Thursday, October 27, 2016

June 13, 1941: Short and Snarky

Letter from Mary Rogers of AFSC to Berlin Quakers 


No. 791

June 13th, 1941

Prinz Louis Ferdinandstrasse 5,
Berlin, Germany.

Re: Ella Doeppner - #3340

Dear Friends:

We have your letter No. 418 of May 12th regarding Ella Doeppner and, at the same time, had a letter from her directly to Mary Rogers.

Unfortunately, as you probably know, Tom still has not yet changed his status to that of a permanent immigrant and still is here on a Student visa. I have had quite some correspondence with McPherson College and there is some reason to hope that someone will give him an affidavit of support. However, he will be 21 years old before everything is straightened out and after that time he cannot request form 575 for Preference Quota.

Sincerely yours,

Mary M. Rogers,

That was a short letter with not much good news. Mary is short and snarky, and a bit false on some facts. Let's start by correcting a couple of those: first- Opa is not on a Student Visa, he was supposed to be, but somewhere along the line he received a visitor's visa instead. That Visa has expired. Second- He is already 21 years old, his birthday was May 22, so he just turned 21.

I'm actually a little frustrated. The way Mary wrote this letter and the way Annelise has been writing to Opa- you would think the whole thing is his fault. However, from what documents we have- there was never any indication that Opa  should change his visa status to a permanent immigration until very recently. Also, he applied for a renewal of his visa and was refused based on a clerical error that has yet to be rectified. Then there is this special form 575 preferential quota, which I'm guessing might be the one that allows Opa to demand his mother come to the United States. Perhaps it was so minors could request to have a parent live with them? Either way- I never heard about it or the specifics and the deadline of Opa's 21st birthday, so I wonder if he knew anything about that. Opa may have been stubborn about going to Cuba, but I feel like the AFSC may have dropped the ball a little on this one, and it annoys me that they are acting like Opa dropped the ball.

I think ultimately I'm just frustrated, because all these little rules and policies and deadlines are giant boulders thrown in the way of Opa and Ella's freedom. Who can navigate this system?! It's ridiculous.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

June 7 & 9, 1941: Identiteitsbewijs

Letter from Opa to Department of Labor


Thomas Doeppner       McPherson, June 7, 1941
McPherson College     Kansas

The Department of Labor
Washignton, D.C.

Dear Sir: -

I am a refugee from Germany. I arrived in this country on November 15, 1939, on board S.S. "Pennland," a Dutch liner, having a visitor's permit Section 3 (2) No. 231, issued in Amsterdam, Holland, by the American Consul Mr. Ellis A. Bonnet on September 22, 1939. I was born in Berlin, Germany, on May 22, 1920. My Mother is a Jewess, my father a German. In September 1938 I left Germany and went to Holland as a refugee. There I was given a Dutch foreigner passport, a so called "Identiteitsbewijs" No. 2173, which was valid until August 23, 1940. I had planned to get this passport renewed before its expiration, but because of the Nazi invasion of Holland, this was impossible. My visitor's permit here has expired, but an application for renewal or for a change of this status into the status of a student, is pending in the Department of Justice.

I have been going to McPherson College since November 1939, and I plan to continue my studies either here or in some other college next fall.

Would the labor department give me permit to work for next year's school expense, including tuition, fees, board and room provided I deposit my earnings with the college to be applied on my necessary school expenses?

The question was submitted to Mr. Salisbury of the Immigration Department who indicated that work under such conditions would be permissible. Now, however, I am informed that permission to work must be secured from the Department of Labor.

I desire to fulfill the legal requirements covering my case if I understand them. I have applied for immigration into this country, but pending action on my case in the Immigration Department I cannot take steps to secure citizenship right away. May I assume that I will be allowed to do work for my subsistence and education until I hear from you?

Yours very truly,

Thomas Doeppner

Opa's getting his act together, dotting all the i's and crossing the t's. I wonder if President Schwalm laid it on thick that  Opa really needed permission to work (Schwalm was told in confidence by Annelise Thieman that Opa's illegal working could result in internment). This letter certainly has me convinced to give Opa permission. He's law abiding with some unfortunate snags along the way that have made his visa expire and his Holland passport non-existent. PS- that words for the Holland foreign passport is fantastic! Identiteitsbewijs. Say that five times fast.

