Thursday, February 23, 2017

July 30, 1941: My Only Joy

Letter from Ella to Opa


Bln. Charl. 4, 30.7.41
Droysenstr. 14
My beloved boy,

I have been without news from you for such an awful long time. Your last letter was of June 16th, the one before from May 23rd. I assume the mail has gotten lost, since we had agreed to write once every week. Hunschen, you have to keep to that, your mail is my only joy. From Patti I receive news only through the Red Cross, from Papa have not heard for one year, then 3 weeks ago a letter arrived, which was actually pretty nice. Papa still has his old optimism. I know how difficult it is now for me to come to you, but I cling to the smallest possibility, and always tell myself my Hunschen does everything he can to accomplish it. It must go fast now, my boy. I just cannot believe that I won't see both of you again.  
Where might you be now?(cannot read the next word) Doing road-construction? Building houses? Harvesting? I imagine you in different places, doing different kinds of work, always with that longing to be there with you, helping you, taking care of you and loving you. When does your new semester in Manhattan start? Don't forget to send me your new address. I already received a birthday letter from Rose. She says, she did not get a reply to the birthday wishes she sent to you.  Please Hunschen, stay in contact with her, she is a very reliable person. Have you written to our Herting in the meantime? I sent you the address.  
Not much has happened since your last letter. I still cannot accept the fact, that I have lost my beloved occupation and livelihood. Right now we are still on holidays, so it is very hard to find new pupils. I still have 2 former ones, but that is not enough, hopefully it will get better soon. All my friends are very worried (touchingly) about me, as I wrote in detail in my last letter to you. I just hope it won't be necessary to enlist their help. Tomorrow is Annchen's birthday, I will be with her for lunch and go home in the afternoon. I don't even want to think of my birthday, I requested that nobody  will come to visit. I don't want to be with many people, it is all so very sad. Next week I will go and see Mrs. Halle. The boys will be on a trip, and I will help her to mend socks.

When you go to Shelley’s always say hello for me. When I am not so depressed anymore I will write to them. In your letters is always a lot about your stay with them, about this outrageously pretty girl Leila and also Hubert, which you have never mentioned to me before. Did you meet Shelley’s through Hubert or the cousin, Hunschen what was her name? Fairly early you wrote that you made a car trip with a student to visit her relatives, was that Shelley’s? Have you heard from Ellenruth? I think she is on the best way to destroy her whole life. If only one could help her. But everybody has to live through their own experiences. You know I like her very much, and regret that everything had to happen like that. I now understand, that because of the kind of home life she had, she became so insecure (unrestrained). 
(cannot read the next 2 lines) and thank him for his kind words. I asked Aunt Berta to come to me, I really want to talk to her. (She means have a heart to heart) She wanted to come before, but I felt so hopeless and begged her not to travel then, but now I am doing a little better. Tilli's birthday is on August 13th. If you would write to her, it would make her happy. You can add it to the letter to me, and I will send it to her. I wonder if Annchen will have mail from you tomorrow. Papa had the picture of Patti and Maurice enlarged. One for Annchen and one for me. You can imagine how delighted I was! He also wants to enlarge a picture of you, so I will send him one.

Write soon, my beloved boy.
I kiss you very much.
Your Mama

Not much has changed for Ella. Her despair remains, although she tries to hide it just a bit more in this letter. She urges Opa to keep writing her frequently, as his mail is her only joy. I didn't realize that Patti could no longer write, but that their correspondence is now just red cross letters. I've seen these - they are like postcards but with even less space to write. And you cannot write much more other than "I'm well; the weather is nice." without the censors throwing it away. August is not dependable as he write once in a blue moon. Opa's letters are all Ella gets from her family.

Ella acknowledges that the way to the United States is impossibly narrow, but has hope that Opa will keep trying for any possibility. This line: "I just cannot believe that I won't see both of you again." Not only can she not believe it, she refuses to. She knows logically that it may be true, but she just won't believe it. Her tenacity even in the face of her own despair is inspiring if not also heartbreaking.

For Ella, it's always about her children. Her joy and sorrow is wrapped up in their welfare and her ability to be with them. You know, in a society with options and opportunities, I might say she should try to do something for herself or find her identity outside of her children, but she doesn't live in that society.  She lives in survival mode, and for her, survival is nothing without the promise of being with her children.

She asks Opa about what he is doing now, what kind of work he's doing. She chastises him a little (passively) for not writing to his relatives or wishing them a proper happy birthday (or thanking them for their birthday greetings). 

Ella returns to her misfortune of losing her livelihood, it seems she hasn't been able to pick up enough students yet. She is going to celebrate Annchen's birthday, but has no desire to celebrate her own (August 4th- just two days before mine!). She then mentions mending socks with Anni and Gisela's mom. She's just so sad! She doesn't know what to do with herself!

I hope Opa has written her a few letters, letting her know he is well and fed and warm and happy. If nothing else- maybe she can find joy in his happiness. How difficult it must have been for him. On the one hand, his mother was in serious danger and he had been her only real hope of leaving Germany. On the other hand, she is his mother- and to have her still telling him what to do (and who to write) from thousands of miles away must still have annoyed him. And then there is her unusual despair. Did he feel burdened by it? What kind of pressure did he feel when she told him his mail was her only joy? It might have been a guilt trip- but the boy better write.

1 comment:

  1. I have long thought that Opa has earned more guilt trip frequent flyer miles than anyone I've ever met. I always feel sorry for him when I read Ella's letters.


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