Monday, August 31, 2020

June 23 & 24, 1944: Waiting to Work

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 23, 1944.



Something was the matter with the phone last night; I could hardly understand you, but it was nice to hear you anyway.

I left Dallas Wednesday night at 9:30, got to Wichita Thursday at eleven, bought myself some working pants and a hat (!), and took the 1:00 bus to McPherson. They did not seem very surprised to see me here, even though they didn't think I would come till today.

It's nice seeing Hubert again; Lula's sister Nora seems to be a nice girl, too; very young. Hubert seems to be especially glad to have her here, and from all appearances, she treats him very nicely; fully disregards his handicap as far as possible.

Probably, I'll go to Spohns' on Sunday. I called them last night, but it was practically impossible to understand; I don't know what's the matter with this phone. Anyhow, send letters to Spohns from now on; I shall stay there till Friday, when it will be time to go out to Oklahoma or wherever the may send us.

Well, I had better go to to shuck some oats. What isn't ready to cut yet, probably won't be till about Monday or Tuesday.

Bye , honey; write soon!


Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 24, 1944.


My dearest little Monkeytail,

I didn't get around to writing to you last night, was awfully tired. What did you try to call for, honey? This rural phone is just impossible.

Thanks for forwarding all the mail; I certainly got a bunch of it today. Winton sends you his best regards; he thinks he may have to take basic all over again; still he does not know what he's supposed to be doing there.

I wished I could see you before leaving; there may be a chance of my going via Topeka because of the permit; in that case, could you come there on Thursday afternoon? If you can take Friday morning off, we may have that time, too. Don't plan anything definite yet, though, because I don't know where I am to go. Also, I may not have enough dough to make the detour over Topeka, for I'll have to pay my ticket and have to keep enough money for living expenses till the 15th of July, first payday. I shall let you know as soon as I hear.

The last two days I have been shucking oats here at Shelleys; today it was just awfully hot; makes a guy know he has been working. The reason I sat here is because Charlie's harvest won't start till Wednesday or so; so I work here. I'll spend tomorrow (Sunday) out at Spohn's, though. I wished you could have come down to go with me and meet them!

Shelleys send you their regards; Hubert even his love, but I won't let him. I am just terribly lonesome for you!

Lots of love,

Do you still want to go to Texas with me? If you do, pack your suitcase and let's go!!!

Opa is buying time, working at the farms of friends from his McPherson days, until he reports for work. I'm not sure why he didn't start right away when the folks who hired him wanted him to start. Did he want a little time with friends (and maybe Grandmother) before he left? Maybe he promised the families he would help with the harvest.

I assume Grandmother is at home during this time. I'm not sure what her flexibility is for traveling, but it seems she can't easily go off and see him. She's working, so maybe she's still at Kansas State. 

It occurred to me that Grandmother doesn't know everyone from the McPherson days. She likely met the folks who transferred to Kansas State, and whoever visited. 

Opa mentions Hubert's disability, and I'm not sure I've mentioned it here yet. Hubert had cerebral palsy, and for the time period, I'm quite pleasantly surprised that he was able to accomplish so much (go to college, etc). People with cerebral palsy have brain damage that affects their motor abilities to various extents. I don't know very much about this condition, but I do know that the people I know with this condition are very capable mentally. 

Opa barely has enough money to make an extra stop on his bus/train trip. I hope these families are paying him for his labor!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

June 21, 1944: Two Suitcases

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 21, 1944.


Young Men's Christian Association
Dallas, Texas
June 21, 1944

Margie, dear,

The train ride was rather tiresome, but might have been worse. I had to stand up till Emporia, but had a seat from there on. In Oklahoma City we had to leave the nice streamliner, for some unknown, mysterious reason, and board a train that was built at the time of Methusaleh; accordingly, we arrived in Dallas with a delay of three and  half hours.

Well, I got the job; at $175 per month, minus deductions. They needed a guy very badly, for they wanted me to stay right there. I did promise, though, to start working by the first of July. I don't know yet for sure where our first trip will take us; somewhere in the South, though. The job should be interesting, and the chances for advancement at least fair.

Dallas is a much larger town than we had expected, and considerably nice and clean for its size. It's just awfully hot here today, but they told me that this was a comparatively cool day. I don't like to see what they call "hot."

From here, I'll go right down to Shelley's; please send my suitcase and typewriter to Hubert, expenses collect. It may be wise to tie a rope around each of them first, since I have no key to lock them with. Write to me at the Shelleys' too; I may not even go to Spohns. 

