Friday, September 29, 2017

August 25, 1943: Nazis, Archie, and Grape Juice

Letter from Opa to Grandmother
(instead of commenting at the end, I'm going to comment throughout the letter)

August 25, 1943


It won't be long now till school starts, and am I ever looking forward to it! This summer has gone by so terribly fast; a blitz summer. The day when I went up Bluemont Hill last spring to study for the finals seems like yesterday. (I was rudely interrupted in my  studies that day, though.)

Woah- hold up here. I had suspicions that Opa and Grandmother's courtship was a quick one before they got engaged. Now I know it was super quick. They met while Opa was studying for finals in the Spring. So- May? Let's give them April. That means in a couple of months Grandmother had broken off her engagement to Archie and accepted Opa's proposal. Then she went home for the summer. No wonder why Grandmother was questioning everything (and her family was too)! Yet Opa had such a sure confidence! 

I am so glad that your religious activities are so copious, and I can just imagine how deep and orthodox your conversations with Mister Preacher must be. On the other hand, though, I have been converted to such a degree as to acknowledge that there might even be some preachers who are good for something; so why don't you try exposing a fraction of your inner-most psychological and physiological disturbances to Dillinger?

Opa is being a stinker here. Grandmother was a lifelong Methodist and likely took her problems to the pastor, asking for sage advice. Opa teases her about it and then makes some jokes about Dillinger (who by the way, was a pretty notorious gangster in the Midwest in the 30s). I kinda don't get the joke. Unless he's talking about someone else that they know. 

Naturally, I am a little worried about Archie's coming to visit you. I figure, however, that if you pass this test, you will always be true to me; if you should go back to Archie -- well in that case you probably never really loved me. Please let me know how things come out, and be as frank as you always have been.

WHAT?! Grandmother?! What on earth is she thinking? Man she is trailing these boys HARD. My guess is that Archie asked Grandmother if he could visit her to try to convince her to come back to him. I don't know- but clearly it was not successful. I'm sort of amazed that she stood firm with Opa- they hadn't known each other that long and he really was so (literally) foreign to her! They really were a magical match if a couple of months could withstand family pressure and the ex-fiance begging!

Right now, I am a first-class bachelor. Herb, before going to C.P.S., went to Iowa to see his girl friend; Zimmermans, all three of them, went to California to see one of their sons. The only survivor of the Zimmerman mansion are Micky, a cat, and Tom. The three keep looking after each other; Mickey, especially interested in the upping of the good morals, insists to watch Tom even at night, for she insists on sleeping under his bed. The cat is interested only in the  culinary parts of the household; anyhow, she appears only at supper time for her dish of milk and disappears again for the rest of the night, trying to stir up a couple of tom-cats. Mickey got his first taste of horsemeat, and boy does she love it! I did not tell her, though, what animal the meat came from. She knew I bought it Musil's, and what is good enough reputation for her.

I thought Mickey was the cat, but I think Mickey is a dog. A really cute, loyal dog who sleeps under Opa's bed at night. I love this scene of Opa's living arrangement. He lives with the Zimmerman's (we've been able to chat with the descendants of this family!), who have a boarding house for college students, and it seems like a really nice place to be. They trust Opa enough to leave him in the home while they make a trip to California. He seems to be in charge of the animals in their absence. Not sure how they would feel about a dog eating horsemeat. Either way, Opa has the run of the house and seems to be enjoying his "bachelor" pad. 

Another thought- Opa mentions Herb going to C.P.S. which is   "Civilian Public Service" camp. I did a little research and this website was one of the best I came across. The negative experience of conscientious objectors during World War 1 prompted religious groups to work with the government to create a system of camps that could utilize CO's for community service in lieu of military service. If you visit that website and look at the list of camps you will see many are sponsored by the AFSC, The Church of Brethren, Mennonites, and other pacifist faith traditions and groups. If you look up Herb, you find a name listed there but it says he did not serve in the camps until February of 1945. I'm not sure if they missed some information or if he was able to delay his service.

Last Sunday, instead of lying around in the sun or wasting my precious time in church, I sawed wood for a book shelf (so I have room to put my Bibles on) wrote four letters and finished three correspondence lessons, besides cooking three meals, going to one show and in cooperation with Kent and Jerry, undertaking a quantitative and qualitative analysis test on a bottle of grape juice and a bottle of ginger ale.

This made me laugh in spite of myself. Opa is definitely not trying to win Grandmother over by changing himself. Ha. He continues his teasing of her religious fortitude. He made a book shelf. This isn't the first time Opa constructed some piece of furniture for himself. Where on earth is he getting the wood from? And just how rudimentary are these one-day-built pieces? He was pretty productive! He built a bookshelf, wrote four letters and did three lessons, watched a movie, and got drunk with friends! I love how he calls wine grape juice and beer ginger ale. He's catching up on lost time from his sober McPherson experience. I genuinely believe he followed their rules of no drinking, dancing, or playing cards. Now that he's at the big university- he gets to play a little. I don't blame him for indulging.

Through some interesting and successful application of my Jewish ancestry, I talked Professor Helander, head of the Mechanical Engineering Dept., into selling me his record player, an R.C.A. Victrola which costs anew around 10 dollars, for the shameful amount of three dollars. When it plays it sounds as though you scratch a compact mirror with a fraternity pin, but, nevertheless, it plays and I can connect it to the grid of the detector tube (a 12SQ7 tube) of my radio.

