't write Ella or, more oddly, Opa. And Opa seems to be returning the favor- he doesn't write August. I want to give August the benefit of the doubt that he has his finger on the political pulse and knows about some things and has very specific reasons why he isn't writing people. I still don't know who H.H. is.

It seems that Opa is writing more regularly or that his letters are making it through. This makes Ella very happy- and it's nice to see Ella happy.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

March 29, 1941: A Break from Chaos

Henry Speaks for International Relations Club Article by Opa in The Spectator


Henry Speaks for I.R.C.
By Thomas Doeppner

Local News

There will be no International Relations Club meeting today because of the numerous other activities going on at the same time.

The World At Large

The Yugoslav government crisis is nearing a climax as Regent Prince Paul and Premier Cvetkovitch struggle to replace the three cabinet Ministers who had resigned. Axis quarters claim that an accord would be signed in Vienna, but other circles predict a possible breakdown of the whole government.

Russia is stepping back into the center of international interest again. German troop concentrations in the Balkans became too vital for Russia's interest in the Dardanelles. Although the newspaper headlines "Russia pledges aid to Turkey" are nothing but a great exaggeration, Russia's promise of "full and comprehensive neutrality", whatever that means, came as a great handicap to Germany. At the same time, Russia ceased sending oil and gasoline to Hitler, which does not seem to be appreciated in Berlin too much either.

You know, Russia has always done its own thing. I'm fascinated by Russian history. The Russian people seemed to be made of steel, and yet they tend to lose so much at every historical turn. They survive the most terrible things. 

Last night I spoke with a man from Turkey who talked about how Hitler did not invade their country in order to access Russia from the south, but instead went north. He had his own reasons why this happened, but talked about how the people of his country considered themselves blessed for this near-miss of catastrophe. We both giggled a little bit when we recognized that each of us knew how smart a northern advance on Russia is (um- not smart). Looking into some historical sites and arguments on why Hitler let Turkey alone- there are several reasons cited. Among those are that Turkey was not an imminent threat, and its geography was too mountainous to traverse easily and quickly. So Hitler eventually got to Russia in the north, and through the tough-as-nails Russian tactic of scorched-earth policy, was forced to retreat. (We'll get to this later I'm sure, but Russians simply retreated into their frozen homes and burned all the villages on the borders so that the incoming had no food or resources to pillage and were forced to go back for supplies. That's a hard-core plan, and it worked.)

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself but it's interesting to note that even in hindsight, we can't know for sure why all the choices were made and how different choices may or may not have affected the final outcome. Turkey's benevolent neutrality seemed to be enough to spare it from battle, and there is a man in Virginia who is thankful for that small break in history from chaos. 

March 24, 1941: Don't Touch Cards!

Letter from Ella to Opa


Berlin-Charlottenburg 4
March 24th, 1941

My very beloved boy, 

Thank you for your letter from Manhattan. It was good, that you mailed it after you were back at McPherson, otherwise I would have been worried that something could happen to my boy, while on the way. Hunschen, I am happy that you have an opportunity to go to the Engineer school, and wish for you that it comes true. But one thing I will say right away: I did not like it at all that you dawdled (got lazy). To see a ballet and do some dancing, I think is not bad, but playing cards you should not. Please Hunschen don't do that again. It is not hard to play, but it is difficult to stop in time. So many have wrecked their life with that. It can develop into a bad passion, which can destroy all goals. My boy, may I beg you, to promise me that you won't touch any cards? Please answer. Don't let others convince you, don't be afraid to be a spoilsport. You are you and should remain so. You have to accomplish a lot in life. You have that obligation because of your talent. 