Well, do I get to see you before I leave? I may go by the way of Topeka to get a permanent travel permit; in which case I'll let you come down there.

Write soon!

Love and kisses,


It occurred to me that it is quite possible that Opa's two suitcases (I assume he has one with him too) contain everything he owns, plus the typewriter. He's been in the United States now for almost five years and I bet he still only owns two suitcases worth of stuff. 

All the wealth he has collected has been intangible, but valuable. He now has an engineering degree from Kansas State University. He has met his future wife. He has been safe from untold horrible possibilities of what life in Germany would have offered if he stayed. He has friends, fluency in English, and now, a new permanent job. 

His job does not pay much but it is a start in his next stage of life in America. He's been a student collecting knowledge and experience, and now he's embarking on his first step towards the grand "American Dream."

It seems he has to travel for work, or at least relocate. What does this mean for Grandmother and Opa? I think she's still in school. This is the beginning of what many folks call "the real world" for Opa. How will he do? I love that he still has a "home" with the Shelley's. They've been such a support and steady place for him since almost the very beginning.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

June 20, 1944: Charm

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 20, 1944.


USO                            Topeka,June 20


The U.S. Attorney was out somewhere, but I got along swell with his secretary. After 10 minutes, I had the permits for Dallas and Conway, both. I also found out the reason why I never received my permit to go to K.C.: They received the application too late. As far as they know, I never was at K.C. (The way I found out was by looking through my file while the secretary was out of the room.)

I'm leaving for Dallas this afternoon at 6:24 and shall be there at 11:30 in the morning. I hope I get a seat. Stood up most of the time in the bus from Lawrence to Topeka; finally, an old negro lady took her brat on her lap, so I got that seat.

Had a good dinner at Kresge's for only 35 cents, but am still hungry. Right now, I am at the YMCA, shall try to do some sleeping, for I may have stand up in the train all night.

It was fun to visit the nursery school; how did Lancy and Elsie get along?

Next letter from Texas.



I'm not entirely sure why Opa is going to Texas. Is it about a job? Maybe, I wasn't paying close enough attention. Either way I learned something new: Opa had to get permits for every place he traveled. I did not know that! I wonder if that was standard for all immigrants or just "enemy-alien" immigrants. 

Opa complains about standing up on the train (I can't imagine buying a ticket for standing room only for such a long ride). I was annoyed with his comment about the woman, but I will say as a caveat for him that he regularly (in his letters) called other children "brats," so that was a blanket term he used for all children. 

I did laugh as I imagined his meeting with the secretary of the US Attorney. There's Opa being charming and cracking jokes, and also looking at his file while she's out of the room. Cheeky.

Whether we like it or not, charm helps. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

June 13 & 14, 1944: Whether, When, Where, Why

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 13, 1944.


KS Engineer
Manhattan, Kansas

Tuesday Morning


Just a brief letter today. My suitcase and files came yesterday; thanks a lot for them. If you have not sent my type-writer yet, don't send it, for I am planning now definitely to come to Topeka, and I let you bring it to Topeka. I don't know for sure yet when I shall get there, but it will be sometime Thursday afternoon. I'll wire you the exact time. I'll stay there till Friday, so try to get Friday off, and we'll have the night together. (By the way there still are no objections if you have decided to go to Texas with me.)

I'm enclosing Marianne's (Herb's wife!) letter, I think you may be interested in it.

Did you ever get those pictures done? And how about Yvonne's? Bring them along to Topeka, if you can!

Well, it's time to go out and do something shocking again.

I'll see you soon, honey!

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 14, 1944.


Public Correspondence

Young Men's Christian Association
404 East Tenth Street * Kansas City, Missouri


Dearest little Monkeytail,

The Fairfax Restaurant had a chance to hire another fry cook. They gave me the choice of either leaving or staying for good, so, naturally, I left. I got paid for two thirds of a week, which was very decent of them. I am waiting now for answer from Charlie, and may, if he can't use me for a while, look for another job here. Without employment agency! If I know what I am going to do, I'll try again to do something about that agency deal, but I don't think I have much chance unless I am going to court.

There was no mail at all today, not even from Margie. You must have gone back on your old mail box again.

I don't like the process of the invasion so well. Why don't the Allies land at other places? And why haven't they taken a single major town yet, after more than a week of fighting? I bet they are way behind schedule.

I said I didn't get any mail, but there was a letter from the State Department. They are awfully curious but, before they can give my application for a visa any further consideration, they have to know whether, when, where, and why I was born and some other information. I took tomorrow for my letter-writing day, so they will have to wait a day. Tomorrow I'll also start getting all these documents located for the Canadian Consul. That's going to be a full-time job for a week or two; (poor pay, though.)

