Sunday, April 30, 2017

December 21, 1942: Cookies and Peaches

Diary Entry from Herb Michael (Opa's roommate)


Monday, December 21, 1942
355th Day - 10 Days to Follow

Tom, Lee, and I had a Christmas Party tonight.

Our presents were on a co-operaive basis. Tom and Lee gave me a bed-lamp, and then I helped each of them to get a present for the other, pajamas for Tom and a book on music for Lee.

We drank cokes, and ate cookies and peaches.

You guys. This Christmas party is so sweet. I love how kind and thoughtful his friends are with each other. The presents are practical and I love that they helped each other out. It actually sounds like the kind of Christmas party I'd be up for: simple, sweet, not too much fuss. Cokes, Cookies, and peaches.

I wonder where Opa went for Christmas. Did he go to the Shelley's? They seem to be his home away from home. How homesick he must have been... this Christmas will be the fourth year he wasn't home in Berlin with his mother.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

December 3, 1942: Showing Up

Diary entry from Herb Michael (Opa's roommate)


Thursday, December 3, 1942
337th Day - 28 Days to Follow

The Cosmopolitan Club gave their annual "Feast of the Nations" tonight. Various foreign students cooked dishes that are common to their country.

Tom gave the main address of the evening. It was very good. Abdul Khalif was the toastmaster. 

I took Lorraine Humphrey to it. The date was very nice. Conversation lagged a little when we were at the church, in the groups, but otherwise held up pretty well.

First- Herb's date: adorable. He seems to be doing fine in the dating department. I wish he would report on Opa's dates!

Herb writes about the "Feast of the Nations" - an event I would definitely be interested in attending! I doubt Opa cooked anything, I never got the impression that they had a rich family culture of cooking. However, he did speak! It impressed Herb. I can't help but reflect on the fact that Opa stuttered. It never occurred to me until Opa's niece pointed it out- and then I was sort of shocked that I had never noticed it. Looking back, of course, I could see it. I'm just so proud of Opa for putting himself out there and doing things like organizing clubs, public speaking, etc- especially in a language that was not his native tongue. 

Opa was brave. Even with his faults, insecurities, hardships- he showed up.

Friday, April 28, 2017

December 1, 1942: Teaching Gig

Diary Entry from Herb Michael (Opa's Roommate)


Tuesday, December 1, 1942
335th Day - 30 Days to Follow

Tom tells me that Kloeffler has offered him a part time teaching job next semester. He says the pay will be sixty cents an hour. Tom thinks he will take it instead of the library work. 

It looks as though there will be a good chance for me, for Kloeffler expects to use a number of fellows.

Opa was offered a new job at a whopping 0.60 an hour! Again, using the inflation calculator, that's about $10.40 an hour. Not too terrible! The cost of living in Kansas is likely very low, we already know his rent is $7/month, so if he works 20 hours a week, he's got $12 in the first week, which more than pays for the month's rent. 

I'm not actually sure if Opa took this job, or if he kept his library job on top of it. His autobiography mentioned that he worked at the library the whole time he was at Kansas State.

I'm wondering what kind of teaching gig the upperclassman are getting? Is this sort of like when they get graduate students to be teacher's assistants? Perhaps! It seems Opa is succeeding in school and making a good name for himself.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

November 24, 1942: Fact or Fiction?

Diary entry of Herb Michael, Opa's roommate


Tuesday, November 24, 1942
328th Day - 37 Days to Follow

Mr. Whitney, Rev. Brewster, and LaRue got here tonight for an opening F.O.R. meeting. We met in our room.

It was nothing extra, but satisfactory. Brewster thought I should be the chairman for the group and Tom and LaRue acquiesced. Whitney had already left.

Later tonight, Tom told me of being picked up by the black shirts when he was returned to Germany after his first attempt to reach Holland. They took him to a...
(contin. next page)

**I skipped the diary entry from Nov 25 and went straight to the continuation of the story**

Tues., Nov. 24
...concentration camp were he spent several days before a high school friend who had joined the black shirts happened to recognize him and helped him escape.

