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Wed, Mar. 25th, 2015, 07:58 pm
Genealogy: A Letter from the Past

Today is my maternal grandfather's yahrzeit. Earlier this week was my grandmother's birthday and their wedding anniversary. And this week I received the most amazing thing, and the timing could not have been more fitting.

But let's rewind a bit so I can give you some background. I've posted before about their escape from Germany weeks before the outbreak of war, and their time in Britain. In the spring of 1940 they were able to move to London, but in June 1940 the regulations changed and so even though they had both been vetted by a tribunal and declared "Class C" -- i.e., legitimate refugees from the Nazis -- my grandfather was interned in the Onchan Camp on the Isle of Man. He was there through Sept. 1941, when he was released to work in Cumberland for the War Agricultural Executive Committee. Shortly after that, he was reunited with my grandmother in London.

Now let's fast-forward to 1993. When my grandmother passed, my mother was clearing out the basement storage area associated with the apartment, and found that my Oma had kept all the letters from my Opa while he was interned. But due to water damage, they had congealed into a solid block of paper fibers. My mother donated the letters to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, hoping that they would be able to figure out a way to salvage them.

A few months ago, I found the accession record for this artifact in the USHMM website, and sent them an email asking if they'd ever been able to get anywhere with the letters. They decided to take another look, since restoration techniques have advanced in the last two decades, but they warned me not to get my hopes up.

The proposal was to peel off the outermost letter, and expose it to some humidity and slip a piece of tissue paper between the pages to gently and gradually wedge them apart. If that didn't work, there were two other treatments that were riskier but might also work.

On Monday, I got an email from the archivist. The simple and safe treatment has worked on the sample letter, and the ink has only run a little bit.

I ran it through Photoshop(R) to bring up the contrast and make it easier to read:

And here is my transcription (line-for-line with the image) and my translation:

Meine liebte Bielein (?),
Post von 11. Okt. (?) erhalten u. herzlichen Dank. Hoffentlich
bleibst Du weiter so gesund u. tapfer. Wenn du bis von
einem Anwalt etwas versprichst, dann riskiert des Geld.
Ich bin aber dafür sehr vorsichtig zu sein, damit nicht
wieder das Gelt verloren ist. Hast Du eigentlich an Hugo
geschrieben, dass er auch unserer Mutter einmal ___
Leiter __ soll. Die Arme wird sonst zu nervöses-
ten. Von Heute, einen Austrag macht ist alles nett, aber
ich glaube nicht an einen Erfolg. Du schreibst nichts wie
es Du sonst geht. Du hast lediglich enwähnt, dass Du in
ärzlicher Behandlung bist. Ich schreib Dir daraufhin
dass ich darin eher eine Entlassungsmöglichkeit sehe
u. vielleicht hast Du in dieser Hinsicht etwas under-
nommen. Hier gibt es nichts Neues. Ich komme tage-
lang kaum aus dem Hause. Die Feiertage brauchen viel
Arbeit u. wenn man etwas verdienen will, muss man
sich schon sehr ranhalten. Man hat immer nur
einen Gedanken. Was ist mit dem Bie. Was ist in
London, hoffentlich ist es nicht gar zu schlimmen.
Alles andere ist unwesentlich u. an Entlassung denkt
man kaum alles. Man ist darin hoffnungslos ge-
worden. Tage Wochen u. Monate vergehen, man macht
keinen Unterschied u. möchte doch alles englisch ein-
mal hinter sich haben. Hoffentlich habe ich bald die
der Post von Dir. Mit lieben grüssen u. Kussen immer dein

                                 17 Oct. 1940
My darling "Bielein" (?),

Your mail of 11 Oct. arrived and heartfelt thanks. Hopefully you remain healthy and brave. If you found a promising lawyer, then risk the money. But I am very concerned that the money not again be lost. By the way, have you really written to Hugo that he also should once more to our mother [illegible]?

The poor are usually the most nervous. From today, a discharge would make everything nice, but I do not believe in a success.

You write nothing about how it goes with you. You've only mentioned that you are in medical treatment. I write you as a result that I see more of a possibility of release and perhaps you have undertaken something in this respect.

Here there is nothing new. For days at a time, I hardly left the house. The holidays require much work and if you want to earn something, you already have your work cut out for you.

One has always but a single thought. What is with the "Bie"? What is happening in London -- hopefully it's not too bad at all. Everything else is irrelevant and about release one thinks barely at all. One becomes hopeless about it. Days, weeks, and months go by, one makes no difference and one wishes that one could have everything English be behind one.

Hopefully, I will soon have mail from you.

With loving greetings and kisses, forever yours,


Thu, Mar. 26th, 2015 02:39 am (UTC)

I'm glad for you that progress has been made!

Thu, Mar. 26th, 2015 04:26 pm (UTC)

So very cool! Does this mean they'll be able to send you more letters?

(BTW the cut-tag doesn't seem to be working.)

Fri, Apr. 10th, 2015 05:51 pm (UTC)
kirisutogomen: Making a Bielein?

So I'm looking at the "B" in "Behandlung" and at the letter that you've transcribed as "B" in "Bielein" and "Bie", and I am not sure they're the same letter. The letter in "_ie" and "_ielein" certainly looks like a "B", but it differs significantly from the known "B" from this sample.

This is the "B" in "Behandlung"
the letter in "Meine liebte _ielein"
and the letter in "Was ist mit dem _ie."

I am not sure what letter it would be, other than "B". It looks like how I write capital "Z" and it also looks a bit like a capital ẞ (yeah, unlikely, I know, but that's what came to mind).

Tue, Apr. 14th, 2015 01:10 pm (UTC)
530nm330hz: Re: Making a Bielein?

I originally had transcribed it as a Z, actually, until my mom told me (which I have since substantiated from other letters that the museum has sent me) that his "full" nickname for her was "Hobby"; it seems that "Bie", "Bielein", "Hobbylein" were nick-nicknames.

Tue, Apr. 14th, 2015 03:17 pm (UTC)
kirisutogomen: Re: Making a Bielein?

I suspected it might be something like that, but the temptation offered by "Making a Bielein" was too great.

Edited at 2015-04-14 03:18 pm (UTC)