At age 18, Tom Doeppner was smuggled out of Nazi Germany. He was 26 before he saw anyone in his family again.
Tom was my Grandfather, “Opa.” Cleaning out my Grandmother’s desk ten years ago, I found a small box where Opa had kept letters from his family, written as early as 1938.
When I opened that box, I found a story that I never knew.
This blog tells the story of what happened to Tom and his family in that decade of separation.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
July 31 & August 4, 1943: See You Soon
Red Cross letter from Ella to Opa. Sent on July 31st, 1943; Received Dec 1, 1943
Tom, happy about your studies Stay strong! Admiring Miss Hertz, Greetings to her, Hanna, Rose, Shelleys. We are healthy; I teach. Hoping for a reunion! Annchen, Mama Date: 31st July 1943 Signature: Ella Doppner
Red Cross Postcard from Opa to Ella Sent August 4th, 1943
(looks like it was received November 1943)
American Red Cross
International Red Cross Committee
Civilian Message Form
Name: Thomas W Doeppner
Street: 1011 Moro Street
City: Manhattan State: Kansas
Citizen of: No Country
Relationship to person sought: Son
Chapter: Riley Date: August 4th, 1943
(News of personal or family character; not more than 25 words)
Birthday greetings! Received your and Gis' letters today. Keep your chin up, I'll see you soon. Am still teaching, but anxious for last semesters.
Name: Frau Ella Döppner
Address: Droysenstr. 14
Berlin- Chlbg 4
Birthplace and date of birth: Ottenson 8/4/89
Citizen of: Germany
A few thoughts on these. I imagine Opa's heart did a leap every time he received a Red Cross postcard from his mother. The delay of delivery was painful enough, but at least you knew that they were OK three months ago. The news within was not so important as the fact that his mother was still home, able to write. They were never able to share much (she never seemed to write about any of the family who went missing). I wonder if perhaps they may have tried and those letters never made it past the censors. Either way- proof of life is better than anything, and I can't imagine the sustained anxiety and brief relief that these Red Cross Postcards offered.
I noticed that in Opa's letter, he fills out the citizenship question with "No Country." He had no citizenship! In a way, this is true. His German citizenship would have been revoked due to his jewish ancestry (and he revoked it anyway), he wasn't a citizen of Holland, and he certainly wasn't a citizen of America yet.
Opa wrote to Ella on her birthday, likely not a wonderful birthday for her, but I know she was so happy to receive his greetings eventually. Ella would have been so touched that he thought of her and wrote her on that day.
I've said this before, but the lightness that Opa writes with is a function of survival and forced optimism. "I'll see you soon." They both knew there was a small chance that was true, but the hope of it might be enough to keep their souls afloat.