Fact or fiction? This has been the family discussion ever since we got wind that Opa had told a story like this to his friends at McPherson, and now here to Herb. Some family members say that there is no way this happened, as no other information verifies it (and he never told any of us a word about it). Others wonder if perhaps he kept it a secret for a reason, if he felt he needed to hide this part of himself. 

What do I think? I honestly don't know. What reason would Opa have to lie to his roommate about this? Wouldn't it embarrass him if he had told this lie and now it is part of his identity? One family member didn't find it hard to fathom that he would exaggerate or stretch the truth for effect. However, what I know of Opa, what we see in his letters, is a diligent person who doesn't really inflate his words. However- those letters were for immigration and helping his mother. Maybe in his personal life, he was a little more laissez faire. 

Honestly, I'm not sure still. If he was detained, it was not in the kind of camps you and I think of when we see that term. In the earlier versions, it wasn't completely uncommon for prisoners to be released. If he was detained, and a friend helped him escape, then I am grateful for yet another act of kindness that paved Opa's path to freedom.

If Opa did make this up, I wonder why? Did he feel it helped solidify his status as a refugee student? (Although why would he need that?) Did he crave the attention? I imagine as responsible as Opa was, he was still hurting. He was still kind of a kid who had essentially lost his home and family (or at least any of his access to them). Nothing in his life was on solid ground. Nothing in the world was on solid ground.  Anyone that he cared deeply for was at great risk. Any home he ever knew, he had the very real possibility of never seeing again. EVERYTHING was up in the air.

I cannot imagine having such an anchor-less existence. So perhaps a little drama and flair and attention- seeking was a way that Opa dealt with things. 

Fact or Fiction? No idea. Either way it raises all sorts of questions, doesn't it? What do you think?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tracking Family: October 15, 1942 - Aunt Juling

Today, just three months after being transported to Theresienstadt, Ella's Aunt Juling (Julie Fraustadter Simson) has died.

I don't know if Ella knew that she was transported. There is a good chance she did. I don't know if Ella knew that she died. There is a good chance that she suspected she may not have survived the ordeal, but likely Ella had no idea when and how her aunt died. We hardly know. On the other side of the world, with only 25 words of news from his mother (and no letters that we have from August or Patti)- Opa likely knows nothing but the risk to all his family.

Theresienstadt was not a camp like Dachau and Buchenwald, where anyone not fit for intensive manual labor were sent immediately to the gas chambers where they were killed. Theresienstadt was not a "death camp" but death certainly pervaded. Deaths in these smaller camps were often a direct result of the appalling conditions, when the people cramped into excessively tight living quarters were fed with starvation rations. They had no means of washing their hands or access to clean water. For most prisoners, it was only a matter of time before they became sick. Poor conditions further weakened their immune systems. In any of the Nazi camps, survival was always to beat the odds. The Nazis had no intention of keeping anyone alive.

I don't know exactly how Aunt Julie died, but she was an older woman, possibly in her 70s, who was likely in weak physical state when she arrived. Diseases like typhus, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, and dysentery were lurking killers in the camps. It is my assumption that she became sick and died of one of these diseases.

So here, in this little blog of a small audience, I speak and write her name. Julie Fraustadter Simson. I'm heartbroken that her world twisted around her in her last days, in such a way that robbed her of time and peace. God keep her and bless her. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

October 5 & 7, November 11, 1942: To You, Kisses

Red Cross Letter from Ella to Opa

Translation (Written October 5, 1942, received October 30, 1942)

Beloved boy,
Good news from Patti, Maurice, and nice pictures. How are Rose, Hanna? Are you at the Shelleys’ much? All my greetings! To you, kisses!
Red Cross letter from Opa to Ella

Transcription (written on October 7, 1942, received Nov 20, 1942):

Happy New Year, mother! May it bring peace and reunion. I'm back in school, happy and confident. Had good news from father and sis.


Red Cross Letter from Ella to Opa

Translation (written November 11, 1942):

Beloved boy,
Happy to get the news. We (Papa too) are healthy, hope for a reunion soon. Good luck with your exams! Nice time with Anni, she’s thinking of you a lot, says hi.
Here we have the monthly communication between Ella and Opa. The responses are delayed, but the messages don't vary much. Ella seems to be hearing from August (at least through his sister Annchen) and Patti, so that's an improvement. She has signed the last few postcards with her name and Annchen's- so I wonder if she is living with Annchen now? Or is she just with her often enough that she involves her in the red cross letter writing? Either way, it gives Opa (and the censors) the impression that she is not alone and is still well connected. 

