Today's letter is from Erich Vogel and he had much to say! His writing was quite small and he includes plenty of details. If you close your eyes, you can almost feel as though you were there with him.
Glauchau, 11 August 1947
Very honored Mr. Schleich!
In the assumption that you will be interested to hear the fate of one of the POWs who worked for you. I want to give you, your family and acquaintances (Eckart) a small report from the old homeland. At the time, I belonged to the Ruhr Group and I often think back fondly of the lovely days at your farm and at the Eckert farm. How we took such care to separate the beets as cleanly as possible; grateful for the humane and kind treatment you gave us. Today, in view of our difficulties, it all seems like it was a lovely dream.
I am at my home in the Russian Zone. My friend Wenzel, who was always ahead of everyone when hoeing the furrows, comes from Silesia, which is now part of Poland. He works as a press worker in a factory in the English zone, separated from his wife who is still in the old homeland and who is waiting for her transport and deportation. Our countrymen from Silesia, East Germany and Czechoslovakia have already in large part been deported from those areas and have been spread out across all of the zones.
Because of the vast wreckage of the wartime bombing, there is a severe lack of housing, and many families must share their apartments with immigrants. That causes a lot of anger, and a lot of squabbling and fighting. Many of the evacuees have nothing more than what they can carry on their person. All things are lacking. Luckily, my wife and I and our three children have our small apartment to ourselves.
With all that, it has not been going well for me. For months I have suffered from open sores and dropsy. Mostly it is a problem of obtaining food. Above all, it is the lack of fat; but all other food supplies are also scarce. Quite often as you walk the streets, you see people looking through trash piles and garbage cans for vegetables or similar things.
The farmers receive, by law, a portion of grain, milk, eggs, potatoes, meat, fruit etc. in return for what they produce. Naturally they prefer to sell their products for more money on the black market or to trade them for scarce products, such as shoes, socks, clothing, tools and other necessities. But in our zone they are carefully supervised.
The lack of coal or other heating supplies is also painful. Last winter, trees from the center of the city were cut down and stolen. Many are plagued by the fear of the coming winter.
If you met your friends after your release from captivity (I was released from Russia at the beginning of March due to sickness), you had to ask: is it him or isn’t it? Everyone is so thin and their pre-war clothes hang on them as if on the clothes hanger.
This year, on several occasions, it happened that just after a farmer had brought in the grain from the field, bands of hungry people rushed in and stole away sheaves of grain. Very often I have thought about the brown beans that in your area so plentiful. Something so nourishing is barely available to us. Unfortunately this summer is especially hot and dry, so there is not enough grass and clover for the cattle. That badly affects the milk industry. That and the fear that the potato harvest will go badly lies like a press on the people.
The hospitals and doctors’ waiting rooms are overfull. Most of the sick suffer from diseases caused by hunger. Dropsy, weak heart, skin problems of all sorts. And still, over two years after the war ended and things do not seem to be getting any better or not in the least bearable. The gravediggers already have quite a lot to do; if the poverty does finally come to an end, then by then there will be a mass grave the size of which the world has never seen.
Many of my friends from Camp Trinidad have lost their jobs and can earn just a minimum in the next best job. Under such circumstances, I dream about those days that we spent on what I must call the blessed corner. When we stopped work at noon, your dear wife would come out with the large cooking pots. We from the old Ruhr Group greatly regretted that we were not more often assigned to work in the sugar beets fields at your farm and Mr. Eckart’s farm.
After you, back then in June we were assigned to Mr. Baker and Mr. Hart, and also to Mr. Wenger. For the harvest, we were with an Italian farm family, Marconi or some such name, the son-in-law was called Phillip, and last in the corn field of Mr. Meyer. He did not feed us so well.
Tell all of your acquaintances that the poverty in Germany is really terrible and that the least little thing would be a great help. In the hope that things are going considerably better for you, I send best regards to you, your wife, your children, as well as to the Eckart family in grateful memory.
Another heartbreaking letter, written 2+ years after leaving Camp Trinidad. His mention of the brown beans that were so plentiful in the area - pinto beans - captured my attention and drew me into my memories.
My Dad would make a crockpot of beans for various family get togethers... not the holiday meals, but every other time - like camping, picnics or "holiday" weekends and celebrations.
