Mother’s Day: Letters of my Mother to Tante Irene (1925-1955)
My Mother’s Letters to Tante Irene
For Mother’s Day, 2010
Letters from Mrs. Gertrude Krey, née Behrens
An undated letter, whose first four quarter pages are missing. Rudolf is still at the Seminary, Hamma Divinity School, thus this letter has to precede his being a pastor in Turners Falls. My mother is still in Germany with her civil wedding fresh on her mind: (Her handwriting in the old German script is as small, clear, and precise as can possibly be!)
(This was among Tante Irene’s letters)
…like the English language more precisely. Rudie was to have a position as a pastor in America right away. But he would gladly like to study another four semesters, in order to make better headway in America. He has to preach in the English language already. He is now going to Springfield in Ohio. The president of Hamma Divinity School [stood] for his oath of American citizenship. Now first, Rudie is also dwelling with President Tulloss.
Now I thank you heartily for the china-ware that you loved ones have sent home. I will certainly be able to take it along. Here I have already received very beautiful presents. For my engagement in Gruenberg I received one large carton full of small presents, which I will be able to use later. Now the marriage took place, of course, in Gruenberg. It was only a plain and simple celebration, because for us it was not yet the real marriage, since the church marriage has not taken place yet. We had to let ourselves be married, because I could not go over there without being a bride, because according to American law, I was taken to be Polish. As a wife, I now have it much easier. We will still have our church wedding in America. When my husband, however, now comes over to get me, [then] I will be in Gruenberg [that is, as a German].
On my wedding day I received many beautiful things, for example, a little silver sugar basket, whose inside is made of gold; and spoons, a wonderfully beautiful wine ladle, a pastry serving utensil, ½ dozen teaspoons, three tablecloths and egg cups with spoons. At Christmas from my Rudie, I received a glorious leather suitcase for women (65 Mark), a beautiful winter hat (30M.), a leather bound Bible; and for my birthday, I received a little silver bracelet watch. How much these cost, I do not know. But I was allowed to select the suitcase and hat myself; that’s why I know the price. I did not know before that one needed so many things for one’s own household. When I think about it, [a person] can become really dizzy, right? Ha, ha. Rudie will buy all the furniture over there in America. I wish we already had all this behind us. Now I have told you enough about us. Now you are, of course, satisfied, right?
Now I greet all you loved ones heartily,
On the 14th tomorrow I will travel home.
[Note that this note might indicate the date of this letter, if someone knows, when the civil marriage took place in Germany and where Mother is writing from.]
(In a hurry) Gruenberg, 7/19/1925
Dear Aunt Meta and Irene,
For all of us this was a real surprise. The package came on Friday and on Saturday Uncle Gustav. Now we are finally hearing, rightly, how you are all doing. I was especially happy to see Uncle Gustav again. Now the time is just about up for my departure to America, which with the help of God should become my new native country (Heimat). On the morning of the 28th of July, I will leave here. My steamer departs on July 31st at 11:00 o’clock in the morning. In Hamburg before traveling, I will still have several chores. First I still need to have a doctor’s physical examination and get vaccinations. Mother and Louie (Muttel und Lulu) will probably accompany me up to Hamburg. Ludwig yearns for the day a long time already. I myself would gladly postpone the day a little, because I still have so much to do. But, on the other hand, I feel glad soon to be united with Rudie again. Because [for a relationship] it is nothing to be dependent on writing to one another. Rudie would have liked most to have had me there much earlier, but things don’t always go that fast. Because since the immigration list is closed, it is bad for those who want to get over there. If God, however, has helped up to this point, God will also continue helping.