I was so happy about your good results, I read the newspaper note full of pride. Let it always be like that (keep up the good work). In McPherson you are in good company, look for a worthy group in Manhattan as well, honest people striving for the good. Naturally you are correct, wanting to earn the money for your studies yourself, and not borrow it. I am very much against creating debts. But you should not overexert yourself.  Roadwork, construction, or work in closed rooms is not good for you, as long as you are still developing. Wouldn't it be better to do harvesting work like last year? If only I could help you, my boy. I think if I were there I would find work, to make it easier for you. Just think, Hunschen, if we could be together again. And then Patti would come for a visit. I cannot explain (put into words) how terribly hard I am longing for both of you. 

What you write about my number is not quite correct. But I have heard that parents are given preference, if the affidavit is sufficient. I wrote about it in each of my letters, maybe you have received them in the meantime. Before I can initiate anything from here, I have to have the sufficient affidavit. Then when everything required here is done, the money for the passage also has to be deposited over there. I know, Hunschen, you are doing everything you can to make it happen. I had asked you to contact Rose and Ellenruth, also Hannah and maybe her brother.  

A few days ago H.H. came to see Ann'chen and brought a very good picture of Papa, one for me too. I assume Papa took it himself. But I regret not to have spoken to H.H. myself. (the next line is Dutch, meaning as much as : one can't change that)  

Stiers again are having a good chance to leave soon. Martha is not feeling well, now after the operation, she often is very weak (quite ill).

Write a lot, a lot, a lot! What do you hear from Patti? I have been without news from her for a long time. What about Little Herting? 

I kiss my boy very much and lovingly!
Your Mama

Ella has very high expectations for her son, and understandably so. He is smart, capable, and has the luxury of freedom. She does not want anything getting in the way of that. While it may seem harsh for her to ask him not to play cards, we have to get the perspective that she has. There is so much at stake here for him, and Ella has seen poor men in Germany throw away their already fragile livelihood and families for drink, gambling, or other vices. I have been reading some of my Quaker books and pamphlets about this time period, and something I came across emphasized Ella's point here. It's from Anni Halle's Pamphlet titled "Thoughts are Free" A Quaker Youth Group in Nazi Germany. She wrote about her experience in the Quaker youth group (that Opa was also a member of) ...

It seems a little exaggerated to me today, and understandable only as a sign of the times, how the older Quakers influenced our judgment concerning smoking and alcohol. We renounced both radically and wished to stay clear of any addictive habits. But, above all, we wanted to speak to the conditions prevailing among the working class, such as the case, for example, where a father was destroying his health and, in one evening, drinking up the week's wages meant for the family. Several other demands that we placed on ourselves would perhaps appear to a youth group today as "repressive": order, cleanliness, punctuality. For us, these were not "Prussian virtues," values in themselves, but rather necessary prerequisites for a productive community life. To our good fortune, we did not know as yet how important for survival such firmly engrained self-discipline could be for some of us later, in the underground or in emigration.
I'm really struck by this. I think a natural pendulum swing of a person's life can be seen as the early years of being taught strict rules, the adolescent years of rebelling against them, and the swing toward the middle as one ages and finds the benefit of some of those rules. But for the Quakers, and for people like Opa and Ella- they didn't have the luxury of the rebellious teenage years. You absolutely had no room to fall. The stakes were so very high. 

I find as I age that the things I used to hold on to with strict adherence no longer hold the same tight chokehold on me, but I've chosen many boundaries for myself because I am a healthier, happier person with them, and I can be better for my community. But I had to learn that, and in some ways I learned it by doing the wrong things. The pressure that Opa must feel to never misstep must be so incredible. 