I'm reminded that the last time Opa heard from the INS- they said- don't do anything until we get back to you. This was when they had to sort out his application for a renewal that got lost in the shuffle when they discovered that they had two files for him at the INS. They were going to sort that out and get back to him. They never got back to him. The next letter Opa writes is to Mr. Salisbury with the INS. 

Letter from Opa to Mr. Salisbury of INS/Department of Justice


Thomas Doeppner       McPherson, June 7, 1941
McPherson College     Kansas

Mr. E.E. Salisbury
Immigration and Naturalization Service
Department of Justice
Washington D.C.

My dear Mr. Salisbury: - 

As you will recall from previous correspondence, I arrived in this country on November 15, 1939, on board S.S. "Pennland," a Dutch liner, having a visitor's permit Section 3 (2), No. 231, issued in Amsterdam, Holland, by the American Consul Mr. Ellis A. Bonnet on September 22, 1939. I was born in Berlin, Germany, on May 22, 1920. My mother is a Jewess, my father a German. In September 1938 I left Germany and went to Holland as a refugee. There I was given a Dutch foreigner passport, a so called "Identiteitsbewijs," No. 2173, which was valid until August 28, 1940. I had planned to get this passport renewed before its expiration, but because of the Nazi invasion of Holland, this has been impossible. My visitor's permit here has expired, but an application for a student's visa is in your hands. My alien registration number is 1102565.

Having come to appreciate the United States more and more, I feel it now as my ardent desire to become a citizen of this country. According to the information I have received, this will be possible for me by going to Canada and applying for a quota visa from an American Consul in Canada. Therefore, I would like to ask you to grant mw pre-examination of my immigration papers. If this will be possible, I shall send you the necessary papers, including an affidavit of support.

Hoping to hear from you soon and thanking you very much for your interest and help, I remain,

Very sincerely yours,

Thomas Doeppner.

My favorite line from that letter: "an application for a student's visa is in your hands." More like: what's the hold up sonny? But this letter reveals to us that Opa is planning to take the Canadian plan of immigration and is hoping Salisbury will respond and give him the go-ahead. It also tells us that Opa found an affidavit! Where did he get that from? This next letter he wrote a couple days later to Annelise Thieman, probably bragging about how he did everything she told him to do...

Letter from Opa to Annelise Thieman of AFSC


Thomas Doeppner      McPherson, June 9, 1941.
McPherson College

Miss Annelise Thieman
American Friends Service Committee

Dear Miss Thieman:

I have had a rather hard time, but now I am going to get an affidavit of support for me, so I think I can now go ahead applying for my immigration. Dr. Schwalm, president of McPherson College, told me about the letter he received from you, and I would like to follow your suggestion in going via Canada. I wrote the enclosed letter to Mr. Salisbury, which letter tells you my plans. What do I have left to do to get the necessary papers, as certificate of conduct, health certificate, etc? Is any doctor allowed and qualified to give me a health certificate? DO I have to get a certificate of conduct from Germany, or would it be sufficient to only get one from the police department here?

I also would like to show you the letter I wrote to the Labor Department concerning my working this summer. In the meantime, I think it would be alright to accept small odd jobs, like harvest work or other work on the farm, until I hear differently from the Department of Labor, or do you think I should not work at all?

I just had word from Kansas College, Manhattan, that I can get a job in the library of the college, translating magazines and other publications. This will probably payoff board and room and a little extra, so that I shall have a good chance to go to college, if I can make enough money in time. Certainly I would like to do anything I can to get my immigration settled, if my working this summer would interfere with this, I could not do it and therefore could not go to college next year.

I'm hoping to hear from you soon, and thanking you again very much for your interest and help. I remain, 

Sincerely yours,

Thomas Doeppner

Ok I don't know if you noticed how much that actual letter was riddled with typos and weird spacing, but that was a mess of a letter! I don't know if Opa was seriously rushed or just annoyed with Annelise- but it isn't like him to send such a mess in the mail. He is German, after all.

