Carolyn Porter | "A budded flower and the sun that enters the room..."
Read text of a postcard mailed from the Berlin-Marienfelde labor camp, March 1944
Berlin-Marienfelde, Marienfelde, STO, Service du Travail Obligatoire, Forced labor, French forced labor, Carolyn Porter, Marcel Heuzé, Jean Louis Bernard, Raoul Caldier
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March 8, 1944: “A budded flower and the sun that enters the room…”

Jean-Louis-Bernard-finger

Second to Marcel Heuzé’s letters, this postcard has been the most incredible find. The postcard’s writer — a Frenchman named Jean Louis Bernard — was in the same subsection of the Berlin-Marienfelde labor camp as Marcel. The card was written March 8, 1944, a date that overlaps with Marcel’s time in camp.

Marcel wrote about a man named Bernard. I asked Louise, the translator, if Marcel’s Bernard might be the same person as Jean Louis Bernard. She said it was unlikely. Back then, men did not refer to each other by their last name, as they sometimes do now. But, considering the date and the location, it is almost certain Jean Louis and Marcel knew each other. Or, at least knew of each other.

Louise noted this card was challenging to translate due to run-on sentences, unclear grammar, and extraordinarily tiny writing. (The photo above was taken like this so you could see my thumb for size reference.) Rather than providing a literal translation, Louise and I agreed we needed to take a few liberties with structure and grammar to improve readability. Paragraph breaks did not exist in the actual letter either; they have also been added to improve readability.

Though the card was written to a friend of Jean Louis, the second paragraph seems to include thoughts directed to his fellow barrack mates. His reference to the “older buddies…[whose] age should have made it easier for them to leave,” might be referring to a decree in late 1943 that Frenchmen over the age of 45 would be systematically sent home and “methodically” replaced by “younger men.”

March 8, 1944


My dear friend,

I’m writing to you on this very solemn day, my 28th birthday. For me, it remains a day of joy because it’s a family celebration when I communicate more intensely with my family: my father, my mother, my sisters and brothers. It’s a day of joy because one of my good buddies is 38 years old today. But you see it’s still a sad day, one of those days when you have to fight against yourself in order to hang on, to keep up the morale, and to hang on to this idea that this reality I’ve often said — half pleasantly, half seriously — to my older buddies who were complaining because they were will here and their age should have made it easier for them to leave. But for me, too, the last five years have been hard to bear.

Remember, if you leave, it’s a favor to which you don’t have more of a right to that the young people. Your beautiful young years: you lived them and it’s your fault if they were not more beautiful. For us, our most beautiful years, from 20-30, it is here we are spending them. If we look only at our joie de vivre, these years are lost. Really lost. From a national standpoint, we are as useful as you, if not more. Maybe not in reality, but in strength. I’m happy that you’re leaving because I’m happy every time somebody’s suffering is ending. But don’t come telling us about any ‘right.’ You don’t have any. Returning at age 28, we’ll have to get back to our studies, we will have to readjust to life in our country, and afterwards maybe I’ll be able to think of myself: of my life, of my marriage, of the joy of having a wife and children. Such a long road.

Monday at 1:00 we ‘benefitted’ from a daytime bombing. Only some parts of the city were affected. It’s not as impressive, but it’s just as disgusting when you see the results. Well, let’s thank God that we were spared.

Yesterday I read the letter from my mother from February 20. It’s my best birthday gift. Last Sunday I saw Madame [illegible] Mounier. It was a joy to visit. A source of great strength. We talked at length about the past, the life of today, and went into detail about our life. I admire, without reservation, women who have come here, whether their reasons were good or bad. They have here a life full of dignity and honesty. It is something you cannot really imagine, but they deserve to remain without moral blemish. For a woman, it means to risk much suffering and to risk embarrassment. Another risk is to be lonely. Therefore you know as well as I do my conclusions, and what must be your reaction. I plan on seeing her more often, which, unfortunately, means very little. And as much as possible, to help each other. My impression is from a material point of view, it goes as well as the work situation.

If you see my family, you will be able to tell them in a few days they will receive a package with pictures of me. Just let me know if my family received the first one. I have in front of me a pretty hyacinth that smells good, given to me for my 28th birthday by the buddy who is 38. A budded flower and the sun that enters the room: it is spring and the joie de vivre. Be strong. Think about seeing each other again. But maybe it won’t be so bad because it will be good because [illegible]. I hug you with all my heart, my friend.  

Jean Louis.

[A postscript along the edge is illegible]

 

————
Postscript: June 13, 2017
I was contacted by reader Jan van Es, who figured out what the postscript says! Jan wrote:

“PS le 9 après alerte: en bonne santé” meaning: “PS the 9th after (air raid) warning: in good health”
Jan also added this idea: “The card is dated and written on March 8, 1944, but he probably posted the card one or more days later after a bombing raid, on March 9, and quickly added the PS.”

Thanks, Jan!

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