Wednesday, March 8, 2017

August 17, 1941: Mothering

Letter from Ella to Opa


Berlin Charl. Aug, 1941
Droysenstrasse 14

My very beloved boy,

I started writing to you on August 4th, because of my great longing for you, but I managed only a few words, because I was paralyzing tired. I did not want to be at home on that day, had asked the relatives not to come, but still many came, all the others appeared off and on during the week. It was sheer torture in my present situation, and not being with you. One good thing: Aunt Bertha was with me, she came on the 3rd and left again day before yesterday. I feel closer to her than to any relative, she understands me and loves both of you very much.  

Stiers are not living here since the 12th, you are correct, it was impossible, we lived in two different worlds, and as I wrote to you before, it did not work out. We live and talk to each other, but there is no real connection. Sadly enough I have not found more pupils, we are still on school holiday, and because of the "stop" on emigration, all learning enthusiasm slowed down, it is an unfavorable time for lessons. But I do have some prospects for lessons. Right now I still  have some money, and if I get back the one I leant out, and my claims to former students are paid to me, I will be fine till Jan./Febr. I really hope I will have enough work to get through this.
Henschenboy, I don't see my ability to emigrate as negatively as you do. I don't leave any close relatives behind. First Stiers are not close to me, don't belong to my household, secondly they surely will go over before me. My 2 children are gone, I am alone. But you must go after things with great energy, at the State Department in Washington from where all (rest of the sentence unreadable) I will get the terms (requirements)and send it to you right away. Perhaps you could present it in person.  

Today 2 letters from you arrived, of July 31st and August 3rd,with those nice pictures.  It had been such a long time without news from you. If you would know how longingly I wait for letters, you would write more often.  But I also left you without news for 2 weeks again, that is wrong of me as well. At the same time, I think of both of you all day long, and wish to be with you.  

Henschen, you look awfully skinny in those pictures. Are you feeling well? Please reply to this truthfully. Have you had another checkup? Why can't I be with you, take care of you? I am glad, that you have work that satisfies and pays enough for your studies. Yes, my boy, you are correct not to want to borrow money, but if you have to interrupt your studies, that would not be good either. Perhaps ways can be found, at least this semester is secured.

(line not legible)

In your last letter you did not write anything about it. The mail carrier in any case looked very trustworthy. I will send this letter to McPherson, then in a few days I will write to the address in Manhattan. Yesterday I went to see Loewes, they had been on vacation for a few weeks, it was really nice. This afternoon Heini came by, he wanted to get an English book, and we spoke about his work, a drama and novel. The novel is still in the making, for a contest in his school, for the best novel about the "Hugenots" written in French, for the "Hugenot" prize. Heini is a smart, gifted boy, and is losing his need for admiration more and more, is growing older and more understanding.

Henschenboy, I can imagine that the departure from McPherson won't be easy for you. You had a nice time there. But things of value there, stay with you, have to worked in you, and you have to be just as brave in Manhattan. Do your duty, and always live and act to be responsible to yourself. I trust you completely, your character and abilities.

I kiss my boy
Your Mama

One of my readers commented on a previous letter from Ella that he always feels a little sorry for Opa when he reads Ella's letters. This letter won't help that feeling. 

I'm caught between my love and understanding of Ella and mu sympathy for Opa. To be sure, Ella's situation is the most dire, so I give her a little more credit. Not to minimize the pressure that Opa is under, but in a way Opa is afforded the daily escapes of student life and freedom in America. Ella does not get such escapes. In fact, even celebrating her birthday (which was August 4th) is painful. She is annoyed by all the people who came to bid her happy birthday. I kind of love this about her. She is the kindest, nicest person and she just wants to be left alone. Ha! I think honestly her desire to be left alone is because it takes so much energy for her to be hospitable and pretend that everything is ok when things are really not ok. She's a proud woman, she doesn't want pity, she doesn't want to lean too hard on anyone. She also needs her space to be sad. 

I almost laughed out loud when she said she received Opa's letters from July 31st and August 3rd and then said that if he knew how much she loved his letter he would write more often. He wrote two letters in one week and it was still not enough. Of course she admits her own failures in writing regularly, but oh man. Poor Opa. 

The Stiers are Ella's sister and brother in law. They lived with her while they were waiting for their visa to come in (they sold everything including their flat to fund their trip out of Germany). This was obviously a bad situation, as it seems that Ella and Martha and Erich were just not meant to share a home. Martha and Erich are the parents of Ellenruth, the person Ella keeps telling Opa to write or meet up with.

Ella breaks my heart when she tells Opa that she remains optimistic about her ability to emigrate. I can tell Opa tried to tell her that it was a near impossibility at this point. She will not accept that. She does not consider Martha to be a close relative (perhaps she is alluding to the rule that German immigrants can't leave behind family members). She seems to be under the impression that Opa can march into Washington with all the right paperwork and get her in. Or perhaps she is just desperate that he try anything. I don't know if she is familiar with US geography, but Kansas is not close to Washington D.C. The fact that she is suggesting he personally hand in her material to me is telling of just how desperate she is. 

So just in case Opa wasn't feeling mothered enough- Ella expresses her concerns that he is too thin.

Honestly, I think Ella is trying to make up for years of hands-on mothering that she feels she has missed out on. Whether it frustrates 21 year old Opa or not is up for grabs, but I wonder if he looked at these letters later with fondness for such a clear and tangible example of his mother, mothering.

1 comment:

  1. It is a great letter to post on this "International Women's Day". I'm not so sure I could hold up if I were separated from my boys and in her situation. She is indeed a strong woman. On the geography point (Kansas is not near Washington), I had a similar feeling when she mentioned, in a previous letter, that someone did not stop by to see Opa on their trip from NY to LA. There are just so many routes that would avoid Kansas, altogether. Poor Opa, but then poor Ella, too.


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