His letter was pretty much telling Annelise he did as he was told. I can't help but feel sorry for him as you can see his stubborn stride in his absolute focus on trying to keep on his path to go to school. He really doesn't want to stop working, he really doesn't want to stop this progress toward Kansas State which seems to be going well (he got a job!). You can hear him almost saying to Annelise- is there ANY way I can just keep doing what I've been doing and not mess so much with this immigration stuff?! It's become a major road block for his goals. Now we sit and wait. Will he go to Canada? Will he have to tell Kansas State no?

June 6, 1941: NO

Letter from Opa to German Consul
Translation of Letter from Opa to German Consul

Transcription (of Translation):

Mr. F.E. Mueller
German Consulate 
1410 International Office Building
722 Chestnut Street
St. Louis, MO

Dear Mr. Mueller:

I received your letters of April 18 and May 30, as well as the forms for active labor and military services in Germany.

One of the main reasons for my decision to leave Germany illegally in 1938 was that I would under no circumstances ever fight under the flag of the Nazis. It is my opinion that the current regime in Germany is farther removed from the German spirit than any previous one, so that I must unconditionally refuse military service under the Nazis.

I really don't care whether you list me in your files as a deserter or otherwise. I no longer claim German citizenship, but look forward to becoming a citizen of the United States.


Thomas Walter Doeppner

That's a solid hell no. There are times when I see something on social media or hear something or read something and I cannot articulate any better my gut response to it other than the urge to just scream an animalistic and mystically snuffing "NO!" That's what this letter is to the German Consul. Opa with all the dignity he can muster- screaming in concise diction, the sum total of: NO. 

I can't really add much to that other than to wonder how deliciously satisfying that must have been for Opa to write. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

June 3, 1941: I'm Mad at Annelise

Letter from Annelise Thieman of AFSC to President V.F. Schwalm of McPherson College


June 3, 1941.

Dr. V.F. Schwalm,
McPherson College,
McPherson, Kansas.
Re: Thomas Doeppner- 538

My dear Dr. Schwalm:-

We have your letter of May 26th regarding Thomas Doeppner's immigration problems. Thomas probably told you that months ago I urged him to undertake steps to get his immigration status straightened out. That is, that he should migrate under the regular quota rather than change his one temporary status (as visitor) into another temporary status (as student). At that time however, there was only the chance of going to Cuba and coming back as a permanent immigrant. Thomas felt that the expense involved in the procedure was much too large for him and that he therefore could not use this opportunity. Now matters have changed and he would be admissible to any American Visa Consul in Canada for his immigration. While the preparations for the change of status in Canada are rather involved and require considerable time, it is not very expensive and does not require bonds or deposits.

It probably would be the wisest thing, because of the complicated matters, if Thomas could go to the nearest international institute, (Y.M.C.A.) of your vicinity and get their advice. The first step for him to take would be to write a letter to Mr. E. E. Salisbury, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. in which he should state in detail his particulars, when he arrived in this country, on which boat, with what kind of visa and which number. He also would have to give him his alien registration number and any matters which were essential in his past status. He should apply for a "pre-examination" of his immigration papers, at the same time informing Mr. Salisbury to which American Consul in Canada he wants to go. Mr. Salisbury will answer within about four weeks, or perhaps later, sending him the questionnaire containing some fifty questions which Thomas would have to answer carefully and send back to the Department of Justice. After that Mr. Salisbury will end hi a letter in which he grants (or does not grant) the "pre-examination" of his immigration papers. This letter must be kept carefully, and photostatted in at least three copies. As you see, easily two months will pass before these matters are straightened out. Meanwhile Thomas should try to find a person who is willing to give him an affidavit of support, and who is willing to vouch for his political integrity.

I definitely agree with you that it would be most unwise for Thomas to accept the opportunity to work this summer without having a special permit from the Labor Department. Confidentially, I want to tell you, although I do not know that it will be true in this particular case, that persons who are illegally in the United States and who is particular started working without permits may be subject to internment in the near future. Such internment, from all one knows about it, will not be particularly trying for the internees, however, if it can be avoided in Thomas' case, so much the better.