Nothing else of importance; I'm just waiting for things to happen and I don't like such a situation. I guess I'll have to commit a murder, get drunk, or set the Pickwick Hotel on fire, so as to get some excitement.

I hope you are not mourning too much about the fate of poor old Euphrosine. Where did you bury her? Does she stink yet?

Love from your he-he man,

Opa has officially quit his job. He doesn't last long in restaurant jobs. Now he's looking for odd jobs until he hears back from the companies who have showed interest in hiring him (for engineering things). 

I don't know exactly what happened with this employment agency, but it was bad enough that he mentioned going to court over it!

Opa doesn't like sitting around waiting for things. He's actually managed to always have the next thing, the next project to work on. Now he's in a holding pattern for pretty much everything: the end of the war, word from his family, marriage to Grandmother, job offers, and the ever elusive immigration process.

He does actually have a project to work on: letting the State Department know "whether, when, where, and why (he) was born."

Friday, August 21, 2020

June 9, 12, 20 1944: Become an American

Letter from Howard Travers Chief of Visa Division in Department of State, June 9, 1944.


Department of State

In reply refer to
VD 811.111 Doeppner, Thomas W.   June 9, 1944

My dear Mr. Doeppner:

Reference is made to your letter of May 24, 1944 requesting Forms BC for use in connection with your immigration visa case.

The Department will be glad to give further consideration to your request upon the receipt of the following information: date and place of your birth, present nationality, and if naturalized the date and place of your naturalization.

Sincerely yours,

Howard K. Travers
Chief, Visa Division

Letter from W.F. Watkins of INS, to Opa June 12, 1944.


U.S. Department of Justice
Immigration and Naturalization Service
70 Columbus Avenue
New York 23 N.Y.       
             Please refer to this file number
                                99503/254 NIU
June 12, 1944

Mr. Thomas Walter Doeppner
1011 Moro Street
Manhattan, Kansas

Dear Sir:

Inasmuch as your student stay will expire on June 30, 1944, I suggest that you make application for extension on the form enclosed, and accompany it with a letter indicating what you expect to do when you have completed your course of study.

Very truly yours,

W.F. Watkins
District Director
New York District

By: Helen Herckt
Chief, Status Section

Letter from Earl Harrison, Commissioner at INS, to Opa, June 20, 1944.


U.S. Department of Justice
Immigration and Naturalization Service
Philadelphia 2                In Reply refer 
June 20, 1944                 to I-102568

My dear Mr. Doeppner:

Reference is made to your application for pre-examination.

If you have not already done so you should file your application for an immigration visa with the Department of State. Proper application forms and information regarding the present requirements for immigration visa may be obtained from the Visa Division, Department of State, Washington, D.C. After that Department has given advisory approval to your visa application and you have received a letter from the appropriate American Consul indicating that your documents appear to be sufficient and asking you to call at the consulate to apply for your visa in person, you should send both letters or copies of them to this office. Please also inform this office as to the point on the Canadian border where you will enter Canada.

Your case will then receive further consideration and you will be advised of the next step which you should take to effect your permanent admission to the United States.

Sincerely yours,

Earl G. Harrison, Commissioner
By: T.B. Shoemaker, Assistant Commissioner.

These three letters are from three separate offices. Three separate case files, folders, reference points. Immigration is exhausting. Opa is in the process of changing his status in the US from that of his temporary student visa to a more permanent status of a regular immigration visa, with intent to become naturalized in the United States. His graduation from college catapults him to this next step. The current process for this is pre-examination through the Canadian Consul. 

If he sends all the right people all the right paperwork and they all give the green lights, he will travel to Canada and obtain the paperwork at the consul and then re-enter the United States on an immigrant visa. 

But he still has a lot of papers between now and then. And I'm still not sure he is technically able to become a US citizen while the US is at war with Germany. In a letter to Grandmother, he mentioned that legally the US sees him as an enemy-alien (they only recognize his German origins), but Canada legally recognizes his Dutch ID and therefore he would not fall under the enemy-alien category there. I'm guessing this is what would allow him to re-enter the US, with Canadian "re-branding" as Dutch? I'm obviously not 100% sure. I may end up correcting this blog later on if I find I read it incorrectly. 

All this to say: Opa is trying to become an American. It's not easy. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

June 8, 1944: Opa's Vacation

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 8, 1944.


