Thursday, March 30, 2017

November 1, 1941: Nobody Asked You To

Letter fro Annelise Thieman (AFSC) to Opa


November 1st, 1941

Mr. Thomas Doeppner,
1119 Kearney,
Manhattan, Kansas.

Dear Thomas Doeppner: Re: Ella Doeppner-#3340

We have your letter of October 20th inquiring about the Cuban immigration possibilities. You probably have received a reply from the Cuban Consulate meanwhile but for what it may be worth to you I am giving you below the necessary requirements for a Tourist visa to Cuba.

A $2,000.00 deposit must be made with one of the banks in Havana. This could be the branch office of an American or Canadian Bank, as the Chase National Bank or the Royal Canadian.

In addition to that at $500.00 cash deposit and $150.00 in cash must be available in a Cuban bank, the $150.00 designed for payment of passage to the final destination of the refugee and the $500.00 for immediate living expenses. In addition to that the fees of the Cuban attorneys for the issuance of the visa run anywhere from $275.00 to $400.00. Furthermore transportation from Europe to Cuba must be paid, which is approximately between $400.00 and $500.00. The $2,650. deposited would be returned in case the refugee cannot succeed in reaching Cuba. The attorneys' fees would be forfeited in such a case and probably 50% of the passage expenses too.

We understand that it is possible to live on approximately $35.00 a month in Cuba. Arrangements for shelter can be made through the Branch Office of the Jewish agency there, The Joint Relief Committee, Agular 556, Havanna, Cuba. There are a great number of travel bureaus in New York now which are handling these Cuban visa matters. A number of them instead of requesting the $2,000.00 deposit ask for a payment of $150.00 for which they seem to make arrangements with the banks to put up the bond. There is some question though as to the legality of this procedure and one is advised if at all financially possible to deposit the full amounts.

Travelers' Bureaus which we understand are handling these matters are for example: Paul Taussig and Son Inc., 29 W. 45th Street, New York City; Paul Travel S.S. Agency, 79 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y.; Sabine Klueger, Transmaritime Co., 50 East 42nd Street, New York, N.Y.; Hilde Nathan, 19 W. 44th St., New York, N.Y.; etc., and there are many more quite reliable travel bureaus in New York.

Hundreds of Cuban visae, to say the least, have been issued in recent weeks and up to now it has been possible for persons in Germany and some of the German-occupied territories to get out and actually reach Cuba. However, from previous experiences we feel that there is serious reason to fear that Cuba soon may discontinue honoring these visae and therefore no refugee organizations in the country have felt that they could take the responsibility of giving a helping hand to assist with securing Cuban visae directly. Persons who buy these visae should be aware of the fact that they are taking a chance and that they may or may not be successful in getting the refugees actually into Cuba.

In other words we are giving you the above information for what it may be worth to you and we are giving it only because of the fact that for the time being Cuban visae are the sole possibility left for getting people out of Germany. Therefore in case you want to use this way you will have to do it on your own responsibility and in awareness of the fact that this is just another attempt to help your relatives leaving Europe.

Cables and letters have been arriving by the thousands in the United States in recent weeks because deportations to Poland have started again from Germany. If the cable which you received had a prepaid return reply you should somehow try to formulate the answer in the affirmative, for example, say that you are trying to make preparations for immigration, or something of that sort.

You are quite correct in assuming that nothing can be done about your own immigration matters at the present time and you doubtless are correct in thinking that you complicated your problems considerably by refusing to register for military service at a time when nobody asked you to do so.

We were very glad to hear that you are happy at Kansas State College and wish you continued success.

sincerely yours,

Annelise Thieman

This is one of those letters that I need to take in pieces. Annelise had lots to write about! First, Annelise answers Opa's questions about the Cuba situation. You can already tell from the tone of the letter that she is not confident in the Cuba plan, but she gives Opa the information so he has it  completely. 

The reason I think I can discern Annelise's tone is because she starts her information with a bang: he'll need a $2000.00 deposit. Then she adds in all the other fees and costs: deposits in the bank, lawyer fees, living expenses, passage costs, etc. If you add it all up it comes to around $3,000.00. I plugged this amount into three different inflation calculators online and the average estimate was that this would be like having $50,000.00 in cash today to drop in the bank. Um, I don't know about you- but I don't even remotely have that hanging around. My guess is neither do Opa or Ella. 