It certainly is a complication that the German Consulate requested his registration there. Thomas told me about that fact and I suggested to him that he should reply that their letter probably was a misunderstanding since he was not only not yet of age, but also a person of Jewish background. There really does not seem to be any reason for Thomas to have any connection whatsoever with the German Consulate, it only will complicate his matters here. I take it for granted that Thomas is not considering going back to Germany, and therefore I think he simply should disregard any communications from the German Consulate.

It seems to me that it is essential now for him to try to get an affidavit of support and get all his immigration papers (birth certificate, certificate of conduct, health certificate, etc.) together so that in case Mr. Salisbury grants "pre-examination" of his papers, he will not encounter too much delay. If you could help him find a person who would be willing to prepare an affidavit of support for him, it certainly seems to me the best service that could be rendered to the boy at present. Please do not tell him anything about the internment possibilities as it might unnecessarily disturb him, but I am afraid in his case we have to count on this possibility.

Thank you for your interest and cooperation.

Very sincerely,

Annelise Thieman.

This letter makes me not like Annelise Thieman, and makes me doubt Opa, which is why I'm not liking Annelise. I think she cares and is trying to help Opa out, but she started out this letter so snotty about how she told Opa ages ago about what he should do, and since he didn't, he's put himself in this mess.

Here's the thing, she's kinda right. Opa dismissed the Cuba plan as being out of his realm of possibilities. And I get it- the rules seem to keep changing and the countries flip their alliances or the flavor of refugee they're comfortable with as the wind changes. I would not want to spend my entire savings and be penniless in Cuba with only a small possibility that this might be the hand of poker that gets me back into the US with a solid immigration paper. It all seems too ridiculous. Why would you leave the country you wish to be in?

But on the other hand, Opa is stubbornly holding on to his dream of going to school to be an engineer, he's working so he can go to school. If he would just put that on hold for a minute - it's not like his immigration status depends on him still going to school - he has no status. He needs to get his own immigration worked out, and by dragging his feet on the extreme answers, he may have gotten himself a ticket into an internment camp. 

At the top of my concerns is that his strategy might have jeopardized Ella's chances to come to the US. Not that he could have known that, or that his status as a permanent immigrant would necessarily change anything. But as we know the war between the US and Germany is about to begin, and after that, the doorway for immigration is going to be nearly welded shut. It's June. We know the US entered the war in December after Pearl Harbor. That's six months. 

I don't think Annelise was very explanatory when telling Opa to go to Cuba. Perhaps she thought he would do it blindly, but she sort of threw it on him and didn't give him any resources or information on why this might be the only shot he has. I don't know. I want to blame Annelise because it's killing me to think that Opa might have dropped the ball on this. None of it is fair. What would you have done if you were Opa? It's not fair that mistakes could mean so much. Ella should have gotten her registration number sooner instead of assuming she'd join Patti in France- but who on earth would assume that would be necessary? Opa should have been given a student visa, and his visa should have been renewed rather than lost in a clerical error of having two files (which has still not been resolved or mentioned since). Maybe Opa should have gone to Cuba, or now should go to Canada. But maybe that's actually the wrong choice. Maybe Cuba cuts off its borders and Opa is stranded without knowing a soul or the language. Maybe Canada starts rounding up Germans and interning them. There is no way to make a choice in this kind of situation! 

Yeah, I'm just going to be mad at Annelise. She's acting like it was such an easy choice and such a clear action, and that's just not fair of her. But seriously, what the heck is Opa going to do?!

June 2, 1941: Affidavit Not Sufficient

Letter from Ella to Opa


Guestrow, June 2nd, 1941
My beloved boy,

Now it finally came true, I am in Guestrow.  On the trip to here, I saw for the first time this year, green meadows and green forests, so beautiful, I was really moved. Now I have been here for 2 days, and I enjoy everything; the kind people, the hometown and the silence. It is not as hot as where you are, but we are glad the sun shines sometimes, that it doesn't rain. Yesterday and also the day before yesterday the weather was actually very nice, but a bit cool. But we are not giving up hope: spring has to come and maybe summer soon as well. 

