At Play In The Archive
I was inspired to learn more about Leo and Margaret when I rescued several large boxes of jumbled, unlabeled photographs and memorabilia from the home of my grandmother Katherine Adams Lessiack after she passed away in 2012. At first it was very slow going, a painstaking process involving magnifying glasses, scant information gleaned from relatives, Ancestry.com, and a lot of guesswork. While I have vivid, happy memories of my great-grandfather Leo, I knew absolutely nothing about his people back in Hamburg, nor anything about my great-grandmother Margaret and her people. Each small discovery led, snowball-like, to new discoveries, and by documenting my sleuthing on this blog, I’ve been thrilled to meet and get to know wonderful living relatives I never knew I had.
Today’s offering is one such snowball. I came across the following letter some time ago, but with no German under my tongue, and no clue who the letter was from or to, I set it aside in hopes that future clues would illuminate its significance. In hindsight, it seems perfectly obvious that Margaret was the recipient–Grete being a common nickname for Margarethe in German–but somehow I had not connected that up. Family lore had it that Margaret’s nickname was “Grady” and, well, zee old brain she is not always the swiftest. Anyhow, the mystery then became the sender. Though she signs it only “Mother” I deduce it to be my great-great-grandmother Henriette Catharina Maria Puhlmann Lessiack, Margaret’s mother-in-law.
Here is the original letter, written October 25, 1920 in Hamburg, just a few weeks before Margaret’s 29th birthday, and approximately one year after Leo and Margaret were married.
Enter my dear friend Maren Namdar and her friend Bernhard Krevet, both native German speakers, and so, so kind and generous with their time, knowledge, and translation skills. Bernhard translated the letter for me, no small feat given the handwriting. Thank you, Bernhard!
A couple of notable things: the letter references several people that I’ve written about earlier– Emma Lessiack Keil and her husband Bruno Keil, Franz Kelterbern (possibly of the Kellerhorn family or maybe Franz the mystery friend, who might have sent this Christmas card?). There’s that snowball effect. “Pollo” is, of course, my great-grandpa Leo. Based on the many, many postcards I have, this is what his friends and family in Germany called him, short for Leopold.
Bernhard also points out that the letter is a fascinating commentary on the beginning of hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic prior to WWII. Great-grandmother Marie writes:
Hamburg, October 25, 1920
My dear Grete!
All my best wishes for your birthday for you, dear Grete! Now, think about what one can wish for that is “good” and that may be fulfilled for you! I had planned to send you a picture of myself for your birthday. However, however, undeveloped pictures like the ones showing Papa and me presently cost M (Mark) 150. We will have to wait until it gets cheaper. How are you doing otherwise? Write about what it looks like in your little home and how things are decorated (what kind of furniture you have) and other personal stuff. Now Grete probably thinks Mutti is very curious!
Here it is already very cold, the canals and our Alster are already covered with ice, hopefully that will change, because winter will be too long and our coal storage is too small, even though we have already spent M800 for burning fuel, it is just a small little pile and we already have more than I am entitled to have. Yes, we will be freezing this winter. These shortages in everything, burning fuel, clothing and food are terrible. You can buy enough but the prices are such that it is impossible to buy anything. Once again butter costs M35 per pound and meat, pork cost M25 per pound but I don’t want to bore you with these things, one more example, Emmi sent me last year for Mother Keil and me blue wool vests, one of those, exactly the same, I saw here in a display window with a price of M125 and that is CHEAP because otherwise there would not be a price tag shown.
Dear Pollo, do you know who asked me to send his regards? Franz Kelterbern. He visited me on Sunday with his oldest son 1/1/2 years old, because the second one is already 1/4 year old. Now he must take care of these children when he comes home, he has your address and will write to you. Ludwig is also married, he does not have good relations with his parents and brothers. Address: Franz Silbenstraße 20, Eimsbüttel.
Uncle Carl and Aunt Manda have just visited and they tell us that Aunt Trina was laid to rest on October 18 at the age of 76. Berta is living with them and Uncle Daniel is not alone now.
Did you receive my mail of October 3? I also wrote to Bruno on August 9 we sent cut-out pictures and last week we sent a small packet for the children. I hope that everything has arrived, because it would be annoying if it didn’t. Soon I will send some newspapers, perhaps they will arrive this time. For you, dear Grete, I will enclose a little something for your birthday and I hope that you will spend that day happily.
Regards and love for you and our Pollo.
The mentions of aunts Manda, Trina, and Berta and uncles Carl and Daniel are especially thrilling because these might be clues to other Lessiack or Puhmann relatives. I know next to nothing about those families, save the names that appear on Leo’s birth and baptismal records. More happy trails to follow.
Until next time, People.