Opa played the Jewish card. For once it seemed to have gone in his favor. Who knows what he's doing with it - but he seems pleased.

I have been together quite a bit with Walter Dawley, Bob's uncle. (Difference in age between Walter and Bob is smaller than between you and your nieces) Walter is a very intelligent and fairly well educated chap. He has the unrecommendable quality of enjoying to tell stories whose foundation, to say the least, might be questioned. However, he tells these stories in such an interesting and fascinating way that you don't care whether they are true or not. He is a fairly good writer, and so I contracted him as a columnist for next year's Engineer. He will take care of a column "Engineering Digest."

To give an idea of the age gap between Walter and Bob- Grandmother's older brothers were much older, therefore she wasn't much older than her nieces. I love the roundabout way Ops tells Grandmother that Bob's uncle is a bit of a liar, but too interesting to be worried about it. 

Another interesting guy I met, also through Bob, is a certain John Eckardt. John (his real name is Hans) was born in Germany, lived most of his life in France, Switzerland, North Africa and Italy, arrived here in the States about the time I did; he entered under the same uncertain circumstances, namely a visitor's visa. He, however, did not succeed in getting his visa changed or in making other decent arrangements for his stay, so, a year or so ago, he was deported to Mexico. Mexico, showing the good-neighbor-policy, took him to an internment camp. He had to stay in that camp for several months, and hated it like the devil. The conditions which existed in that camp are unbelievable. It was a camp for Germans; both Nazis and emigres. Since the Nazis (captured or interned sailors, etc.) were in the vast majority, they not only had the run of the camp, but were practically in charge of its administration. The highest-ranking German officer was was appointed "Lagerfuehrer", camp leader, and under his command the camp operated. He decided how much money the prisoners should receive. He divided the camp into two parts, one for the Nazis, one for the rest, who called themselves "Freideutsche", Free Germans. These latter ones were in the vast minority, about one to ten. The Free Germans had to live in a separate part of the camp, were not allowed to talk with the other prisoners, did not receive any money, had no access to the recreation facilities, used different mess halls, different toilets, different working places. The camp commandant, an officer of the Mexican army, was bribed by the Nazis and therefore cooperated. As long as the camp has existed, none of the Free Germans was ever released; many of the Nazis have been. John, who, on the advice of friends among the Free Germans, posed as Nazi, was released after a few months, which he could never have done if living among the Free Germans. I believe this story, because John does not appear as a guy who makes things up. We consider writing a little story about these conditions and sending them to the Reader's Digest or some magazine like that, for I do believe that it should be revealed. You will meet John when you get back to Manhattan. John is going to take Electrical Engineering, if he passes an entrance examination. One of his greatest mistakes is that he intends to return to Germany after the war is over, and for that reason keeps his German passport. I tried to get him to burn all bridges and throw the passport away, the way I did it, but I guess he considers that too big a risk. (That risk saved me from being interned twice, but some people will never learn.)

This story is insane, and brings us back into focus of the war that is raging around the world. In MEXICO the Nazis are bullying people. MEXICO. If I were John, I'd be so angry- how far do I have to go to get away from those bastards?!

This story also reminds me of how close Opa was to having been deported himself. I had always thought since he was not able to be deported back to Germany (once America had joined the war)- that he was sort of safe by default of having no where to go. But Mexico took America's deported Germans?? Why? The Good Neighbor Policy that Opa refers to a sort of revolutionary agreement among the US and Latin and South America. I did a brief little search into it and didn't find much by the way of specific policy points, but more that the nations would try to relate in a give-and-take way. This seems pretty giving by Mexico. 

Once again we see that in war time, you can't survive on principles alone. John takes the advice of friends and poses as a Nazi, which offers him freedom in just a few months. That was a risk, but to Opa, the greater risk is his insistence on holding onto his German passport. 

As I tried to tell you in that "simple" German sentence I wrote the other day, I quit my job at the Wareham. I have no more study hall, therefore no afternoons to do my correspondence etc., and the Wareham job not only took too much of my time, but also did not pay enough. So, I quit that and am now looking for another night job. I shall probably do some drafting for Kloeffler, which is a job that I could do at home. I am also sticking my feelers out for some good job for next fall, for the Signal Corps deal will be over on September 11, when we graduate the last bunch. I am really sorry about that; I liked that job more than any I had so far, and I liked the boys, too. I shall apply at the Physics Department for a teaching position with the Air Corps students. 

Opa kindly translates his German paragraph and let's Grandmother know about his job search. It sounds like he really enjoyed his time with the Signal Corps- perhaps he has a little of his mother's teaching gift.

Too bad you are no longer a high school student; Manhattan High School starts on the 6th!



P.S. Guess what I bought: a pocket knife with a bottle-opener to it. See???

Here's my question, what did Grandmother say about the last letter?! What will happen during Archie's visit? It seems Opa's life is filled like most college students in the early 40s: with Nazis, Archie's, and grape juice.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I'm just impressed that Opa wanted Marjorie to know that he could hook his RCA Victrola to the grid of the detector tube (a 12SQ7 - have you ever seen a metal tube?) to use the radio as an amplifier. I have the schematic for the radio I think he is talking about. I will bring it to you at BUMC. All cool stuff, especially the electronics ;-)


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