Before I left home I received your letter of May 1, Mother's day. Lydia was here and we had a good laugh about the (not sure what the word is, perhaps ‘balkon’ which means balcony) story, how strange that you thought of that as well. Little Hunchenchild, I would love to have such a position in a girl's dormitory. One would not only be the dragon, the most important thing would be to establish a trusting relationship with the girls, replacing the mother as a close friend there. If one is successful, such a position can be great, if not, one has to give it up. Here I actually found the right note to almost all of my pupils, but it may be that the American girls have a different mentality, and since I am not that fluent in their language, might not find the proper words, but I would want to try it. Lessons in Hebrew and Russian I have to refuse, you overestimate me there, I master neither one of them.

Much work does not frighten me, I now start my lessons at 7:00am, before that I make up my bedroom, prepare breakfast, enjoy it in peace, wash the dishes, put them away, and on my way to work. You know how fresh (bright, lively) I am in the mornings.

It would be a bit different in the evening; but I could lie down for a bit at 10:00 pm, set the alarm if I have to make a control walk. (I think she means bed check) At this time here my work gives me much joy, so it does not tire me at all. Yes, Hunchen I received the lesson plan from H.---O. I am glad that all like to be taught by me. 

But the fact, that in addition to your studies, you have to do such heavy physical work, I do not like especially felling trees. Be careful with your health. Again your letter was so dear. (Sweet) I read it to everybody here the same evening, and Aunt Berta and Tilli were happy for me and you. Aunt Berta will come home with me for a few days, so that I am not so isolated again so soon. 

Write to me, how are you coming along in my travel to you? The day before my trip, I received news from the consulate that the affidavit from Mrs. Shelley is not sufficient. I talked to the Friends (Quakers), they are also of the opinion that you should apply for legalization as soon as possible, since you are now 21 years old, and can request for me to come. Hunchen you know yourself that everything must be sped up now. Have you corrected some of the dates in the meantime?

on the side of the paper:

Write a lot, my beloved boy. What do you hear from Pattilein and her husband? Always tell them hello from me, when you write to them.  

I kiss and hug you very much,
Your Mama

How was the junior-senior banquet?

June 4th

Today I am going home. Yesterday we went to the forest (cannot read the name)It was very nice. I plan to come again in the summer.

Ella would be shocked by Kansas' June weather if she was still waiting for Spring in Berlin. Forget about Florida! How lovely that Ella gets to enjoy a vacation in the country, to see green meadows and forests, something you don't see in the city. She seems to have some extended family that lives out there and who she can rest and find silence with.

Ella enjoyed Opa's funny story he told her (how good of him to give her funny stories to laugh about). She imagines herself as a house-Mother of sorts for what seems to be a girls dorm or boarding school. She thinks she could do it. I bet she would be the kind of house-mother that everyone hates at first, but when they find how kind and loving she is- they would forgive her strict nature. Ella tells Opa she is not  afraid of hard work- especially in the morning (so this is where my Dad and Opa get their cheery morning disposition. I did not inherit that. Ella can take the morning shift and I'll take the night shift. 

I love that Ella is fine with herself working hard, but isn't so excited to her how hard Opa works. I guess he confessed to her that he works doing manual labor in the park. She's particularly concerned about him cutting down trees. Maybe Gisela showed Ella his letter to her and that's how she found out. I doubt it. I bet Opa told his mother, thinking she would be pleased that he was outside getting sunshine and fresh air. He should know better, she'll find a reason to be worried.

Embedded in this letter is actually very bad news. I'm not sure Ella realizes how bad it is (or perhaps she assumed it would happen). The affidavit from the Shelley's was deemed insufficient for Ella. This is a rather large blow. At least for me it is. I think everyone was expecting this to happen, but I still don't get it. Opa must be trying to get another affidavit set up. I wonder how that's going? Is he avoiding writing about it because a series of rejections is pretty much a downer? Ella seems to think his ability to "apply for legalization" is easy and simple. I'm not even sure what that means, but we have seen that it is not that simple. That's Ella's fall-back plan. She reminds Opa of the time-sensitive nature of his endeavors to get her to the US. It's not because her number has been called, it's likely because she sees the writing on the wall and  knows that the US will join the war very soon, and then the chances of her emigrating to the US are cut off.