Over there Rudie has a solid [pastorate] position since Pentecost already. Right now he has a whole lot to do. The elderly pastor of his neighboring church has taken sick, and Rudie also has to stand in for him. The congregation that Rudie has is very nice. Most of them are Wuerttemberger Swabians. They are, as everyone knows, always friendly and sociable (Gemuetlich). In the short time he has been there, he has already received many gifts. The region there is beautiful. Turners Falls by train is five hours away from New York. I’m sure that Uncle will still tell you everything. I will send you a wedding picture right away from over there. I gave Uncle the last picture taken of me to take along. It is very sad of course that none of our families or relatives can be present at our wedding. The day for me will be a sad day, but also a very happy one. The marriage will take place during our very first days in New York…. Now, however, I have to stop, because we want to pick up Uncle from the car. He traveled by Omnibus to Zuellichau today at noon. –– Now Uncle is well taken care of. He is sleeping downstairs at Grandmother’s (Grossmuttel). —- Vallie is sewing my clothes expertly, but she will not get everything done. Now I will have to continue sewing at home; what a lot of agitation! In a few days I still want to visit Mrs. Anders in Beuthen. — I’m sure all of you are now asleep. It is already eleven o’clock. Please write me too before I leave. I will certainly also write you from over there. — Now you loved ones are all most heartily greeted by your Trudel, who loves you. —- God grant that we see each other again. In two or three years, God willing, we will indeed, embark on our first trip to Germany. A greeting and kiss, Trudel.
(Supplemented by M. Behrens: four large, bright rooms; a kitchen, dining room, bathroom, all with central heating, porch, extra room for visitors, a yard with a lawn for drying the laundry). (I believe this is Aunt Meta’s description of the Turners Falls parsonage Mom and Pappa would go to live in.)
(On Rudolf’s letter) 275 Creese Street
March 7th 1930
Dear Loved Ones,
In this letter I’m enclosing some Italian and Rumanian [postage] stamps. I hope this letter does not get lost. Can you use these stamps? Do you always need one of each kind or can there be more? Write and tell me soon, O.K? Many thanks for your birthday wishes. Enclosed are two pictures of Ruth an Esther.
(At the end of Rudolf’s letter) Ambridge, Pennsylvania
May 29th 1930
Dear Loved Ones,
I am enclosing some stamps in this letter. These are all that I just now have in hand. But I will get more. Can you also use these used ones that are stamped? The pictures that Rev. Dietrich recently took of us did not come out well. So as soon as we get some, I’ll send you some. Are you exchanging letters with Mother and our siblings?
If this letter goes as fast as yours, dear Irene, then it should make it to you comfortably by Pentecost. It took your letter nine days.
Now heartfelt greetings and a blessed Pentecost,
Erfurt, 13th of January, 1944
We were completely astonished and also overjoyed when the money mail carrier knocked at our window in order to bring me your “little welcoming greeting for Peter.” Let me give you my most heartfelt thanks for it. I’ve been able to put it to good use. I still had some purchase-coupons (Bezugscheine) for little Peter lying around, for example, for bathtowels, pillowcases, etc. for Johnny I still needed a pair of pants, a long time for which I looked around in vain. Over here it is very difficult to get anything. One has to walk a great deal searching and often it is all for nothing.
Now I have to tell you something that will make you laugh. The dear card that you sent me first brought it back to mind. On the night before Sunday I dreamt that four of us were [visiting] you. I saw Matthias and Phoebe real clearly. And you wouldn’t believe it: you were married! In your living room you had a nice corner and there I saw him sitting: your husband! He seemed to be a little older than Rudolf [my husband]. He busied himself telling stories to the children. He was very nice and loved children. You were busy with cooking and all manner of other household duties. We wanted to leave but your husband “always kept me back [saying] ‘stay a little longer!’” Here comes the good part. He gave me patterns for darning stockings! He could cut out [the patterns] quickly and well. He also explained to me how practical you were.
[Tirzah, the word “practical” took along time to figure out! It is like doing a puzzle and you have to puzzle it out. You might, however, find some mis-readings.]
I was very happy about it, because I had been on the look out a long time for such a pattern. That was my dream.
Immediately afterward I received your card with the question about whether I would like to have such a pattern, and again, I would have to say that I have long been on the look out for such a pattern. Doesn’t that make you laugh? I related my dream Sunday around the coffee table and I would have completely forgotten it, if your card had not come.
