October 10, 1942: “I’m keeping the little blanket close to me because it smells like the air of the surroundings of Nogent!”
Saturday, October 10, 1942
My dear Mom,
Today no letter from you, but a package for which I thank you very much: a padlock, Felisedine, slippers, hard candies, envelopes, a blanket, in short, everything that was written on the little paper inside, everything except the ‘Comedia’ that you may have taken out at the last minute. If that’s the case, you were right, for the reading of ’Echo de Nancy’ is enough for me. Again, thank you but please do not deprive yourself of anything for me, for I don’t need anything else and I wouldn’t fear asking you if I did. So please don’t go without something for my comfort, promise?
I haven’t yet received a response from Controle Officier de Merseburg about Serge, but I’m still waiting; I will write to you as soon as I do. Yesterday I got my first pay for the month of October but because of advances made to every new arrival, I didn’t get very much, considering the impositions of war hitting especially single men. I received 56 marks, which is 1,120 francs. My personal expenses up to October 25, the date of the first payment of the 2-week pay period, are the following: two food and tobacco cards: 17 marks 40; two train cards: 1 mark 20; 6 stamps: 1 mark 50, for a total of 20 marks 10, but this month I have the barber and photographer, plus putting aside at least 5 marks for the trip from here to the Lager of Serge (Spergau is about 40 kilometers from here). Approximately, I must set aside in total 30 marks and that’s without counting any extras. Turn, please.
For since my arrival I have drunk only 4 beers and that was because I had to. I don’t even buy the newspaper and I don’t even think about the black market! I’m telling you all of this to explain that I can send you only 25 marks, which is 500 francs; I will send them as soon as possible and I ask you to excuse the small amount, for with all my heart I have done as much as possible to save that amount. I will do as much as I can next month, and it will be more, count on it. Sending the package cost you a lot, and from my side I had to pay 40 pfennigs (8 francs) to get it. I believe that from now on it’s better to stop counting in French money, although it’s a very bad system for those who spend money wildly.
Today it’s raining. There’s some wind but the cold is still absent from the region and I’m very glad, as the weather is mild and the contract moves toward the end, although they say now that the contracts are for an unlimited time, and that those who were supposed to leave this month, having finished their six months or their year, must stay for three more months; nothing about this is official, however, and my own case doesn’t matter, since I still have five months ahead of me without being affected by that decision, if it even exists!
Your package took 5 days to get to me, even a little less; basically, we aren’t too far apart. I’m sending this letter by air and ask you please to tell me how much time it takes to arrive. I will write this week by the same way to Madame Clairevoix.
Don’t forget in your letters to talk to me about your health and what both of you do every day. Do you still go to the library? In return, I will tell you that I weighed myself tonight and my weight is 56 kilograms net; so I gained around 2 kilograms, it seems. Anticipating your questions, I’ll answer in advance: Yes, the slippers fit me very well and are very warm; the little padlock works like an angel and the blades shave marvelously. There, you’re satisfied, I think. Tell Maury to continue to be careful on the Boulevard de Strasbourg—this warning is also for you—and that I will write to her next Wednesday. Tell me what are the days of the week when you receive my letters; I think that it must be Fridays and Tuesdays; am I wrong? Today at the noon meal there was brandade of cod and I thought about the restaurants of chez la mere Ricard; do you remember? Continue decorating; I thank you for keeping up this tradition in my place, for you never know when you will have visitors; have you had any? Tomorrow, Sunday, after ending this letter I will go to Bitterfeld to get soap with my tickets—I am given 500 grams of soap powder per month—and to sign up for saccharine; I plan to keep it to take back to France, for it’s the only thing that can be kept without spoiling or that you are tempted to eat, such as butter, sugar or jam! [Writing changes a bit.] I’m continuing this letter on Sunday morning; no letters from Nogent, but a favorable response from Serge’s Kommando. I am allowed to go to see him one time in October, with no limits on
the time of the visit. Imagine how happy I am! I plan to go there next Sunday after telling him, since it’s already late in the morning and I don’t yet know the train schedule. He’s at Spergau, [I will] get off at Leuna in the Merseburg train station. I would have gone there this afternoon, but it didn’t seem wise. Now, the plan is done and I assure you that this week will be long, long, long. If you have a letter or a card from Serge, always give him my exact address. Next Sunday I will have my photos, so I will be able to give him one, sending what remains to you, after saving one for Grandpa. I know what pleasure this letter will bring all of you and I am closing it now to mail it before noon. Thank you again for the package and for your affections that help me to bear this voluntary separation. My only regret is that I can’t take much to our Serge, for I don’t believe we are allowed to bring food or clothes, because it is also forbidden to bring civilian clothes. Well, we’ll see and...until next Sunday.
Big hugs and kisses, for I love you, my dear Mom, and I ask you to do the same to Mamy [Granny] who will receive the next letter.
Your little Claude
P.S. On second thought, I’m keeping the little blanket close to me because it smells like the air of the surroundings of Nogent!
Notes from the translator, Janet:
1. One of the items that Claude mentions in the package is ‘couvert’, which usually means ‘a table setting of fork, knife, spoon’, but it seems strange for his mother to send those things. Then, in his P.S., he says that the scent of it reminds him of his home, so it appears to be a blanket. Couvrir means ‘to cover’, so that is a likely translation.
2. ‘Felisedine’ is a medicine.
3. ‘Brandade of cod’ is a casserole of cod and mashed potatoes
Notes from Carolyn:
1. Though not shown here, the back of the envelope lists a return address of Lager [barrack] Marie Stube 206, Über Bitterfeld, Mitteldeutschland. A quick search revealed there was plant (and associated work camp) that manufactured synthetic fibers/cellulose in Bitterfeld. One company that operated in Bitterfeld was IG Farben. After the war, IG Farben was put on trial for war crimes. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IG_Farben_Trial
2. 56 Kilograms = 123.5 lbs
3. Janet and I presume Serge and Claude are brothers.
4. ‘Echo de Nancy’ was a French-language propaganda newspaper published in Germany. Marcel mentions the newspaper, too (see Letter Two, page 16 of Marcel’s Letters)