It always started with sorting the beans to make certain there were no "bad" beans that were shriveled or damaged. But more importantly, the sorting was done to make certain there were no small rocks or clumps of dirt with them.
My cousin Glenda was one of the lucky grandkids who would be invited to spend a few days with Grandpa and Grandma (Phillip and Katie) and then later with Grandpa & Ottie (his second wife). After she was married in the 1970s, she and her family would travel to visit Grandpa in Trinidad. She learned first-hand from him how to make beans with ham... this is the "process" (because Grandpa didn't use recipes) that she shared with me.
Start with two cups of sorted and washed beans. Place in a pressure cooker with a smoked ham hock or ham shank and just enough water to cover the beans. Salt and pepper to taste and add a pinch of baking soda. (Grandpa told Glenda that the baking soda helped to reduce gas when you ate them. I'm not sure it worked... Haha!)
Place on stove and bring temperature up so that the "jiggler" begins to dance. Cook for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully release the pressure. Check the water level. Add water, if needed, to just cover the beans again. Seal the cooker and bring to a boil again until the "jiggler" dances and cook for 30 minutes.
When I asked my Mom about how Dad made the beans it wasn't much different, but it was certainly "spiced up". He would use the pressure cooker to begin the beans - cooking them for 30 minutes and then transfer to the crockpot to finish the cooking - often overnight or for a minimum of 8 hours.
My talented friend Kayleen created this little recipe card for me...
When I asked Mom why Dad's recipe was different from what Glenda had she explained that "until he was in his early 20s and started spending more time with his friends in town he had only known his Mom's or other family member's cooking" - pure German! He is the one in the cowboy hat in the picture below. 💗
His friend Joe, who was an Italian, introduced him to Mexican food at a local restaurant and the rest was history. His Mom's food was still good, but Dad definitely like spicy and flavorful! In his retirement he enjoyed watching FoodNetwork and often wanted Mom to watch with him and try various recipes. She wanted nothing to do with it. 🤷
Earlier in the letter, Mr. Vogel mentions his friend Wenzel, who was always ahead of everyone when hoeing the furrows. This friend Wenzel was the author of a letter dated November 18, 1946 and published with the Dragonfly Block. You may remember him because his post-script made mention of the request to make an alarm clock into a wrist watch.
Mr. Vogel wrote of his poor health with open sores and dropsy... I had to look it up. Dropsy is edema, but I think he was really referring to famine dropsy which is occurs with the hypoproteinemia of low protein intake occurring as starvation of a large population group.
Mr. Vogel's concern for the drought affecting the grass and clover for the cattle, and the milk supply and the effects on the potato harvest did nothing to help relieve his and his fellow citizen's anxiety.
His plea for "the least little thing" was undoubtedly a subtle request for one of the CARE packages also mentioned in the Dragonfly Block. You may remember, the cost of the CARE packages was only $10. That was a good chunk of change in those times, and with inflation that $10 converts to $131.48 in today's currency.
The ability to draw on his personal memories of his time spent at the "blessed corner" is, no doubt, what kept him going. Even though it was only August when he penned the letter, he was already concerned about the coming winter and the lack of coal and heating supplies. His mention of trees being cut down at the center of the city the previous winter is reminiscent of Christian Fruehbuss's letter with the Pine Burr Block. It is again the reason that I chose the Maple Leaf Block to accompany this letter. This simple block will measure 9-1/2" square when pieced.
Now is the time to head over to payhip to grab the free pattern, pull your fabric and start piecing. When you are done be sure to come back and link up for the chance to win a free fat-quarter. If you would prefer to email your picture to me, I am happy to link you up. Send me a message at MelvaLovesScraps@NolanQualityCustoms.com. Don't forget to tag me on fb (MelvaLovesScraps) or instagram (@melvalovesscraps) and use the hashtag #piecesfromthepastsewalong so that everyone can see your beautiful fall leaves.
A few weeks ago I saw a maple leaf block done in reverse and called Falling Leaves... I just had to give it a try! And now I have another (much needed) hotpad.
I, personally, am not a big fan of pinto beans, unless in chili... How about you? Must have? or Pass?
Was there something else in the letter that spurred a question or thought?
Leave a comment... you know I love when you stop by for a chat. As one of my long-time readers stated... it is like having a visit with a friend.
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