Ella reminds Opa that her number hasn't been called (or isn't forecast to be called soon)- rather she has heard that parents of children in the US get preference. She has listed the steps for her emigration many times to Opa, and I found a source to back up her litany. A man named Leonard Kenworthy from the United States was on mission to the Berlin Quaker group in 1940-1941. He was helping the Quaker center with their refugee work among other things. Here is a snippet of what he said in his book "Another Dimension of the Holocaust: An American Quaker Inside Nazi Germany" about the process of emigration at that time:

First, a person's passport had to be validated...Emigrants also had to obtain a certificate of residence and one of good conduct. In addition, each person leaving the country had to obtain several tax papers and affidavits about his or her personal belongs and a certificate that all taxes had been paid. Those papers had to be taken to several government offices. When all those steps ad been taken, the emigrant was required to take his or her papers to a special bureau which examined the person's belongings and indicated what could be moved abroad. Having cleared that series of hurdles, the emigrant then had to appear at the consulate of the country to which he or she was going, producing a steamship or airplane ticket, plus other documents...
It makes me realize what Ella has likely already been through and why she is in such a hurry to get the rest. At this time, the Nazis were still happy to let the Jews leave the country and encouraged them to do so, but not without making sure they had paid all their debts! Nazi Germany did not want the Jews to take any money out of the country, which is how most successful immigrants arrived in their new home with barely any money.

H.H. comes to visit and brings Ella a picture of August. I don't know yet who H.H. is, but I'll try to figure it out. I'm assuming it is someone from August's side of the family. I think it is a little ridiculous that Ella even accepts this picture of August. He refuses to write her, is no longer married to her, and he sends a picture of himself. I don't get it.

The Stiers are still on the roller coaster of emigration themselves, though they have seemed closer to actually leaving, they haven't left yet and it seems that Martha just had surgery. (A reminder: Martha is Ella's sister.)

I gave you a lot of research for this blog- but I do find it so helpful to hear the different voices all interacting and producing similar refrains. It leads credence to the individual stories, and gives me a bigger picture of what is going on. 

In the meantime - I've been thinking about my vices, and if there's anything keeping me from reaching my full potential. Ella made me think! 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

March 22 & 28, 1941: I'm Not Going to Cuba!

Letter from Elizabeth Walton of AFSC to Opa


               March 22, 1941.

Mr. Thomas Doeppner
McPherson College
McPherson, Kansas.

Dear Mr. Doeppner:

We received your letter of March 15th and are interested to know more about your visa situation. Have you not had any more word since the letter of 10/30/40 from Mr. Uhl? Before getting in touch with Washington we should like to know the developments since that date.

In answer to your question in regard to the change of status we should like to say that at the present moment, as you probably know, it is necessary to leave the country and reenter. The only place open to those of German birth is Cuba, and of course you would not want to consider taking this step until at least the summer. If you are considering changing status it would be well for you to start securing the necessary affidavits and papers for the regular immigration requirements. In order to go to Cuba, a deposit of $500, which is later refunded again, is needed and at least $200 in cash for traveling and living expenses. Mrs. Schaufuss of the Christian Committee could help you in arranging these papers, but it would not be necessary to get in touch with her until your plans have progressed further.

We are hoping that there might be some change in the regulations so that it might perhaps not be necessary to leave the country, but at the moment the regulations are as outlined above. We shall be glad to give you further advice in regard to changing your status from visitor to student when we have heard from you again.

Have there been any further developments in regard to the opening at Manhattan, Kansas?

Sincerely yours,

Elizabeth Walton.

Letter from Opa to Elizabeth Walton of AFSC


Thomas Doeppner       McPherson College,
                      March 28, 1941.
                      McPherson Kansas

Miss Elizabeth Walton
American Friends Service Committee
20 S. Twelfth St.

Dear Miss Walton:

Thank you very much for your letter of March 22. I have not heard any more word from Mr. Uhl or anybody of the State Department since the letter of October 31 and the short telegram exchange between your office and me.  have not inquired any more in Washington in the meantime, for I thought that would only help to delay the matter unnecessarily.

I would be very interested in changing my status to an immigrant's, but I don't think that I shall be able to raise the necessary money. I have to earn the entire expenses for next school year in summer time, and therefore I cannot think about making a trip to Cuba. So I think that, unless it would be possible to change the status from within the United States, I should keep on trying to get the student's visa.