Public Correspondence

Young Men's Christian Association
404 East Tenth Street * Kansas City, Missouri

Tuesday afternoon.


I took this afternoon off for a little vacation and went down to Swope Park. There is a nice little lake here, called the Lagoon, with boats for rent. I took one for an hour, and now, after having rowed some blisters on my hands, I am resting and reading "Jane Eyre." It is pretty here, awfully pretty. I am sitting underneath a willow tree, and its leaves are touching the water. Small hills with little forests in all shades of green are across the lake, and the water sounds so harmonious and peaceful; just like in the old days. If you were here now too, happiness would be perfect.

I sent you the silver set today; there are 34 pieces, a set for 8, and nicer than I had first thought. It cost 15.25; I enclose a money order for the balance. They apparently had quite a number of these sets, but they are selling fast. You can send it back if your folks don't like it.

What time of night did you get in that the house was locked? Don't they have bells at that place, or were you too embarrassed to ring? Anyhow, at a time like that you should go to a hotel, if only to a "Gladstone."

I finally found a pretty good ping pong set for Herb and Marianne and sent it to Des Moines. Hope that will induce him to write a letter to us.

It's awfully sultry tonight, I think there will be a thunderstorm.

No mail today, except your letter. I wished something would happen. Be a good girl and get in in time tonight, the way I do!


Opa took the day off. His June 7th letter spoke of how tired he was, how his sleep was restless because of his thinking about the war and D-day. So today, he took the day off, and he did it in style.

He meandered to Swope Park, which is where the Kansas City Zoo is. At the time, I'm not sure how large the zoo was (it was open), or if the lake was a separate section. The lake is a little circular lake, and from pictures it does look lovely. 

Opa spent time on his father's sailboat as a child (likely on the rivers that run through Berlin) and at the beach on the north shore of Germany. For him, water was a familiar and good feeling "just like the old days." The Nazis rendered the beach unwelcoming, and I'm sure his days on the sailboat were fewer as his parents separated, and then none when his Dad moved to Amsterdam. 

But the good memories had water: quiet, peaceful, harmonious. Opa reconnected with that feeling, treating himself to a rowboat for an hour, and then reclining under a tree with a book. You can tell what the experience did for his spirit just by the tone of his letter. 

He's found a moment of peace. 

Sometimes we need a vacation, but it doesn't have to look like a fancy hotel or big trip. We just need to reconnect with the sounds, smells, and views that speak peace to our souls. 

For Opa, that's water and the willow tree with leaves reaching down. Don't forget the good book. That all sounds pretty good to me, actually.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

June 7, 1944: Invasive Dreams

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 7, 1944.


Public Correspondence

Young Men's Christian Association
401 East Tenth Street * Kansas City, Missouri

Honey, dear,

This is going to be a short letter, because I am awfully tired today. I didn't sleep very well last night; kept dreaming about that darn invasion.

Tell Mrs. Frazen she is nuts. You don't have to give her a day's notice before leaving, as long as you pay your room rent for one more month. That might be different in the nursery school; you will have to find out. I am awfully glad you are planning on coming this weekend; let me know whether you come by bus or train, what time you get here, and, if by bus, what bus line you take. They don't all arrive at the same depot.

No mail today, except your letter. Still no permission to go to K.C. I can't just go up and tell them the situation, because the U.S. Attorney to whom I report is in Topeka, and not here. If I don't get answer by the end of the week, though, I'll write to him.

I bet you have been busy without Mrs. Jones; is she back now? How are the brats? The darn viper of yours still alive? That girl from your hoe town is at least some company for you. Thanks for drawing her picture for me. She looks like your twin sister.

Good night, dear:


Better find another mail box. Your letter, written June 5, was stamped 530pm, June 6. They may have a mail box in Lawrence that is taken out more than once a week.

Opa was right, it's not a long letter with not too much said. He's still waiting on word of whether he can work in his field and not at a restaurant. 

Opa said he was tired because his sleep was interrupted by dreams of "that darn invasion." I can only imagine. I know that now in this pandemic, my sleep has been more haphazard and my dreams more bizarre. I even have moments in my dream when my brain is just awake enough to say "wait, we shouldn't be here! We should be social distancing!" And then I wake up instead of enjoying a benign dream about a backyard BBQ. 

I can't imagine what Opa's dreams were.

Monday, August 10, 2020

June 6, 1944: Apathy

Letter from Opa to Grandmother, June 6, 1944, D-Day.


