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◌  Everybody is full of discipline and there is no noise

18 June 2010

Mom sent me her transcription of a cache of letters from her father’s parents to him. This is an excerpt from one written sometime between 23 and 27 June 1945. The parents, Paul and Beatrix, were in Washington, D.C., preparing to work as doctors in UNRRA DP camps. Fred, my grandfather, was in La Paz, where they had spent the war as Czech Jewish refugees. Notes in brackets.

[From Paul:] Have a shakehands, or tap on your shoulder and a kiss you old Fred, even if you are for us our beloved and little boy for all times! Howgh! [This is a word that passed from Lakȟóta (Lakota Sioux) into Czech slang via the works of Karl May, eventually meaning “that’s all I’ll say about that” – compare. In American entertainment it’s spelled “how” and means “hello”, which is closer to the original meaning.]

Today was a great day for us, our big boss Governor Lehmann [Herbert Lehman, of New York, a founder of Lehman Brothers] came to the health division to have some booster shots. So we were presented to him and he was very nice and plain, shook hands (a commonly not used procedure in USA) and wished us luck and told us, that perhaps we shall meet in Italy again. That would be nice for us. Everyone tells us too, that our future chief in Italy Mr. Keeny [Spurgeon M. Keeny, but they actually ended up in Germany] is a very fine fellow, human, plain and with sense for humour, so we look forward to meet him. Mother in uniform looks fine. She binds her tie already as good as I do and we are really a quite a popular couple in the 12 story building of our Headquarters. Please write as often as possible, all things about you are important to us and we are always glad to worry who of us may read your letters first!

[From Beatrix:] But father is of course winner playing some dirty tricks. Like to send me shopping some fruits in Safeway, the greatest “Konsumverein” we saw in USA and you must stay in line before the cashier. Entereing the shop you take a little baby carriage and running around you put everything you need (and not need too) in. Last time I bought the biggest cherries called Herschirshen for 50 cents and peaches. And then you stay in line with the carriage and can pay. Everybody is full of discipline and there is no noise. Entering the Street car (10 cents) you put your token in a glass case so that the operator can see it, the doors are closed automatically. I enjoy your plans for Rio at Christmas time and to help you a little we decided with father that Billy may send to you $15. Just a small birthday gift. Pease do write him about. Here we speak nearly every day Spanish, it is incredible how much people are here moving around.

Overall these are very sad letters, but the little pictures of everyday life in the ’40s make me laugh.