Monday, October 24, 2016

May 30, 1941: Could've Done Without That

Letter from German Consul in Germany to Opa

Translation of German Consul Letter

Transcription (of Translation):


German Consulate

St. Louis, MO, May 30, 1941

Mr. Walter Doeppner
c/o McPherson College
McPherson, Kansas

According to the decree of April 17, 1937 regarding the drafting of German citizens abroad for active military and labor service, you are, as long as you are still a German citizen, liable for such services. Should you in the mean time have become a citizen of the United States, this fact must be verified by presenting the naturalization papers to this Consulate.

As an American citizen, you are not subject to a German draft; in that case, your father's naturalization papers must be presented. You are also exempt when you have become an American citizen through your father's immigration. In that case, your father's naturalization papers must be presented.

A registration form was mailed to you by this consulate on April 18.

The German Consul General.

Just in case Opa forgot, the Germans would like to remind him to sign up for the draft if he isn't an American citizen. I'll take a guess that Opa opened that letter thinking "could've done without this today." 

This persistence by the German Consul is going to make it necessary for Opa to respond. I'm looking forward to that response.

I couldn't help but think, are there many others in the US who are getting these letters? Likely people who have continued their work visa or otherwise and have no intention of returning to Germany but haven't quite finalized their citizenship (a long, complex process). What are those people doing? 

May, 1941: Family Dynamics

Letter from Ella to Opa


Berlin-Charlottenburg 4
Droysenstrasse 14
(May 1941 estimated date, no date on the letter)

My very beloved boy, what a joy, when last week the copy of the affidavit and also the letter from your president to the consul arrived! However, you do have a strange idea how a visa is issued here. The affidavit is the very first step required. And if it is sufficient is also very doubtful. But I do believe the recommendation from the president of the college is very valuable in this. Until the money for the passage has been deposited, nothing at all can be done. Day before yesterday I visited with the friends, they were asked by Philadelphia to look after me. But naturally they also cannot speed things up. You know that my number won't be called for quite a long time. When a request or demand from you gets here, I could be considered earlier. I see you are trying hard in this matter, the friends want to write to Philadelphia also. The fact, that you know nothing about Herting worries me very much.  Ellen should contact Uschi.

Hunschenkind, you know how much Herting means to me, I would love to know how she is. If I had the address I would write to her through the Red Cross. I am afraid she feels abandoned by all of us, which could depress her very much. Please, please try to reach her. Gis and Anni also have not heard from their aunt for a long time. Have you received any news? By the way, you did not read my letter correctly. H.H. did not come to see me! He visited Ann'chen and Hilda, took the picture to Ann'chen, who in turn gave it to me. I was and still am angry with Papa, especially since he does not write to you either. If possible I will send the picture to you otherwise I will send it back to him. Without any word, it is of no value to me. Too much is too much.  

By the way, Hunschen, if you really don't know where your Mama was born, you can see it on the papers: Not in Guestrow, but Ottensen by Altona. It is incorrect on the affidavit. I was born on August 4th, 1889 in Ottensen. Please find out how and where it must be corrected. Also the name Judith does not show on the papers. I still don't have a picture of myself. I wrote to you that I had my picture taken, but the pictures were so impossible, even the photograph recommended to take new ones. But I am afraid they won’t be much better.  

I am glad you spent Easter so nicely. When will be together again to celebrate and invite dear friends? I had planned to go to Guestrow for Pentecost, but it won't work out, because of my lessons I have to stay here. A few days ago I wrote to Shelley's and at the same time a letter to your president and the Friends. Since I have not given  English lessons for a long while, I feel a bit uneasy about my expressions. Well, it will work out, once I am there, in a few days I will be able to speak well again.

Hunschen, I am longing for both of you so very much. I know you do the best you can, and so do I. Hopefully, hopefully we will see each other soon. I am waiting impatiently for your letter.