There have been no further developments in regard to my going to Manhattan next year yet, it depends completely on whether or not I shall be able to earn enough money. I have a job for harvest time already, but I keep looking for better jobs, for harvest would not give enough money. There are, as I wrote you before, good possibilities for work in Manhattan, during school time, if my visa affair is fixed till that time.

As far as I can see, the main thing to do is to get the visa. Is there anything I could do to hasten this matter? I would b very glad if you could give me some advice.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas Doeppner.

Right now I'm cursing that jerk at Ellis Island who gave Opa a visitor's visa when he should have been given a student visa. This whole mess would not be happening otherwise. I know that it was likely more complicated than that - but something happened in the process that changed Opa's student visa to a visitor's visa, and it really stinks here. I feel so sorry for Opa- he has got to be stressed to the max. So many things are up in the air, and so many things hang on to whether or not he has the right visa. 

I don't usually do bullet points in my blog, but I'm going to list the things Opa is worried about right now that has something to do with his visa:

-getting his mother over to the US (needs a visa to sponsor her)
-affording school at Manhattan (needs a visa to get good jobs)
-Getting jobs to support himself (Needs a visa)
-trying not to be deported (needs a visa)
-trying not to need a trip to Cuba (needs a visa)

The State Department could at any moment sweep down and grab Opa and ship him out. His visitor's visa has expired and he is currently living illegally in the United States. He has tried to change his visa to a student visa (the one he should have had in the first place) and has had no definitive response. The visitor's visa means that you are only visiting the United States, and so after a time you must leave. A loophole for people is to leave after their "visit" and then come back, but Opa cannot afford this loophole. To become an official immigrant (meaning seeking citizenship in this case), you have a completely separate and equally arduous process that requires a lot of money and a lot of time. Neither of those things are commodities that Opa is rich in. That's why he has been after the Student Visa all along, which allows him to stay in the United States as long as he is a student (I'm sure with some qualifications, but at least less temporary than the visitor's visa). He just wants to be able to get a job and finish his studies, oh and stay away from Hitler and get his mom to safety. 

Elizabeth Walton at the AFSC is talking about what Opa must do to satisfy the conditions of his visitors visa (go to Cuba) but she is incredulous that nothing has transpired since the October letters from Mr. Uhl with the INS. Opa has pretty much had to confirm and reconfirm that no, really, the State Department seems to have totally dropped the ball. And if I were Opa and I were living illegally and hadn't heard from the  State Department who thinks I should leave the country, yeah, I probably wouldn't be writing them a thousand letters reminding them of my illegal status. 

If you want to remind yourself of what the last bit of communication was with Opa and the visa folks, here's a quick glance with links to the full blogs: 

October 25- visa extension denied
October 30- conversation about the denial, and why Opa has nowhere to go
October 31- Mr. Uhl unhelpfully telling Opa to get the Student Visa that he's been trying to get all along.
November 1- Oops- you had two files, that's why we didn't see your application for Student Visa in time- sit tight- we'll let you know what do to.

And that was the last he heard from them. To Opa's credit- they told him not to do anything until they dealt with the two-file discrepancy. 

But now Opa knows that he has to deal with it, and he's afraid of what will happen. That's why he wants the AFSC at his side, and it seems like they are just as confused as he is. Which is not comforting. And Opa certainly is not going to Cuba! At least we hope not.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

March 21, 1941: Everybody Hating Us

Henry Speaks for International Relations Club by Opa 
in The Spectator (McPherson College Newspaper)


Henry Speaks For I.R.C.
By Thomas Doeppner

Local News

There will be no International Relations Club meeting today, but we urge our members to attend the Fellowship of Reconciliation Conference, which starts today on the campus.

The World At Large

Because the United States felt it inexpedient to christen her newest battleship, North Carolina, on Good Friday as scheduled, the giant vessel is being commissioned into the navy earlier in preparation for "trials later in spring."

Germany is awaiting the arrival of the British troops now landed at southern Balkan ports. War in the Balkans? Imminent! . . .