To this point we are doing well. This winter, thank God, is not so fierce. —-
17th of January, 1944
(Margin note: Wednesday we had heat.)
I am sorry that only now I can continue writing to you. In the last days we had trouble with our heating. Now it should be in order again for a good while. We did not have these troubles in Hamburg. — You ask if we have settled into our home. We dare not get comfortable, because in April or May this [park] house will once again be opened to the public. At that time we will have to have another place to live. The city below is also preparing itself for an attack. Everyone wants to hide their things in the mountains. There is no peace anywhere. The Tommy often flies over us. Even today we saw the well known silver stripes lying [on the ground?], which he threw down in his last flight. So it would also be a risk, if we moved down into the city. You can therefore see, for all that, we still face difficulties. The war has just simply not ended yet. I think only with horror, if what happened in the great attacks on Hamburg, happened here to us! What could I possibly do with the little ones here in the cold? For little Peter it would have to be destructive. Let’s hope that we do not experience such danger. It does become unbearable, when throughout the past days we had to shiver without heating. But we were happy that we still had a roof over our heads and window panes that were not broken. —
Your dear package arrived yesterday. Rudolf was really overjoyed with the stationery. I felt happy to receive the new clothespins. Rudolf has begun to write a letter to you. But I want to send my letter to you off tomorrow. The little baptism book and everything that you sent us, we received thankfully. I found the little book very nice. It is what I read mornings in bed.
Our children like the schools here very well. The Erfurt children are quite a piece more advanced. Nothing is left for our children to do but study. We can only heat one living room here, besides the kitchen, so with all the children in one room, it is not a very comfortable setting for learning. The long and strenuous trek to school also robs them of much time. They do not make it very easy for our big girls.
20th of January, 1944
Now I have to close. If I write much longer, then the letter will sit here again [without being sent]. We just had an alarm. Ruth is sitting and writing a German essay. Hanna is studying English. Today it was somewhat warm. I wonder if the whole winter will be that way. Is it also so nice in [Bad] Godesberg?
Now many hearty and thankful greetings from us all, your
__________ yours M. A very hearty greeting and many kisses,
Your little Hanna
(Mother’s writing in back of my father’s typewritten letter dated the 16th of January, 1944 )
Liebe Irene, (Hurriedly)
Two days ago we had an attack here. The city itself was not hit. In our quarter some oak trees fell down. Our windows sure rattled. We went outside and stayed in a ravine until the fighter planes were no longer over us. Happily our children were very reasonable. Little Peter only had a little cold. Otherwise things were all right with him. We were really frightened when we could return to our warm rooms. Today we had another alarm during the day. Are the same things happening where you are?
Many greetings your, Trudel
This morning, Tommy (the British) threw down [from their planes] a variety of pamphlets and papers, almost 200 pieces. We brought them to the police right away. They were deceptively similar to our ration coupons. But if you studied them closely, you noticed small differences. In any case, we would rather have had coupons for butter than a bomb. The police had already gathered together a half a bushel of them. I am somewhat curious if some people kept and saved them. Tr.
Today as we (Rudolf and I) came from Bremen, Phoebe told us right away at the railway station, “Mother, Tante Irene wrote us today!” How that made us all happy! We have so often thought of you. You write that the last time you received mail from us was from Blankenese. We still wrote to you also from Fliegenberg near Hamburg. The mail must have been lost. We lived in Fliegenberg, a village on the Elbe [River], much like visitors. We lived there (until 3/6/1945 and) quite well, since Matthias worked with a farmer and I also received a great deal from the farmers, because Rudolf provided church services for the farmers.
The air attacks on Hamburg area became too dangerous. Hanna, Phoebe, and Matthias went to school in Lueneburg. In the mornings at 7:00 they rode off or they walked the sixteen kilometers and returned home at 7:00 in the evenings. Then they had approximately one hour [off]. The war drew ever closer. Thus we decided to go to Magdeburg-Haldensleben, because Mother, Vallie, and Ludwig were there. Our travel there was difficult because it was still cold and we had to lay in the railway station a long time.