I kiss and embrace my dear, dear boy
Your Mama

Just now Aunt Juling comes with a Red Cross letter, news from Herting. So we do at least know she is well. Aunt Juling will write to her this month, I will do it later also.

Dear boy (actually an Austrian or Swiss word for little boy, Bubi), How glad I am to send you greetings and to hear you are doing well, I cannot tell. I would be even happier if you would send a few lines to me. Loving greetings from your, often thinking of you, 
Aunt Roza

Herting is a major character in this letter (Ella has mentioned her several times in past letters), and the best Jason and I can figure (with research and family input)- we are assuming that Herting is Hertha Loewenstein, Ella's younger cousin through her father's family. Herting may have been around 10 years older than Opa, and therefore much younger than Ella. Also, I'm pretty sure she is in England at this time, which is why the communication would be via Red Cross (England and Germany are at war, so regular communication via letters would not be allowed). I think she had to take a menial job in some service industry, which is why Ella was concerned for her. 

Helene, Patti's daughter, said that this concern for Herting and general need for the family to look out for her was a lifelong thing. She was always frail and a bit lonely. I'm not 100% sure who Uschi is or why she in particular should be concerned about Herting. I assume it is her family as well (there are a few options for who Uschi could be). Perhaps Uschi is also in England? Maybe that is why Ella assumes she should be keeping tabs on Herting? 

One of the great joys and frustration of this research is trying to figure out who half of these people are that Ella mentions in her letters. Like H.H. We have no idea who H.H. is. 

Other than bringing in lots of people for Opa to write and be concerned for- Ella writes about her hopes for her emigration. She still has the same plan, and is grateful to Opa for the affidavit and letter of character reference by President V.F. Schwalm. It seems like the American method and the German method for getting a visa are slightly different- even though it's all the same government (the USA) doing it. Ella is hopeful that Opa can demand or request for her to come to the United States. I wonder if she knows just how complicated that is for Opa- is she aware of how tentative his own status is? It seems she understands that he is not able to do it easily, or else  I'm sure she would ask what is taking him so long. But I doubt she knows the full story, as then she would likely be chastising him for letting his own visa expire. (Not that it was his fault.) 

Ella is a little persnickety in this letter. She's angry with August for not writing to Opa or her- and she offers to send  Opa the picture of August or send it back because she certainly has no need for it. She's pretty much done with him (but I suspect she doesn't stop caring and isn't actually done with him). Ella also chides Opa for not knowing where she was born.

Poor Opa. This letter was likely a little hard to read. Lots of family dynamics to navigate. More names to write and worry about. More pressure on getting his mother to the United States. She is grateful that he has had a good Easter, and if nothing else Opa must know how deeply, stubbornly, lovingly she cares for him. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

May 26, 1941: Status Undetermined

Letter from V.F. Schwalm (McPherson President) to Annelise Thieman of AFSC


McPherson College

McPherson, Kansas
May 26, 1941

V.F. Schwalm, PH. D.

Miss Annelise Thieman
American Friend Service Committee
20 S. 12th St.
Philadelphia, Pa.

Dear Miss Thieman:

I have resigned as President of McPherson College and am leaving at the end of June to take up the Presidency of Manchester College in Indiana.

During the past two years we have had Mr. Thomas Döppner in our student group. We have enjoyed him and have appreciated the opportunity of having him with us. He has responded to the better side of the institutional life and has made a good contribution here. He is, however, interested in engineering and will, therefore, attempt to get into an engineering school next year. I hope he can do so. I scarcely know how to advise him further for several reasons.

First of all, his status is undetermined. As you know he has a visitors visa which has expired long ago. He is now trying to get a student visa or a regular immigrants visa. This has been pending since last fall and I think it might be desirable if this should be determined soon so he would not need to be so indefinite. However, he is getting along all right now.

Mr. Döppner is making applications for work a number of places. He has a chance to work in the harvest field and is applying else where. The officer that was here last fall from the Immigration Office censored him for working and I have been concerned that he should not disregard that advice unless his immigration status could be determined. I feel that for him to disregard the advice will prejudice the office against him to the point where he cannot get a favorable consideration. In other words, I am at a loss to know what to advise him.