It occurred to me that all is quiet with the AFSC and any talk of immigration. It's an eerie quiet, with the chaos of the war going on around them, they wait and hope for peace and reunion. 

Opa says Happy New Year in October, I'm not sure if this was code for something, or if he understood the significant delay of the letters and wanted to make sure he got it in before the New Year was up. 

They hope for a reunion and peace soon. We know that the war does not end until the summer of 1945. That's nearly three more long years until any semblance of peace.

But I'm going to focus on the sweet line from the first letter when Ella says hello to Opa's friends, but "to you, kisses."

Monday, April 24, 2017

September 26, 1942: Tables and Tish

Diary Entry from Herb Michael (Opa's Roommate at Kansas State)


Saturday, September 26, 1942
269th Day - 96 Days to Follow

Tom and I made typewriter tables this afternoon. They fit right under our desk, in the "kneehole" and slide out to hold our machines. I'm very well pleased with mine.

Tom, Lee, and I went to a show together tonight. It was "Tish," dopey but quite amusing.

Let's talk a minute about how adorable my Opa and his roommate are. They made typewriter tables. Like- pinterest meets DIY for holding typewriters at your desk. Not sure why they couldn't put the typewriters on TOP of their existing desk, but knowing Opa- this was an exercise in efficiency. And they did it. With what materials and tools? No idea. I love all of it. They were pleased with their accomplishments. 

There is something sweet and endearing about a couple of college kids making furniture. 

Then they rewarded themselves by going to see Tish. I too, got a hold of this movie and watched it ...and I have to agree with Herb: Dopey but quite amusing. The main character is Tish, a strong-willed woman who is funny and crass (for 1942 mainstream). She tries to play match-maker with her nephew and a girl that she cares about. There are antics and silly scenes that genuinely made me laugh. As you would expect from the time, there is one anti-Hitler and Benito joke, one Army guy, and a telegram telling news of someone lost at sea. At the end, the credits begin with a plea for people to buy war bonds to support the war. 

I love watching old movies, some are terrible (as well are some of our current ones) but some are delightful. This one was silly and fun, and I imagined Opa getting a break from reality and enjoying himself just like I did when I watched it. 

Saturday was a tables and Tish day. Get something done, have some fun.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

September 16, 1942: Illegal Radios

Diary Entry by Herb Michael (Opa's roommate)


Wednesday, September 16, 1942
259th Day - 106 Days to Follow

Last week I had a radio set picked out that I was going to build. It was a A.C.-D.c all wave set. Then Tom found, in looking over the restrictions on aliens, that if any one in the house where he stays has a short wave set, it is considered the same as if he had it.

Today, I started in looking again, and I think I have another suitable set picked out, broadcast only, this time.

Thank God for Herb Michael. I don't know how close he and Opa were. I assume they got along fine or else they wouldn't be living together for another year. I'm thankful for this diary (which his daughter so kindly made copies from), and I'm thankful at how considerate he has been of Opa. Opa has strange rules he must abide by, and even when it cramps Herb's style, he goes back out and gets a less fancy radio. 

I do wonder how many folks had their houses searched for radios- but I imagine Opa knew to be especially careful as he wasn't any ordinary alien, but an "enemy alien." Likely that was who the rule was for. What other sacrifices did people have to make to be associated with Opa? Hopefully not too many!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

September 3 & 6, 1942: Your Happiness is My Consolation

Red Cross Letter from Opa to Ella


Dear Putschi,

Got your letter. I am okay, college starts next week. Papa and Patty wrote. Regards from Shelleys and Mrs. Herz, who is here right now. 


The stamps on this card seem to indicate that Opa wrote it on September 3, 1942. It was received at some headquarters on September 15, 1942. It was stamped as received in Germany on November 12, 1943, over a year later.

