Letter Excerpts
from Home Alone in America

Pawlet, Vermont, Aug. 7, 1946

Dear Mr. Dost:

Your letters of May 10 and June 23 have been forwarded to me here, where I am spending my long vacation from the University.  We were glad to learn that you had survived the war without serious loss.

Under present conditions we do not think it wise for Helmut to try to live in a large city…Consequently I have arranged with the headmaster of the Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont for Helmut to go to school and live in the boys’ dormitory, or if that should be crowded, in the headmaster’s own hone.  Helmut can stay here in Pawlet during the summer vacation.  The school is being very generous in contributing his room and part of his tuition and board.

…We expect to be in Vermont until Sept. 20, so he can come directly to us by train to Manchester, where we will meet him and bring him to Pawlet until school opens in early September…Trusting that you will approve these arrangements, which are the best I can do, and looking forward to meeting Helmut, we are

Sincerely yours,
[Professor] Carroll W. Dodge

 

Yorkville, N. Y. Oct. 19, 1946

Dear Berliners:

Well, yesterday morning I went to the welfare office.  After a long wait Miss Osten finally appeared, she’s handling my case.  She’s really nice…she seems to be Jewish, and her father is a regular German.  This Miss Osten read the telegram [from Augusta de Boer in San Diego] and returned with two letters. “Write your aunt that she can’t always be changing her mind from one minute to the next; in the end she’s got to be definite”….In the letter to the San Diego welfare department it explained:

“As Helmut is under 18, we are anxious to arrange for supervision of is environment and perhaps help in planning his future with him.  Helmut is anxious to return to school to continue his education.  He speaks English very well, is bright and intelligent, and shows evidence of having had good schooling and careful upbringing.”

So you see the kind of impression your son’s been making!

Big kisses, your Helmut

 

Paul Dost’s Diary, Jan. 12, 1947:
In the kitchen it is barely above freezing.  Ice crystals are glistening on the walls.  Today is Martin’s birthday…The schools are closed until further notice due to the shortage of coals.  Helmut wrote that he decided on work instead of school, and Tante Guschen writes that she is not keeping him from attending school, although she is always complain ing about expenses caused by Helmut.

 

Paul Dost’s Diary, Feb. 16, 1947:
Our fuel supply is almost gone in spite of our extremely careful use…The food situation is catastrophic.  We are fortunate  to have our acorn pancakes as a substitute for bread.  I had gathered about 100 pounds of acorns.

 

San Diego, April 14, 1947

To You Whom I Love:

It’s been two weeks again since I last wrote you.  You must know that I’m working for a shoemaker now.  The work there is real nice, in any case better than in the laundry, although it’s actually pretty messy.  You often cut your fingers.  I loosen and fasten the heels to be repaired.  Then comes the initial trimming with a knife, and finally the boss trims everything with a machine.  Then I have to sand, polish, and shine…

I have four blocks (crossroads) to walk to get to my work place, so I’m saving on transportation costs.  Besides, Point Loma has a wonderful view; from here you can see across the Bay, San Diego, North Island, and Coronado, and still farther inland as far as the mountains in La Mesa and towards Mexico.  It should be one of the seven wonder-views of the world.  $4.00 rent a week….

Affectionately, Helmut

 

Los Altos, May 9, 1948

Dear Mother, Dear Martin!

I want to write more now about my new environment.  First, the day’s routine:

I get up about 7:00 a.m.  Then I go briefly to feed the calves…and four sheep and three lambs.  Then I go through the hen houses, see that everything is in order, that they have enough laying food and that none of them are dead, change the water, take the sick and weak ones into a separate stall, and set the rest of the hens free.

At 8:00 there’s breakfast…Then I wash dishes and about 9:00 I’m free for other work: pull weeds, spade, clean the hen houses, fill the containers with chicken feed, etc.

After lunch I feed the hens, with wheat, barley, or oats and collect the eggs, about 350 to 400.  From about 2:00 till 5:00 we do general work, and at 5:00 we have supper.  Then gather eggs again…and again feed the calves and sheep.  That’s about all.  Don’t think I’m overworked because it’s all just light work.  Some days there is heavy work, but only for 1-3 hours.  On Sunday I only take care of the animals and wash dishes.

Since I’ve been here Mrs. Kern spent a week in Santa Barbara with relatives.  During that time I took her place…and now Mr. Kern is on a short five-day vacation in the Sierras.  Till now the Kerns could hardly go on these little vacations, so I’m glad that I can help them.  So I’m working an average of eight hours a day, and since the work is easy…I figure about 50 cents an hour, with deductions of about $2.50-$3.00 a day for lodging and the best possible board.  That leaves me with about $6.00 a week and much valuable experience.

 

Paul Dost’s Diary, July 12, 1948:
The Russian blockade around Berlin seems to get more and more intense.  For weeks, only airplanes have been going back and forth.  There is even some talk about evacuation.  Helmut…thinks that he can arrange a sponsorship for us through the Kerns.

 

[All letters in italics were written in English. Spelling and punctuation have not been altered.]

                                                                                               

Los Altos, June 6, 1950

Dear Mom,

Had your letter yesterday and thanks very much …Do you know why I don’t write so often?  It’s because I am with you constantly.  When I am in the chickenhouse, feeding my little dependants, I am talking to you, explaining to you and Martin how to put the egg into the bucket.  I’ve never really been seperated from you.

We are only living here, and nothing else; one has to work hard, very hard for a living.  One might have a few more more comforts like an automobile or so…but just because one happens to live in California does not mean that it is paradise.  So never once think that I am not your ever-loving son…

 On May 20 I shaved for the first time…

An extra-special kiss to you, dear Mom . . . Helmut.