In the forest of “Friedrichsruh” our little ones suddenly almost all lost their lives. Our train was attacked by low flying aircraft. We were all told that we should flee into the forest on both sides of the tracks. Some soldiers lifted all the little ones, except for Peter, whom I carried, through the windows, in order to get us out of the train faster. All of a sudden an express train zoomed past our train from the other side. When I saw it, I thought I would lose my mind, because I knew the little ones were on the tracks. Hanna was still crouching in the window ready to jump down. What I screamed in the anguish of my heart, I do not know. — I could not get out of the train; you can imagine the pushing and shoving of the people. Then I heard Esther calling, “Mamma, everything is all right. They have been saved!” The soldiers in the midst of that utmost danger had thrown them all under our train and Hanna was prevented from jumping out that way. How thankful for that we were to God!
After many alarms and much laying around in railway stations, we finally arrived in Magdeburg at 9 o’clock in the evening of April 9th. It was very dark and the station was destroyed. We had just unpacked our things when there was an alarm. We had to leave all our belongings standing on the station platform and run into railway station bunker. The first American tanks had already penetrated into Magdeburg. At night we retrieved our belongings and luggage and brought it all into the bunker. We found that Matthias’ bicycle was missing as well as a school bag that contained the children’s stockings and our handkerchiefs.
We had to stay in the bunker eleven days and eleven nights. It was a bad time, but here God also helped us through it. On April 17th the fighting before and around our bunker was very intense: for three long hours the bombs fell. Ten heavy bombs fell on the bunker. One landed right over us. The concussion shaking the bunker and the air blast were terrible. The third bomb penetrated the room beside ours. Many were injured. Little Peter felt no fear; he just did not eat. He didn’t like the taste of the small portion of black bread that I received, so I had to nurse him. For three weeks I received no milk. So this must have been too hard for my body, because little Peter was already one and a quarter years old. But I kept him real healthy. Even these evil days came to an end.
Through the American Commandant we received a beautiful dwelling. We also received abundant groceries. The danger for our lives had come to an end. It was not only the bombs. It was also the S.S. (Schutzstaffel: Special NAZI Soldiers), who wanted to take our lives. On a daily basis many, many foreigners were taken out of the bunker and shot in the room of a basement opposite our bunker. Only because I refused to leave the bunker with my children were we saved from death. One night about 3 to 4 o’clock in the morning, fleeing S.S. tried to get us out of the bunker. Because the Americans were now on the scene, that danger was also overcome.
In our new house we all collapsed. The children got over it all quite well, but I had to stay in bed for fourteen days. The good times in Magdeburg ended all too fast. The Americans were replaced by the British. After a short while the English required us to leave the city because the Russians were going to have it. We decided to return to Fliegenberg and from there we hoped to receive a dwelling in Bremen. We took Mother and Vallie along out of Haldensleben. Mother and Vallie received a good place to sleep. Rudolf and I, and the little ones, had a little room with another farmer. All the other children slept in the hay of still another farmer. During the warm days that worked very well. In the day time we all gathered together with the last farmer, cooking and living there. Rudolf was mostly in Bremen. After several weeks he had luck and we received a dwelling there.
Shortly before our departure I took sick during the night and so in that same night I had to be rushed to a hospital that was eight kilometers away. I had an internal blood obstruction in my abdomen. Now the blood gushed out. It was one good thing that Rudolf was there that night or I would probably have bled to death, because I needed help right away. It all went well with me. The lady physician thought that I might have had too much strain. I think I nursed little Peter too long. Now, however, I already feel better. And here I also do not have very much to do. The girls are helping diligently and our dwelling is very nice and comfortable. ——-
September 8th 1945, dear Irene, Thank you so very much for sending your dear [the package]. Right now we can really use it. Thank you once again. The children are all cheerful and healthy. Little Peter is the dearest little brat (Bengel). He repeats everything we say beautifully. From the belly warmer that you had sent us in Erfurt, he has gotten a nice pullover. Now Ruth and “Hilde” (H. Fellenberg, a relative from Gruenberg) have taken old pullovers apart by the seems, to tailor new little pair of pants for him. Right now nothing else is there. —– We have the intention, as soon as we can, to return to the U.S.A. As you see, here we are not really coming to rest. It will be better for us and the children if we cross over there.