Red Cross Letter from Ella to Opa


6 September 1942
Beloved boy, today—on Patti’s birthday— I especially miss you both. Your happiness is my happiness and my consolation. Be pure, good, strong!
By the stamps on this letter, it appears that the letter was written on September 6, 1942, was sent or stamped by someone in September of 1942, and was stamped again (potentially the date of receipt in US?) October 6, 1942. If I am right about the stamps and what they mean (very good chance I'm wrong), then Ella's letters are getting to Opa within a month of sending, while Opa's letters seem to be flown on the backs of seagulls, only to arrive over a year after they are sent. Could it be that Ella had to wait that long before hearing from her son?!
And then there is another little tid-bit that I don't know what to do about. Opa mentions that his father and sister wrote. But we don't have any letters from August from 1940 to now. We don't have a letter from Patti in this year either. So- either both of those letters somehow got lost, or Opa had some sense to mention all of Ella's family were in communication and paying attention. 
Ella manages to exude her personality in even her short letters: "Your happiness is my happiness and my consolation." That about sums up Ella. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Tracking Family: July 9th, 1942 - Aunt Juling

These are the posts I have been dreading. We begin to track all known close relatives of Opa as they are deported. In these "Tracking Family" posts, you as the reader will learn on the day that they are arrested, deported, murdered (or died due to illness in camps). Remember that Opa would have none of this information. It is possible some of the information I share with you on these matters, that he would never find out. Many of the tracking/tracing methods that we have now to find out what happened to people are newly formed due to archives and search engines made possible by the internet.

Remember that millions of people disappeared. It's a logistical nightmare to find out what happened to them all, and even 70 years later, some people still don't have a clear answer, only an assumption.

On July 9th, 1942 - Ella's Aunt Julie Fraustadter Simson was deported to Theresienstadt. This camp was located in what is now the Czech Republic, just east of Germany. If you read the article by the Holocaust Museum that I linked a few blogs ago, you'll note that this camp was designed especially for elderly and WWI veterans (who were Jewish).

I don't know if Ella would have known about this. I assume she would have at least heard that her aunt had been deported or was no longer writing.

It has begun for Opa's family.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

June 7, 1942: Student Visa Finally!

Letter from Opa to Annelise Thieman of AFSC


c/o Cho. Spohn
Conway, Kansas
June 7, 1942

Miss Annelise Thieman
Amerian Friends Service Committee
20 S. 12th St.
Philadelphia, Pa.

Dear Miss Thieman:

Today I received a letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, in which they told me that my status has been changed to that of a student. Extension of admission has been given till October 1, 1942. I also have been granted permission to work both during school time and the summer months. I am very satisfied with this development.

I am still attending Kansas State College. It will probably take me two more years to finish, for I take only 12 hrs a semester and work 40 hrs a week outside. My address during summer time will be the one given above; I do not know yet my school address for next fall. 

Very sincerely,

Thomas W. Doeppner.

Good news!! At last some good news!! Opa is now on a student visa, only a little less than three years after coming to the USA. He's been given permission to work during school and the summer (although it looks like he's been doing that already). He's so glad!

He hasn't had much to correspond with Ms. Thieman since the letter about his mother not making it out of Germany. He was in limbo on a revolving visitors visa (with few prospects of being deported, and little prospect of more permanent residency because of the war). So for Opa to hear out of nowhere that he has been granted a student visa with more flexible benefits- is a complete surprise! He writes to inform Annelise, as well as let her know his updates on school and living arrangements (he and Herb haven't decided on the $7/month room yet I guess). 

I can only imagine that this letter will be a little bit of a morale booster for Annelise and her colleagues at the AFSC. I imagine they've been getting a lot of bad news lately, so even a little ray of sunshine here must be a help.

I do want to say, Opa really did put himself through college. This was not the German way (he was shocked when he arrived in the US to see students working). He couldn't graduate on time because he was working so much. 12 hours on an engineering major with a 40 hr/week job is insane! 

I wonder if Opa's struggles to get himself through school has anything to do with his determination in his generosity towards my sisters and I when we were going to college. Thanks to Opa, we didn't have to work 40 hour jobs while we were full-time students. 