I wonder if Opa's heart sank when he saw all those dollar signs. It had to have been disheartening to see that this "opportunity" was reserved in most part for the wealthy or well-connected. I don't know if this was the usual requirement  for visitors to Cuba, but I'm going to guess that it wasn't. Was the government capitalizing on being the only opening? Or was this the only way they could justify being the only ones still willing to take in German refugees? A life saved is a life saved, but man! 

Is it just completely out of reach for Opa? And what can he say to his mother if it is? Sorry mom- I don't have enough money to gamble on the last chance for your freedom. 

I think that Annelise is super cautious in informing and advising Opa about this potential plan mostly because she knows there is a very real chance that even if he somehow pulled it off- he could lose it all in a second. The wind could shift and Cuba closes their doors. But for people who can afford it, or at least have nothing left to lose- this is a crack in the window and they're going to try. 

The reason why people might be even more desperate is because news is trickling in that deportations have begun again. I can't remember if I mentioned this in the past blog or not- but I was chatting with one of our fabulous resources at the Holocaust Museum, Becky, (who has a book coming out next year that you all need to buy- don't worry- I'll let you know)... Becky was telling us about how the Germans really declared two wars: one was their military front against Europe (and the world) and the second was against the Jews. Once their military war was in full gear, many fully expected the Germans to sort of lose sight or concern about their war on the Jews. That's why in a previous letter, I think it was Annelise who said that they suspected the deportations would slow and possibly stop. With the consuming war effort, people assumed that the deportations would cease or slow down significantly. But now they have started back up again. 

We have to sort of re-wire our historical brains around deportations. Often when we think of deportation in the frame of Germany and Jews- our minds go directly to concentration camps and gas chambers. While this is ultimately true, in the beginning, and to the rest of the world, deportation is a relocation endeavor by Germans to simply just get the Jews out of their country. So when the folks in the US hear deportation, they hear that Jews are being taken out of their homes, but there still isn't a real sense of where they are being taken. I can imagine people are confused by why Germany would put so much effort into this endeavor when they are fighting a war. So the borrowed time that Jews thought they had to get out of Germany on their own agenda and choice- it's gone. Now the threat of deportation is back in full force again, they are stuck and Cuba is one of the only places left that they can go to. 

Now- what I just mentioned will help explain Annelise's next statements. Even though she does seem to be telling Opa that this Cuba thing is basically an impossibility- she tells Opa to respond to the telegram from Berlin in some affirmative way - saying that he is working on some way to get his mother out of Germany. Here's why: because the Nazis asked the Jews to leave. The impression that the rest of the world is under is that the Nazis want the Jews out- not necessarily dead. At this point, that is still mostly the case. So if a Jew can show evidence that they or a relative is actively working on getting them somewhere with promise,  maybe it'll buy them some time before the government just goes ahead and deports them.

I think that the stress of the job (and I can't even imagine the stress at this point) is getting to Annelise. Because then she just lays it on Opa: 
you doubtless are correct in thinking that you complicated your problems considerably by refusing to register for military service at a time when nobody asked you to do so.
She's mad at him. I get it. I'd be mad too. Here's a boy picking ALL the wrong times to stand by his principles. But then, how can you be mad at him for that? I will say, Opa has been lucky and privileged to get this far in his fight against the Nazis without having to compromise his principles. Even his story about the teacher who allowed him to come to school and refuse to give the Nazi salute - honestly- that was so dangerous and probably not worth it. I am someone who HATES compromising my principles (and honestly have never really been forced to make that choice), but even I know at some point, when the stakes are this high- you do the secret handshake and then get out of dodge. Opa hasn't made that sacrifice yet, and now he's lost a perfectly good affidavit. I suppose that would count as the first thing he has lost by standing firm in is principles, but Annelise definitely does not think it was worth it. I was kind of surprised by her curtness, but I think she is just done. She's not going to sugar coat it for this kid. Stakes are high, things are grim, and compromises may need to happen.

Then she switches back to pleasantries (in whiplash) to comment on how glad she is that he likes school.

For Opa, this was not a fun letter. His new strategy is to buy his mom time by telling the Berlin folks he's working on something that is practically impossible for him to accomplish. In the meantime, if Annelise has anything to say about it- he needs to refrain from making strong decisions that nobody asked him to make.

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