Whom have we lost sight of? Almost everybody! Out of Silesia we took along only Mother and Vallie. We have lost all our relatives. [My sister] Hanna with her children has fled to the Sudetes [the German speaking part of Czechoslovakia], there where her husband was wounded. According to her last letter, she also found him there. Now they are also with the Russians. Ludwig did not come along with us from Haldensleben. Now he will probably no longer be able to get out. We visited the Peschkos when we traveled from Gruenberg to Frankfurt on the Oder. They lived in Lebus. Mother and Vallie drove to Haldensleben and we remained in Frankfurt. We wanted to take along some things from our household belongings, because we had everything in storage there. Little Peter and the little ones got sick on us too, so we drove to Lebus. We met Ruth, Edwin, Toni, Ruth’s children. They all wanted to flee to Trude in Brandenburg. Eliza was already there. They went the next morning. They took along whatever they could carry. (September 10th) Ruth and Toni came again one time after two days. That’s when we saw them last. We stayed there only two more days, then we had to go, the [Russian] front was approaching, right before us….
Allendorf near Marburg, 9th of May, 1946
In the meantime you should have certainly received a little package. Today I also wanted to send off the bread, but Phoebe brought it back from the Post office, because the post office clerk insisted that it was too heavy, 1 ½ Lb. Only one lb. is allowed to be sent. So I will cut off a piece and send it that way. In any case, do you lack bread over there? In the camp they keep all the fats [like butter, oil, etc.] very scarce. We receive our dinner already cooked and then some provisions for drinking alongside of it. When we come to Frankfurt on the Main, we should get a somewhat richer portion.
For this whole time I have not had any paper, that is, writing paper for letters. Today my sister-in-law sent me some and so I could send a little package again. Ruth and Esther want to make it to Frankfurt and they will not fail to visit you. But perhaps you could still come to us? From Frankfurt we will come to Bremen. This will be our last station and we will leave from there.
We are very busy here in the camp. Rudolf is the principal of the schools and the pastor for the camp. Ruth has a very responsible position in the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). Esther is helping in the office. Matthias is giving instructions in English in the Polish camp. Ruth and Esther until now have also given English instruction in our camp. They want to stop during the Easter vacation and will hand over the instruction to another American woman. The people are striking and want our girls back. Now I don’t know how it will come out. I am just afraid that Ruth might overwork herself, because often she has to work until 10 o’clock [at night] or later. In Frankfurt they do not want to work but travel. Phoebe is going to school in Marburg and is learning Latin diligently. Tirzah, Johnny, and Mirjam are going to the school in the camp. Ursula, Priscilla, and Peter are in the Kindergarten that Ruth just newly organized [for the camp]. Some Hungarian artists have just painted the walls wonderfully with fairy tale figures. We have about 500 to 600 people in our camp, with over twenty nations [represented], and 125 Americans. Very many people from the Baltic countries are here, just no Polish.
I am including a passport photograph of our family in the envelope. From left to right:
First row: Ruth, Matthias, Phoebe, Johanna, and Esther
Second row: Tirzah, Rudolf, Trudel, Johnny
Third row: Mirjam, Priscilla, Peter, and Ursula.
Can you also recognize Johanna’s Blouse? It is made of the colorful flowery cloth that you sent her for her confirmation.
