Thursday, September 5, 2013

Letters During Wartime


The following is a fragment from a novel-in-progress called An American History.


9/5/39
Stuttgard, Germany
Dear Fred,

I received your letter and package, and you don’t know what it meant to get it.  It’s become very hard to get simple things like stationery and sewing materials.  Little Werner loved the compass.  For the past week, he’s been following me around, telling me exactly what direction I’m going.  I wish I could bring good news from home, but things are getting worse here.  Since the Nazis took power, all the latent prejudice against us has come to the surface in ugly ways.

Just yesterday, in the night, someone painted “Jew Store” on the outside of father’s store.  People who used to be our friends don’t talk to us anymore, unless it’s to say some hateful thing.  The propaganda in the newspapers and magazines and pamphlets people hand out on street corners blames us, the Jews, for basically all the problems of the world.  Hitler is seen as the great savior, and has started deporting Jews en masse, and arresting people in the night just because they are Jews.  Your father and brother are constantly hassled on the street. 

In short, my dear Fred, we need to leave.  Your father and I visited the American consulate here, but (not surprisingly) the office was crowded with Jewish people like us.  The line to simply make an appointment stretched out onto the street.  There are so many Jews trying to leave the country, and not many are successful.  The consulate is very slow in handling our cases, and they require huge amounts of paperwork that is almost impossible to get.  We are doing our best from our end, but I must ask that you use whatever influence you have to try to get our visas. 

These are difficult times, Fred.  I pray that God protects us, and that He watches over you all the way around the world.  I long to see you and hug you, my son.

Love, your mother,

Elsa

10/2/39
Fullerton, USA

Dear mom,

I pray you and the family are well.  It pains me to hear of the troubles you are suffering, and that we are separated by an ocean.  I feel a bit helpless, but do not fear, I have taken on a second job which is: Getting my Family Out of Germany.

Not having much experience with these things, I have had a hell of a time so far.  My first thought was to visit the courthouse here in Fullerton and enquire about the procedure.  I actually spoke with a judge and he gave me a litany of materials I needed, including birth records, a photostatic copy of my bank account, etc etc.  Why is this such a labyrinthine process?  It reminds me of a Kafka short story.

I visited my friend Howard Irwin in Long Beach.  Do you remember Howard?  He works for the city and is acquainted with our governor of California, Frank Merriam.  Howard was immensely helpful, and promised to bring my case directly before the governor.  Howard, who is more “in the know” than I am regarding government affairs, told me that the United States has not been granting many visas to Jews, despite the situation over there in Germany.  There is not much overt racism here, but it does exist even here, mother, in the United States of America.  There is a popular expression here, which is, “Don’t let him Jew you down,” which means to cheat someone. 

I love and miss you, mother.  I will keep you posted as soon as I hear from Howard (or the governor!)  You are in my prayers.

Love, your son,

Fred

4/7/40
Stuttgard, Germany 

Dear Fred,

We need to get out of here!  Yesterday, the storm troopers came and took your brother!  He was just standing on the sidewalk, reading a newspaper, when three soldiers arrested him and took him away.  I was down the street, sweeping, when I saw it happen, and I cried out and tried to run to him, but it was too late.  He was gone!  They took him! 

Oh, Fred, please please please help us.  We have heard the most dreadful stories about where they are taking Jews—these horrible death camps.  I am losing hope.

We were issued a case number by the American consulate.  Our number is 22,943.  This means that it will probably be another two years before our case is even considered, let alone approved.  There is a good chance we will either be deported to France or taken to one of the camps, as your brother was. 

Fred, I am weeping  as I write these words.  I don’t even know if you will get this.  The postal service here has not been particularly good lately.

My son, my son, we are perishing, and we need you to save us, if you can.

Love, your mother,

Elsa

7/8/40
Fullerton, USA

Dear mom,

Stay alive!  I have taken a leave from my job at the department store to devote myself fully to your case.  I’m constantly traveling back and forth the capitol, trying to meet with the governor, waiting in huge lines (as I’m sure you’ve gotten used to), waiting, waiting. 

I don’t understand why it is such a great difficulty to let a person go from one country to another, especially since it is a matter of life and death.  I have neighbors with family in England, and they have not had nearly the difficulty we are having.  Their family arrived last week, and I couldn’t help feeling angry, knowing you are still over there living under the oppression of that monster Hitler and his henchmen.

Do not lose hope, mother.  Know that I am doing all I can, and trust God that we will see each other soon. 

Love, your son,

Fred

11/3/40
Stuttgard, Germany

Dear Fred,

The American consulate informed us today that, due to a new policy, our case would not be approved.  Just like that.  While our people are being taken from their homes, killed, their possessions and property taken from them, families torn apart.  We received word that we may be deported soon, or taken to the camp. 

The Nazis seized father’s store and all our stock.  We are living in the basement of gracious neighbors.  We have nothing, save the hope of America.

Love, your mother,

Elsa

1/7/41
Fullerton, USA

Dear mom,

Great news!  I was finally able to meet with the governor, and I personally watched him send a wire to the consulate over there requesting that you guys be released, and the consulate approved it.  It seems strange and almost unjust that it has taken this long, that we have had to go to these lengths, but thank God for Howard Irwin and for governor Frank Merriam.   I have enclosed travel plans. 

See you soon!

Love, your son,

Fred

The platform of the Santa Fe Depot in Fullerton was crowded with people coming and going, many young GIs heading to Los Angeles or New York, to be shipped off to the Pacific or the Europe.  The world was at war.  But Fred wasn’t thinking of war.  He was thinking of his parents, of his sister, and her little son Werner.

When they stepped off the train, Fred hardly recognized them, they were so thin, and looked to have aged a decade in the past few years.  His father’s hair was now totally gray, his mother’s eyes were deep set and dark. 

Fred, who was not one to show his emotions, especially in public, began to cry.  He actually ran toward his mother and embraced her and she was weeping, and the whole family formed a circle of hug in the midst of the crowded train platform.

Fred didn’t know what to say.  None of them did.  Ten years ago, the world made sense, and now it didn’t.  In the 20th century, people still had to fight to stay alive, to save themselves from being killed by other people.

Fred leaned down and hugged little Werner, who was holding his little compass.

“Which way is home?” Werner asked.

“North,” Fred said, “North and a little bit west.”


To read the true story this is based on, click HERE.

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