Once more: Yay! Student Visa! Finally!! I hope it gave Annelise a smile.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

May 22, 1942: Beloved Birthday Boy

Red Cross Letter from Ella to Opa


22 May 1942
My beloved birthday boy,
All my thoughts sent lovingly to you, and all of you! Hope you are with good friends. Be happy and strong!
I kiss my child!
I can't tell by the stamps when Opa received this birthday greeting from his mother. Happy 22nd birthday, Opa. Ella certainly will never forget his birthday, and though she is limited to 25 words here, I remember her past letters wishing she could make his birthday table, with flowers, gifts, and a candle lit for him. How she wanted to hold him and talk to him about all that is in his heart. 
I know I've wondered if Opa was annoyed by his mother's nagging and guilt trips and general over-the-top mothering... but then I remember she is the only one who still writes, or at least, the only one whose letters he kept until the day he died- so that I could find them nearly 70 years after they were written. He travelled with them across state lines, country borders, and nearly every time zone.
He did say in his auto-biography that he was a bit of a mama's boy. Even 22 is not too old to hear from your mother that you are still her "beloved birthday boy." Happy Birthday Opa, from your mama, who is still alive.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

May 16, 1942: $7 Rent

Diary Entry from Herb Michael (Opa's Roommate)


Saturday, May 16, 1942
136th Day - 229 Days to Follow

I think I'm coming back on the upswing in the way of emotional outlook. For the last couple of days, I've been feeling happier in spite of the fact that school work is unsatisfactory. Although I think that it's important, still it just doesn't make such a hell of a lot of difference.

Tom and I walked the town looking for a room this afternoon. We didn't find anything that had all advantages, but we picked one on Moro for $7.00 that looks very nice.

Mrs. Zimmerman, 1011 Moro

I am so grateful for Herb and his emotional vulnerability. Here we get a glimpse into a college student feeling downright despondent about his classes. I love that he feels a little happier, but you can tell he still has a little ways to go. 

He and Opa walked the town looking for a new place to live. I'm not sure if their existing location was no longer good enough or if they were not allowed to re-up their lease, but off they go. My husband and I were just glancing on Zillow, fantasizing that we could afford to buy a vacation home. At our fingertips were tax records, pictures, aerial views, insurance rates, etc. Opa and Herb had to go walking around town to find their room with little other than first impressions and basic amenities to go on.

They may have had to put in some extra effort, but their rent was seven bucks a month. I would like my seven dollars to buy a room for one night! The inflation calculator I used told me that $7 in 1942 is equivalent buying power as $104.61 now. Yeah, except for housing. Those weren't the good ol' days for much else, but apparently they were for rent! 

Monday, April 17, 2017

May 10, 1942: Cross-Check the News

Diary Entry from Herb Michael (Opa's roommate)


Sunday, May 10, 1942
130th Day - 235 Days to Follow

According to radio reports yesterday and today, American forces have been engaging the Japanese navy in a bitter fight in the Coral Sea off Australia.

By the radio, Americans have sunk about 18 Japanese war ships, giving the united Nations their first real victory in the Pacific.

But Tom went to the library and read the papers this afternoon, and he says that the battle is still on and it isn't any American victory yet. Huh.

Growing up, when we visited my grandparents, Opa watched the 5 o'clock news every day, and read the newspaper every morning. He was always up to date on current events, though he didn't burden me with them. I wish he had. Perhaps he wanted me to enjoy my childhood in a way he never was allowed to. 

Either way, there is something so familiar in this diary entry. Opa hears the radio broadcasting the US military victory, and his first response is to cross-check it. He heads straight for the library where he finds multiple newspapers and discerns from multiple sources other than just the radio, that the victory is not wholly won. 

Opa grew up with propaganda blasting from the radios. He knew better than to trust one source. His father worked for the news industry. When Opa was a kid, he and his sister would tinker with their radio and listen on headsets to banned broadcasts from other countries for a different perspective. 