Miss Annelise Thieman
May 26, 1941
page 2

Another matter that has given us some concern is that the German Consulate at St. Louis, has asked him to register there. He has not reported and I am not clear what advice to give him regarding that. Joseph R. Baker, the assistant legal advisor in the Secretary of State Department at Washington, wrote us and said that the State Department could not advise on the matter and "while he cannot be compelled to obey the German laws while he is residing in the United States, he may care to consider the effect of a failure to do so should he return to Germany."

If you should have any advice to give on these matters I should be glad for you to write me.

Yours very truly,

V.F. Schwalm

Oh man. V.F. Schwalm states that Opa's status as "undetermined" and I think that might be the most precise, though understated, way to describe the situation that Opa finds himself in. 

V.F. Schwalm is leaving McPherson College after 14 years for his alma Mater, Manchester College. Not only did Schwalm graduate from Manchester, but he spent time there as a professor before becoming the President of McPherson. His tenure has been a good one, and like any good employee, he's making sure he wraps all loose ends before he leaves his post.

Opa is one heck of a loose end. Poor Schwalm doesn't really know quite how to help him, and you can tell he is invested in his future and his well-being. He doesn't want to leave Opa without trying to give him the best chance at success. He writes to Annelise Thieman at the AFSC, and I wonder if Opa might have encouraged it since no one seemed to be giving any advice that made sense to him. So far he's been told to stop working and try to find a way to Cuba. For Opa- that's practically impossible advice. 

Schwalm was concerned that Opa continued to work even after the INS officer told him not to. This is news to me- I didn't realize Opa had been told to stop working by the INS. Legally this makes sense, as Opa is technically in the United States on a visitor's visa (that has long since expired) and he is not supposed to be working. The problem is that he was always supposed to have a student visa, which would have allowed him to work, and which was the hinge on which the whole school thing was supposed to work. His whole purpose in coming to the United States (other than obviously escaping Europe) was to study- and to study, he needed to support himself. 

So now he's thoroughly undetermined because his German passport is gone (he told us later in life that he destroyed it after escaping). His Holland identification papers cannot be renewed because he no longer lives there and Germany is now in control. So he is legally undocumented. The Germans are trying to claim him, and are pressuring him to register for military service- while he's in Kansas. His mother's successful emigration hangs in the balance, in some part resting on whether or not he can claim legal status in the United States. Also, he's funding his own life, maintaining diplomatic relations with the neighbors so they want him to stay around and trying to do well enough in school so he can keep going and learn something in the meantime.

When I look at a pile of laundry and feel overwhelmed, to gain perspective, I think about this moment for Opa. 

The Secretary of State was not able to help Opa either. His legal assistant wrote Schwalm back saying that they could not officially advise him, but that Opa might want to consider the ramifications of disobeying the Germans in case he had to go back there any time soon. That's a gut-punch moment.

Opa is in a really tight place. There do not seem to be any good avenues. I am surprised by Opa's current method, which looks a lot like ignoring everything. Opa is working. He's not going to Cuba or even trying. He's ignoring the German Consul in St. Louis. I don't think he's doing it because he thinks it'll all go away if he ignores it. I'm actually really impressed by this. 

He's betting against it all, knowingly at great risk. He bets that he will not get into much trouble for working if someone wants to employ him. That trouble is worth the alternative: starving and not going to school. He bets that the German Consul will have bigger fish to fry than get him to sign up for military service. This is the most dangerous bet as he might be endangering his mother if he refuses. He bets that the immigration mess will work out and that he'll get his extension. At the worst he will be deported, but in that case he would have been deported no matter what, whether he went to Cuba or not. And in Cuba, he's definitely not in the US near his support group or near a school. He lays low and hopes for an opening through the rock and hard place. 

So perhaps Opa sits in the uncomfortable place of being undetermined, a price he must pay to avoid being in the space that is determined for him: deportation or worse. He chooses status undetermined over someone else choosing his determined status. Opa was brave.