Tuesday, February 14, 2023

1940: In which Arthur smuggles a letter to America

     On pages 60 and 61 of my grandfather's immigration folder, there were two letters from my grandfather to two different people. The first was to a Monsieur Tuck, the (vice) president of the Belgian American Education Foundation in Brussels.  Here's the letter: (click on the image to enlarge it). 

     Here's a (rough) translation of the letter:

Brussels, July 15, 1940.
286 May Ave.

President of the “Belgian American
Educational Foundation Inc.

      I offer you my apologies. I so unnecessarily importunate you. Please attribute it to my great nervousness due to the present situation.
   I enclose herewith the letter that you may send to the addressee after arrival in the United States. If however you think it is better not to take it - tear it up without further ado.
      If you were to return to Belgium soon, as you told me about, could you not notify my brother-in-law, the recipient of this letter, before leaving the United States? This only if the time available and your occupations would allow you to do something for an individual.
      Thanking you and once again presenting my apologies, please believe, Sir, in my deepest respect.

P.S. Address of my brother-in-law:

Engineering Laboratories Inc.
709 Kennedy Building

Note that this letter has my grandfather's name and (then) current address in Brussels, and it has his brother-in-law's address in Tulsa.

Here's the second letter (which immediately followed the letter to Mr. Tuck in the folder), from my grandfather to my great-uncle, who was already in the United States.

    Here's a rough translation:

Brussels, July 15, 1940.


Engineering Laboratories Inc.

709 Kennedy Building


      My dear Jacques, 

      Our child was born on May 8th. The state of health of the young mother formally prevented us from leaving at the start of the war. We left unnecessarily by taxi on May 15 and arrived in very sad conditions in Montreuil in France, from where we could no longer continue the journey. After a restorative rest of 3 weeks on a farm, we returned to Brussels. I temporarily resumed work at the Company that previously occupied me. We are all in good health.

      Currently it is impossible to go to the United States. Besides, we don't have a visa. Until the day when Washington suspended the issuance of visas. So we wait. [Handwritten: Refuge!]

      We have no news of your parents.

      Paul is in the south of France.

      We embrace you wholeheartedly

    At first glance they don't appear to be related, but upon further inspection, there are some interesting connections and oddities:

  • They are dated the same day: July 15, 1940, nine weeks after the invasion of western Europe.
  • The letters are on exactly the same kind/color/weight of paper whereas everything else in the file was on a variety of papers, different colors, sizes, weights. This implies that they were written not just on the same day, but at the same time/place and by the same person.
  • The two letters have the same goofy formatting, with an approximately three-inch (7.5 cm) left margin, and almost no right margin, as if my grandfather improperly set up the left margin on his typewriter, then didn't bother to reset it when he typed the second letter.
  • The letter to Mr. Tuck has my grandfather's name and return address, while the letter to my Uncle Jake is not signed and has no address on it, which implies that Jake would know who it was from, and where he lived. It also implies that if the two letters were separated, and if the letter to Jake were intercepted that Grandpa Arthur didn't want anyone to be able to trace it back to him.
  • I also think the letters are carbon copies. If you look closely at the text, it's slightly smooshy, like a carbon-paper copy would be.  But, I can't be sure about that.  If I'm right then these were just copies that Grandpa kept.  If I'm wrong about them being carbon copies, then it implies that either a) Grandpa never sent the letters, or b) Mr. Tuck gave BOTH letters to Uncle Jake, and Jake returned them to Arthur after the war.  Given that the letters are towards the back of the folder (pages 60-61 out of 92), and that the folder is generally (though not entirely) in backwards chronological order, then they were placed in the folder very early on. So I think Grandpa never sent them, or they are copies. 

The letter to Jake also provided us some information that we didn't have before:
  • The town in France where they stayed after they joined the French Exodus.  Montreuil-sur-Mer in the department of Pas-de-Calais in northern France.
  • The date they left Belgium (May 15th), and while we don't know when they returned, we know at very least that there were back in town by the date of the letter (July 15). BUT, it's 165 miles (265 km) from Brussels to Montreuil, and Grandpa said the roads were so clogged they couldn't go more than 10 miles (16 km) per day. That means they arrived in Montreuil 16 days after they left Brussels. That means they arrived in Montreuil on May 31.  They stayed for three weeks and returned (easily, no clogged roads) and returned on or around June 21.  It is of course, still guesswork, but it's a far more educated guess.
  • Grandpa thought his younger brother (Paul Lubinski) was in southern France. I don't know if Uncle Paul was actually in southern France at that time or if Grandpa just thought he was.  Uncle Paul did go to southern France a couple of years later.

So, who was this Mr. Tuck that my grandfather was writing to?  The Belgian American Education Foundation is still around. And on their history page, I found someone named Tuck mentioned twice (on the "First Quarter Century" and the "Second Quarter Century" pages):

During the invasion of Belgium in May 1940, the Brussels office continued its activities and the officers undertook to render emergency help to former Belgian fellows and Professors as well as to those organizations with which the Foundation was closely linked. A new Commission for Relief in Belgium, Inc. was incorporated on May 16, 1940, by means of a direct gift of the Foundation, to render such service as it could in Belgium. The Secretary in Belgium, Mr. Jacques van der Belen returned to the Brussels office on June 3, 1940 from his army service. The Vice-President in Belgium Mr. Tuck left Belgium on July 17, 1940. Communication of the New York office with the Brussels office ceased in December 1941.

In the face of declining B.A.E.F. resources, the first reverse flow of funds among the sister Foundations of B.A.E.F. occurred in 1956. The Francqui Foundation donated annually $8,000 and later $10,000 to B.A.E.F. in order to permit two Belgian B.A.E.F. Fellows to be brought to the United States, under the designation of Edgar Rickard Fellow and Millard Shaler Fellow. These two men were early officers of B.A.E.F. Moreover, Millard K. Shaler and William Hallam Tuck were the first Representatives of B.A.E.F. in Belgium, before they each became Vice-President in Belgium

The history page states that Mr. Tuck left Belgium two days after my grandfather wrote those letters. Did the man receive my grandfather's letters? Did he carry them? I may never know, but I AM going to write to the BAEF to see if they have any knowledge. 

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