Greece is withstanding Italian attempts at air attacks...Yugoslavia is not accepting German proposals as quickly as Hitler hoped because of British forces in Greece... German occupation of Bulgaria has not altered the Turkish-British military alliances... The Royal Air Force is continuing to unload shells on German civilian population... British aerial defense has scattered German bombing... Roosevelt now has full swing with the Lease-Lend Bill, the 7 billion appropriation, and popular mandate... U.S. Dept of State is trying to fan resentment against Germany over the arrest of an alleged U.S. spy-news correspondent... so it goes... having our own way and everybody hating us.

Magazine Articles of Interest

Editorial, "If America Stands Alone," New Republic, 104:362, March 17, 1941.

Stone, I.F., "Wheeler's Cliveden Set," Nation, 152:287, March 15, 1941.

Markham, R.H., "Yugoslavia Yields," ibid, p. 289.

Stevens, Peter, "Turkish Dilemma," ibid. p. 294.

Thompson, Dorothy, "Let's Face the Facts: There Are No Neutral Hearts," Vital Speeches, 7:345, March 15, 1941.

Stassen, H.E., "Brotherhood: The Way to Live as Neighbors," ibid. p. 351.

I'm honestly not sure what Opa meant when he said "having our own way and everybody hating us." But the spirit of this article is very much that things are just falling apart. I read that piece about Britain bombing German civilian populations and cringed. I know that the Geneva Convention and the treaties that resulted were instrumental in establishing that civilian casualties were to be avoided. I'm not sure if anything like that had been established before this war. If you know about this, please comment and educate me! I think it is horrifying that civilian casualties was an accepted norm. 

How could Opa not be thinking about his family all the time? At any point any or all of them could be killed for any reason. Opa as I knew him was not a worry-wart, but I can't imagine that he didn't pore over the news with some sense of dread. In the Harry Potter book series, there is a time when the villain, Voldemort, is growing in power and might. Ron, one of the main characters, sits listening to the radio day and night to hear if his family members become one of the listed people missing or killed. Did Opa wonder if he hadn't heard from his family for a while if perhaps it wasn't just the delayed mail? 

I don't know what he meant when he said "everybody hating us"- my guess is he was talking about the US. But in a way I think he meant everyone hating everyone- the world was spinning into a chaotic mess of war with very little to be hopeful for. The conference of the Fellowship for Reconciliation must have felt desperately needed and perhaps a day late and a dollar short. 

Spotlight: Tatiana Schaufuss

Spotlight on Tatiana Schaufuss

Opa was given the suggestion to contact Tatiana Schaufuss with the American Committee for Christian Refugees in New York. Most information on Schaufuss references her helping establish the Tolstoy Foundation, a Foundation that helped Russian refugees. She started it with Alexandra Tolstoy, daughter of Leo Tolstoy. I can’t find much on the American Committee for Christian Refugees, but will update if I do. Otherwise, below is a brief bio of Tatiana from

Born in Russia in 1891, Tatiana Schaufuss came to the United States in 1938 and helped to establish the Tolstoy Foundation. If Alexandra Tolstoy was the heart and the soul of the Foundation, Mrs. Schaufuss was its principal architect and builder. Astute, professional and pragmatic, she was the driving force behind the Foundation's programs and activities worldwide.

For over 40 years, she served the Tolstoy Foundation as Executive Director, Executive Vice President and later as President. She expanded the Foundation's work in the United States and overseas with offices in Europe, the Middle East, Canada and throughout South America. Mrs. Schaufuss successfully interceded on behalf of tens of thousands of Russian refugees who found themselves living under communist domination after World War II and arranged for their resettlement in the United States.

After World War II, under the auspices of the former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, Mrs. Schaufuss established homes for the aged in France, West Berlin and South America. In 1970, she founded the Tolstoy Foundation Nursing Home in Valley Cottage, New York.