 

San Diego, Nov. 11, 1951
United States Marine Corps

Dear Mom, dear Martin,

Although I had a very good reason for not letting you know sooner where I was, I felt very bad all the time, because you two are the only ones really concerned with my future.  Well it all went like this: in September of 1950 we all had to register for the draft…in February 1951 I was “asked” to appear for the Armed Forces Physical Examination, which I passed o.k….I received my first draft notice on May 29…I did not have to move into the services until August ’51, so harvest went over…and in September I got my second draft notice.

We were taken to San Francisco and examined once more physically.  Then after one day of waiting we were given a choice of Army or Marines…I chose the Marines because Marines are a highly specialized offensive fighting unit, even more famous and distinguished than the Prussian army…

Around Dec. 1st we are going to be released from boot camp (which is the training and camp which all Marines have to go through).  Then we will get about 10 days leave…and after that we will have to report for duty at our new station, which I have hopes of being San Francisco (Electronics and Radio School).  I passed most of the tests in the top 5% of our plattoon…

1000 kisses and all good wishes, your Helmut

 

Berlin, July 5, 1952

My dear Helmut!

Here in Berlin we’re still hemmed in.  The Russians are building encircling canals and roads to avoid going through Berlin.  West Berliners are no longer allowed in the East Zone, soon also the reverse.  So big bicycle trips that were planned have gone by the board.  Also, we can no longer go to Grandma or to Potsdam without a very important reason.

So we have to spend our free time in the few beautiful suburbs of the Berlin area.  Bathing spots are always overrun.  Temporary little blockades and skirmishes on the supply roads are reported daily…Hopefully we can both leave soon…Now, as to your birthday on the 18th, you have affectionate greetings and kisses from me.  I can only wish that you will come home soon in good health.  Everything else will automatically fall into place.   With many thanks and greetings

from Martin

 

Reinickendorf [Berlin] July 6, ‘52

My dear child, little Helmut!

Our thoughts and dreams revolve only around you, you good boy.  Hopefully you have received all the mail from us.  Martin’s vacation is over; he used it to make formal application to the Technical University.

The wonderful silk scarf from Japan is my whole joy, a gift from your dear hand.  Hopefully God will soon lead us together and watch over you and all good people here and there.  So thank you so much, dear big boy, and may you have a special hug on your 22nd birthday…

What will happen with Berlin?  The noose is becoming ever tighter and the constriction sharper.  Where will the politics lead?  It’s a hard trial for the heart and nerves….

God be with you, good Helmut, and many loving birthday greetings and kisses from

Your islander-mother

 

Korea, July 10, ‘52

Dear Mom, Mart,

By now you two are probably pretty well straightened out on Mart’s future schooling and education.  I sure hope he’ll get to go to one of the technical universities.

Well, this may come as something of a surprise, but I’m back on another 30 days of mess duty, right back here at the division Command Post.  I’m not a mess-man though because I don’t handle food…all I do is see that the cooks in the galley are supplied with all the heat they want anytime they want it…I am the stove boy.

You see, Recon [Reconaissance] Co. moved last week… We moved behind our combat regiments, where Recon. Co. is going to go through some rugged training.  A couple days later everybody was approached with the question: “Do you want a transfer?” and about 10 guys said yes.  I was one of them.  As you may know…those Recon patrols are going to be sent in front of our lines and even behind enemy lines.  Now I figured this: I am a draftee, I do anything and everything I am ordered to do…but if I’m given a chance to get out of it, I’ll certainly take it.

Well, all in all I think that so far everything turned out to be very good for me.  Hoping for a reunion when I get back to the States.

Your Helmut

Berlin-Charlottenburg, Dec. 10, ‘52

Dear Helmut,

I finally want to write you once from the so-called “Green Room” of the Technical University.  I just had experimental physics with Prof. Ramsauer, that is the mechanics of liquid and gas-forming solids.  I have some time until 2:00, then Certified Engineer Spoerel will lecture on “Introduction to Mathematics.”

Five semesters of mathematics are scheduled for the engineers, besides two semesters of representational geometry.  These three subjects alone take up so much time for home work that there isn’t an hour left for all the rest: Literature, Philosophy, Anthropology, Music History, English, and Creation of Public Opinion.  Well, that’s what my program of studies looks like; 34 hours a week…For me Monday and Thursday are fully booked from 8 a.m. to 6 p. m.

…In spite of everything, it’s still a joy to listen to men like that.  Often too there are important events at which I have met, for example, the English high commissioner and Darwin’s nephew, an author.  Four days ago I was invited by the medical students of the Free University to a formal ball at Schoneberg…Besides demonstrations of ballet and ballroom dancing, there was also a fashion show.  Do you have any kind of opportunity for personal amusements over there?  If not, what do you all do in your free time?

For Christmas I wish you very peaceful days in good health and pleasant surroundings, and hope you will soon be released from your post. 

Till next time affectionate greetings and kisses from
your Martin.

 

El Toro, June 5, ‘53

Hi, you two,

Well, your little Helmut is going to be a soldier boy for another 3 years.  He will get out of the Marine Corps on the 9th of June 1956.  In the meantime he will get good training and experience for civilian life in electronics, with a 30-week course in Aviation Electronics at a Naval School in Memphis, Tennessee…Pretty soon I’ll apply for another affidavit [for sponsorship] for you, Mother (they couldn’t do any more than reject it again due to insufficient funds) and if they should accept it, you should be on your way over here before long.  The Wades will give an affidavit for Martin when the time comes.

By the way, the Kerns held a chicken picnic in my honor during my leave…

Till next time lots of love

Your Helmut

 

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