Now many hearty greetings from us all,
[From Haverhill, Massachusetts, just before Christmas, 1955]
Peter was born on Papas’ birthday [that of Ludwig Behrens on December 9th 1841]. At that time you sent me the hot water bottle to keep the little one warm. Later I am certain that it saved his life. The midwife thought that the child would get pneumonia, because he always had ice-cold feet. The wash room was way over-sized and had a cement floor and the furnace did not heat, because of old age weakness. Then your hot water bottle came to my mind. [It was made of stuff like a cushion.] I always put it between Peter’s second diaper and the cover I wrapped him in and kept his feet warm, always warm. He slept, he didn’t cry anymore, and the milk began to stay in his stomach. With that you can see what a difference pure warmth makes for a baby.
Peter wants to be a pastor. He is good in school. He is excited about his teacher, who would glad to have him become a teacher [as well]. He is especially interested in sports. For his birthday he asked for a football and Rudolf gave him money so that he could buy a football helmet in Boston. Ruth and Esther took him along last Saturday to see the Christmas windows [of the department stores] in Boston. Otherwise they don’t drive to Boston on Saturdays. Phoebe, however, has to work this Saturday before Christmas, because they are doing experiments with students. Peter, when he is free, is the next boy in line to help Rudolf, because Matthias and Johnny can’t help much anymore. He has to help him especially with butchering the poultry.
Andrew is in the first grade. He is already going to school. He is very good in arithmetic. He could already do simple fractions before he went to school. It gave Esther quite some amusement to explain it to him. He really learned it and it stuck with him.
Philip is a small and gentle boy. He is very tender, has white skin, red cheeks, and big blue eyes. He speaks a splendid English. He will probably go to school next year.
Shem or Semmie is a small refreshing brat (Bengel). He is Mother’s helper, Suzie’s friend. He does everything for his dear sister. He’s mechanically talented. Whatever has screws, any machines, that’s his department. When the big boys are repairing something, he is right there to hand them what they need. As young as he is, he knows all the tools. He is also very concerned when someone is hurt. He has to be present while they are being treated.
Susanna or Suzie walks, sleeps well, doesn’t disturb our rest, eats well and is coming along well. She loves music and gets along very well with our little boys. For her first birthday, Esther gave her a little doll as a present. I believe that she would have been more interested in a toy car. But [among her little brothers] this is what she’s used to.
Matthias is in France. [He was serving there in the army.] He’ll still be celebrating this Christmas in a foreign place. He is homesick, I think, especially now for Christmas. He will get a furlough now in the early part of the coming year. During that time he wants to visit Germany. Perhaps he will be able to pass through [Bad] Godesberg. I want to write him, if it is possible, to visit you. When you see a young American coming to visit you early in the year and he says to you, “Good Day, Tante Irene!” then you will know that it is Matthias.
So now I have written so very much. I have not written this much for a whole year! You probably wonder, why? —– Except for a few colds, we are all healthy. Before Thanksgiving Day, Ruth was in the hospital for five days. She had a small growth in her neck that looked like an Adam’s apple. The physician believed that it could have been caused by undernourishment (most likely in Germany). Thank God it came out well. Phoebe with many other (Harvard) students watched her operation from a balcony [of the operating room]. She then took charge of nursing Ruth. After five days Ruth came back home [from the hospital]. She has almost recovered. She will have to take three months off from work for her recovery. At this time she has already baked many Christmas cakes and pastries.
We still have very many preparations to do. For Christmas and birthdays we give [each other] presents that are needed and that the family wishes to have. We have to take the opportunities to make purchases whenever we can. Often we have to counsel with each other very closely. But everything is very expensive. [The expense] has no relation with our finances.
Just before, Ruth and Esther drove away with the three little boys to buy the Christmas tree. They had to have the tree today in order to put it up by the Third or Fourth Advent. We still firmly follow the German custom, [celebrating on Christmas Eve]. We also have real wax candles [burning on the tree].
Johnny just looked into the oven to see if my bread is already done. Every second day I bake seven breads and thirty-six buns. That saves a lot on household expenses. Our chickens, ducks, and geese cut down a lot on our meat costs. In the summer the eggs also help us. Right now, however, they are not laying so well.
Now, dear Irene, we all wish you a very blessed Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year. Many heartfelt greetings from all of us,