Mrs. Schaufuss lived and worked actively at the TF Center until 1984. She died in 1986 at age 95 in the Foundation Nursing Home which she helped establish.

March 18, 1941: Ship Problems

Letter from Annelise Thieman of AFSC to Opa


Mr. Thomas Doeppner          March 18, 1941.
McPherson College
McPherson, Kansas

                    Re: Ella Doeppner - #3340

My dear Mr. Doeppner:   

We received your letter of March 15 and are glad that you have a chance to get an affidavit for your mother. Of course, it is too bad that the affiant does not seem to have much financial backing and probably it would be wise from the very beginning for you to look around for an additional affidavit.

As you may know, at present we are stuck with transportation facilities, except via the Far East. The American Export Line is not accepting further open tickets (they are sold out up to July) and we feel rather uncomfortable about the Hapag arrangements with the Portugese and Spanish lines because we understand that the money deposited with that agency in New York is sent into Germany and one does not know what will become of a refund which will be necessary when Spanish and Portuguese lines may stop sailing.

As long as you have not immigrated under the regular quota you, of course, cannot prepare an affidavit of support, but you have not replied to my last question-- if you have made arrangements for your change of status. You certainly should concentrate your efforts upon that at the present time and make arrangements through the Christian Committee. It would probably facilitate your mother's immigration if she could prove that her son is already in this country under the regular quota. Do you know of anybody who would be willing to give an affidavit for you and help you finance a trip to Cuba?

I discussed your mother's situation the other day with Miss Hanna Liebes of Bryn Mawr. She has been trying desperately to find an affidavit of support for your mother but so far has not been successful.

If you want to have our office check the affidavit papers before they go to the American Consul in Berlin we shall be very glad to do that.

Sincerely yours,

Annelise Thieman.

I'm so confused right now. I'm sure Opa was too. Before we get into that though- I love how Ms Thieman responded to Opa's letter to Ms Hanstein. She's basically saying- boy- we got you- and we know what we're doing here. In a nice way. She also calls him out on the visa thing, although I feel bad for Opa because he did sort of answer the question, and his answer is that he's tried but heard nothing. There is definitely some hold-up around the visa process for Opa and it seems the AFSC is also a bit confused. Either way, it seems that Opa's visa is pretty important in terms of his own ability to stay in the US, and his hope to bring his mother over.

The part that concerned me about this letter is Ms. Thieman's dreary picture of how Ella can physically get to the United States. It seems that even if the affidavits worked out, getting passage on a ship is not as easy as simply standing in line and purchasing a ticket. Currently the ships are sold out through July, and it appears that there is very little hope of multiple ships sailing past that point. The number of passenger ships crossing the Atlantic is dramatically decreasing as the war in Europe continues to ramp up. German u-boats have already made travel precarious, even for civilian ships. I took a quick glimpse to see some of the numbers, and it appears that passenger ships were targeted as early at 1939 by the U-boats, and by 1941, Germany had no qualms attempting to sink the liners. 

Ms. Thieman praises Opa for the affidavit he obtained from the Shelley's, then almost immediately dashes his hopes saying it'll likely not be good enough and he needs more. 

I found her discussion about the Hapag arrangement with the Spanish and Portuguese passenger lines to be really interesting. It looks like Spain and Portugal have ships that are still leaving Europe, and I think many from Lisbon (where Ella has mentioned leaving from). The problem with this is that it seems the passenger ships are financially backed or run by Germany. Regardless by the fact that it seems wrong to give money to Germany to flee it, the money given for passage will likely be un-refundable in the very likely case that the ships will stop sailing soon. The whole thing is just depressing. I know that there is more information about this whole process, and there are legends about many of these ships- some heroic and beautiful (a ship full of refugees make it to freedom) and others tragic (a ship full of refugees gets turned around at port). It seems that at this point, Ms. Thieman is advising that Opa wait to give any money for passage, because it is likely it won't be used and won't be refunded. That sounds pretty unhopeful- when the letters just before didn't seem to have the same tone. It's confusing. Is there hope or not?