Public Correspondence

Young Men's Christian Association

404 East Tenth Street * Kansas City, Missouri


Margie, dear,

Well, finally. I got two letters from you this afternoon; one you wrote June 2nd, and one from June 5th. I don't know where the first one was all that time, but not at the K.C. post office. I would have called you had I not heard from you today, for I was a little worried.

What do you think about the news? I was just terrible nervous all day. I read the Times in the morning, which gave just the first communiques, and I couldn't find out a thing until in the afternoon when I got off work. At the restaurant, they were so damn disinterested, I just burned up. Even now, I am so excited, that I go down every half an hour to buy the extras. Things look all right so far, but the Germans may use the same tactics as at Anzio and answer with the counteroffensives after bridgeheads are established. Probably, right now or pretty soon landings are being made in Belgium, Holland, or even further east.

I saw Winton last night, for an hour. He was on his way to Fort Leonard Wood, where he will be stationed now. It's a shame, just now where I am in Kansas City. We had hardly any time together, since Winton had to stay in contact with the other members of his squadron. We went to a bar, and Winton and I managed to sit a little off side the rest of the boys, so that we got at least some of the most important things talked out. If we only had known what would happen a few hours from then...

Still no permit from my attorney, but somebody from the 7th Service Command was in Manhattan, inquiring about me and checking on some of the references I gave. He seemed rather surprised not to find me there. I hope it won't have any bearing on the outcome of may application.

Another possibility for a job came up through another employment agency. I am through with those agencies, though, and won't even go for an interview unless the present chances are out. My preference at the time is National Geophysical, if they offer anything like they did when I interviewed them. I hope something turns up in the near future, for I don't care a bit for the atmosphere at the Fairfax Restaurant. It's just a little wilder than the Wareham. Fairfax is an industrial district, and the kind of people that work there are not of the best. The surplus of girls is dangerous and so strong that the waitresses flirt even with the negroes, but at times get downright vulgar with the few of us white boys left. Anyhow, I'll be glad when something else turns up.

So far, I haven't found anybody to pal around with here; the boys who stay at the Y are awfully young. Also, I don't have much time, since I have to go to bed pretty early to be in good shape when I get up at five in the morning.

Be sure to come up next weekend!

Yours, forever: 


Something I have learned (to my surprise, though I shouldn't have been), is that even if a person has been the victim of racism, misjudgment, and persecution, it does not mean that they will automatically be immune to being racist, judgmental, or persecutor. 

Opa is a German, Jewish refugee and he still considers himself to be higher in the social hierarchy than Black people.  It's pretty damning. 

Opa had never seen a Black person until he came to the United States. He wrote about it in his autobiography, and how foreign the racial situation of the United States were to him. Opa was not blatantly racist, in the sense that he did not advocate for harm or disenfranchisement of the Black community. However, when plopped down into the middle of the US, he easily adopted the hierarchy that had him higher. 

In case anyone wants to say that he didn't know any better, trust me, I would love to be able to let him off the hook. But I can't. In his Quaker youth group, he studied about the racism problems in South Africa. He had been a victim (and seen the real manifestation in his country) of racism against Jews. He had the tools and information to know better. It just didn't benefit him to know better. This is how it works even today, white people like myself aren't "blatantly" racist, but there are spaces when we fail to combat racism because it doesn't benefit us to do so. We have to do better.

The irony in this letter is a bit on the nose, but I won't let it lose the point. At the same moment when Opa makes an off-hand comment about waitresses "even flirting" with the Black patrons of the restaurant, he is also complaining that no one seems to care that there is a literal fight for the future of the world happening on the shores of Western Europe. 

His frustration is valid! The oblivious Americans who are so uninformed as to be apathetic, they need a gut-check too. Perhaps if they had cared more about world events there would have been a viable diplomatic response after the First World War. Perhaps not. 

But what Opa is lamenting is this: apathy. Particularly apathy towards things that affect people in such vast and severe ways. Opa has shown his own blind eye to the plight of the Black community in America. He reveals the American blind spots of world events. We Americans are still culturally very bad at caring about things that happen far away from us. (And unfortunately, sometimes very far isn't far at all.) We have an apathy problem. I don't think we're the only ones with this problem, but we're pretty knee-deep in it.

D-Day was a turning point in the war, a time when perhaps more of America was paying attention and hoping that the end of the war would be soon. D-Day was the beginning of liberation for Western Europe. For Opa, D-Day was the first possibility in a long time of his Dad to be out from under Nazi rule. It was the first real indicator of whether the Allied forces could truly defeat the Nazis (and other Axis powers). He was paying attention.