I just adore this image of Opa scouring the papers for the real deal. Poor Herb was happy with his radio broadcast. He's going to appreciate having a street-wise German in his midst though. Let this be a lesson to us all: get news from multiple sources, lean on more researched pieces and reputable journalists. Don't trust the first headline you read or hear. Do your homework, and you too, can disappoint your roommate.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

April 10 & 28 & 30, 1942: 25 Words

Red Cross Correspondence between Opa and his Mother


March 18, 1942, (Seems to have been received by Opa 10 April 1942)
My beloved boy,
My most heartfelt birthday wishes! Am healthy, have things to do. Papa writes optimistically, has a good position. Stay strong and good; I trust you.
April 28, 1942 
(I assume by the German stamp it was received by Ella November 16, 1942)
Putschi, Everything is okay here; I am still at college and shall get my degree next spring. Have a good job for summer time. Tom
30 April 1942 
(there is a German time stamp of May 10ish 1942, and at the bottom a stamp of June 9, 1942? Not sure what it all means or who is stamping)
My beloved child,
Am glad you are healthy. Good news from Patti, Papa. Sweet letter from Gis; haven’t seen Anni in a long time. Annchen sends greetings.
Yours, Mama
It was hard to know when to put these Red Cross letters in chronologically. It seems they were sent between late March to late April. There are a few time stamps on them, and I think that those stamps are either when the form was given, when it was sent, or when it was received. 
It seems that Ella is allowed (or at least is making it a habit) to write once a month. Her April 30th note seems to indicate she has heard back from Opa. The time stamp on Opa's April 28th Red Cross letter to Ella makes me think that she didn't receive it until November. 
Can you imagine how absolutely heart wrenching this is for Opa and Ella, waiting for 25 words? That's the Red Cross limit. 25 words to know that everyone is still OK. 25 words to express as much forced optimism and good news in order to encourage the other. For Ella- she tells her son that she and his father and sister are OK, and that his friends are checking in and remember him. For Opa- he tells his Mom that he will get a degree and he has a job. 
In 25 words, they hold on to the taut, fragile line of connection that can be lost at any moment. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

April 7, 1942: It Fills a Place

Diary Entry from Herb Michael (Opa's Roommate)


Tuesday, April 7, 1942
97th Day - 268 Days to Follow

Our F.O.R. meetings have been rather weak. Tonight there were only Tom, Krause, Prof. Brennaman, Rev. Brewster, and I.

Still, even though it isn't what it should be, it fills a place. Tom had an idea for trying to find jobs for some evacuated Japanese or other "enemy aliens" needing work.

We read some letters that we had written to be sent to farmers asking about their need for laborers.

God Bless Opa. I mean seriously. He is just flat out determined to do good even when it isn't popular. Their Fellowship of Reconciliation club is admittedly weak by Herb's standards. I can only imagine that a peace-loving club might not be the most popular thing in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. But like Herb says "it fills a place." I kind of love that expression. It's sort of a sad admittance that they may not be effecting much change, but their club is filling a need, and they will fill the space until the space grows. 

I'm deeply appreciative of Herb's diary, as it gives us such an intimate glimpse into Opa's college days, especially when now we hear so little else from him or his family in terms of documents. This has been a quiet year. 

Opa's idea to help Japanese "enemies of the state" to get work and find some help/hope is inspiring. It's also fitting that he, an enemy of the state, would be sympathetic to helping others in much the same way he was helped. I'm grateful that he thought to help, thought to "fill the place" with kindness, generosity, and peace.

Friday, April 14, 2017

April 1, 1942: Opa and the FBI

Diary Entry from Herb Michael, Opa's roommate


Wednesday, April 1, 1942
91st Day - 274 Days to Follow

Yesterday, when Tom and I came home at noon, there was a State highway patrolman at the front door.

This afternoon Tom was talking to Mr. Hansing. He says the F.B.I. has been checking up on Tom.

During Christmas, Tom had worked on a large Manhattan map for the A.W.S. Somehow a rumor got started that there was a German spy hiding in Hangings basement drawing a map of Fort Riley.

And so it begins. I'm sort of surprised that Opa's German-ness hasn't gotten him in the spotlight before. But now that he's working on maps- he's a spy.  

Poor Opa. Now he has to chit-chat with the FBI. Seriously. I wonder if he felt afraid or if he was confident that his innocence would carry him, even over the fears of people at war. What will happen here? Will rumors be enough to impact Opa's life, or will the police be able to sift this one out?

I do want to point out we haven't heard from Ella since February. Is Opa becoming worried?