Then Ms. Theiman talked about Cuba, I thought that line was lifted from another letter or something. What on earth does Opa need an affidavit and trip to Cuba for?! I'm probably missing something, but I'm guessing she's encouraging Opa to get another affidavit for his mother and to try to finance a trip to Cuba rather than from Lisbon to the US like his mother has been talking about. 

After reading this letter a dozen times, as I'm sure Opa did, I'm not sure whether to hope or not. At the very least, perhaps Opa has contacted the Christian organization in New York.

March 16, 1941: I Heard Your Voice

Letter from Ella to Opa


                              March 16th,1941 
Droysenstrasse 14

My beloved boy, today I send only a short note, but with many loving greetings. In the meantime you should have received my letter, asking you to obtain an affidavit for me, I also wrote to Rose about it, and Ellenruth is informed anyways. I do believe that you are in contact with both of them. Before I can take any action from here, the money for the passage (trip) has to be deposited over there. Hunschen, you probably know, or can find out, what kind of organization can help you with this. I am sure you are doing everything you can. Hopefully it will be successful.

Lotte Wittke, who still lives with me, received news last weekend that the affidavits for the whole family, mother, sister uncle and aunt came, also the cost of travel for everybody has been deposited. She is so very happy and hopes to leave soon. I am happy for her.

What do you hear from our Pattilein? How is Papa? Anything about Herting? Hunschen, the other day all in a sudden, I thought I heard your voice calling your Mama. So very clearly I heard your voice! This week no letter arrived from you, I am waiting anxiously. But since you promised to write, even if you are not doing well, I have calmed down. But about Patti I am worried, I have not heard from her for such a long time.  

Today Tilli came to stay with me for a few days. I am glad to have such a nice person around me again. Yesterday we went to see Engel's and spent a few nice hours. Then later, Tilli sat by my bed, and we had wonderful loving (warm, kind) talks til 1:30 in the morning. When we were at Engel's we naturally talked about you two. I am always so happy when I see and feel, how people who know you, love you, how interested they are, and how happy they are about good things happening to you.  

This afternoon Guttmann's will come by for an hour or so. I have not seen them for a long time. They had good news from both their children.  

Write soon and much, my very dear boy, I embrace and kiss you.

Your Mama

Say hello to Shelley's for me and everybody who is nice to you.

(the note in the margin was written by Tilli in the OLD German script (old writing) that neither Rose nor her sister Karin could make out entirely.  This is part of it.)

We are using this chance to send you a direct hello. I am proud of you and I am glad about the good news. Also about the picture which we admired at Engel's yesterday. Yesterday we spontaneously held a night session. (like Ella said they sat up all night)

Best greetings, my dear boy
Your old Tilli 

Letters from Ella are becoming emotionally hard for me. I think it is a matter of becoming increasingly attached to her and feeling increasingly worried for her, but knowing that the history has already happened, and I cannot do a thing. I can't reach back and grab her out of this miserable worry and anxiety. I can't go back and cast the opposing vote for Hitler's regime. I can't go back and change the treaty after The Great War to give Germany a chance to rebuild into a better country instead of a worse one. It compels me to look around today and think of what future I can shift now. I am in someone's past. I can vote, I can give, I can speak goodness into a hate-filled fight. I might be able to change something. 

Today's letter from Ella is back to the affidavits. Her visitors bring her comfort and joy, they give her space to share stories and wishes and dreams for her children. They distract her from her worries for just a moment.

That moment when Ella hears Opa's voice calling her... I felt the weight of her longing for her children. It's so strong that she hears their voice. I imagine my children now, with their still child-like voices- calling me from over the ocean into my heart. I think it would send me to the bed for a week. Perhaps that's why Tilli spent the night by Ella's bed, talking into the wee hours of the morning.