Thursday, September 8, 2016
December 26, 1940: Christmas Without
Letter from Ella to Opa
Berlin, Charlottenburg 4, December 26, 1940
My dear, dear boy,
Now it is Christmas, once again without my boy—without Spatzilein! (little sparrow) And once again without news from you! Without news, but not without greeting! I can sense that you are thinking of me and won’t let me feel lonely. I am with you all day, every day—from when you wake up to when you go to sleep! In all your work, in all your conversations, in all your wishes. Grete Sumpf sent me a sweet Christmas greeting, with a prayer: a plea for courage, trust, hope, holy joy, etc. When even religious belief fails me, the religion of the feelings remains very strong in me, and what’s there finds an echo in me. (Resonates with me?) That’s how it was—8 days ago now—when I was with the Quakers. The American guest spoke about the Present as Eternity and gave a lot of examples from the Bible and the church fathers. I got less out of the “what” and more the “how.” There I am among people who know you, who still today like you and appreciate you. Herr Wohlrabe introduced me to a nice boy: “This is the mother of Thomas, who we always talk about.” And as soon as I came in Hilde W. threw her arms around me. We hadn’t seen each other in a long time. Even if I otherwise want to be appreciated for myself, there I am happy to be Tom’s Mama.
Friday evening Anni and Gis were here; it was a very pleasant evening. Gis has apparently been doing well for herself; she got a position working with children and loves her job. Anni goes to the Pestalozzi-Fröbel-Haus; she also wants to be a kindergarten teacher. Both are tackling life valiantly. We spoke an awful lot, of course, about you. Anni wants to ask the American, who is coming to Berlin again before his return to the USA, to inquire about you and bring me back some news soon. I have a lot of anxiety on your account—all of my sense and reason doesn’t help at all. And now I’m not even hearing anything from Pattilein! If only I had at least one of you with me! I long so much for that.
I picture for myself how the two of you are spending Christmas, and I picture it being nice: surrounded by lovely scenery, with dear, worthy people, and also with thoughts for your Mama! What is Papa doing? I haven’t heard anything from him!
Hunschen, if only a letter from you would come! I would so like to know what’s going on with you; your last letter was so long ago, and I’m making myself anxious on account of your troubles. Did you get my response to your letter? When will I be with you again and be able to hold your hand, and look at you as we actually speak to each other!?
I kiss my beloved boy!
I love this letter. It's not very different from Ella's other letters, but there's a few little gems in it that make it stand out. Ella writes on Christmas (if I remember correctly, Germans have Christmas celebrations from the 24th through the 26th) . She consoles herself in the absence of her children with the presence of the feeling of them. I love the way she talks about that. She imagines herself as a presence in their every day lives, and holds the feeling of them in her days.
My favorite phrase of this letter might be Ella's fabulously independent way of showing her love for Opa: "Even if I otherwise want to be appreciated for myself, there I am happy to be Tom's mama." She surrounds herself with the Quakers, not for the religious aspect so much as for the connection to her son. I love the way the Quakers embrace her and support her.
She continues with her worry litany about Opa and Patti, and now August gets a mention at last. Ella must feel incredibly alone and isolated on this Christmas day. Although she is surrounded by friends and extended family members, there is something only her immediate family can fill- and she hasn't heard from any of them.
I wonder on the other side of this letter what Opa is feeling? Do her constant worries and pining for him get old and burdensome? Or is he softened toward her loneliness? I imagine it ebbs and flows. How absolutely frustrating it must be for him if he is writing her - to hear that none of his letters are making it through. I keep waiting for one of her letters to exclaim: I got all thirty letters you wrote! I'm not sure that'll happen. Maybe Opa was writing things that were not permitted to pass through the censors? Maybe he had to constantly guess at why his letters didn't make it? That would drive me nuts.
Happy Christmas Ella, I hope the feeling of your children sustained you on that day.