Even as the economy worsened here and in Europe during the early 1930s, Mim and I had a lot to be thankful for. Certainly my resources were stretched, since fewer people could afford to purchase fine art. On the other hand, artists gave me paintings in exchange for boarding as guests in my home, and I later sold many of the paintings at my galleryand gave the artists a decent share of the sale.
Ephraim struggled to keep all four of his assistants in the print shop, even though business was slow. “They have to put bread in their children’s mouths, too,” he told me. I remember Paul took a job repairing bicycles. Mim turned the flower garden into a vegetable patch, and Rachel seemed to enjoy making budget-stretching soups and stews. Rutabaga casserole. Really. It tastes better than it sounds.
Mim worried about her mother’s welfare, even though Lillian lived in France, not Germany. It seemed as if every other week Mim learned of something happening in Germany that frightened her.
In 1931, the German banking system basically collapsed. By 1932, millions of Germans were out of work. Adolf Hitler, who was Austrian, got his German citizenship that year, so he could run in the 1932 presidential election. Meanwhile the French president, Paul Doumer, was assassinated, and it was doubtful that the new president could steer France through difficult times.
As I recall, Paul von Hindenberg, who was the president of Germany then, hated Hitler and managed to defeat him in 1932. But Hindenberg was an old man, and Hitler was the rising star and head of the Nazi Party. Everything was failing apart for the Weimar Republic in Germany, and Hindenberg was forced to appoint Hitler as Chancellor of the Parliament. It was a weak role in the beginning, but during 1933 Hitler kept gaining power. Civil liberties fell by the wayside.
In the spring of ’33, Chancellor Hitler was essentially a dictator. The Nazis had a one-day boycott of Jewish businesses, attacked a Jehovah’s Witnesses office, and burned books. By then, Mim was beside herself with worry, and I must say that Ephraim did little to quell her fears.
We had plenty to be upset about in the States, of course, but there were bright spots, too. In 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlanticit took her about 15 hours. I felt sure Mim would want to celebrate with a party, because she so loved to fly, but she told me she wasn’t in the mood. In 1933 we ended Prohibitionfinally!and Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president. I remember how we used to listen to Roosevelt’s broadcasts on the radiohe called them “fireside chats.”
As the Depression worsened, FDR established relief organizations to put people back to work. But he had no control over the dust storms that were stripping the soil in the Midwest, or the wildfires that devastated hundreds of acres of old growth forest around Tillamook, near the Oregon Coast.
During his inaugural address in ’33, FDR told us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself.
“That’s ridiculous,” Mim said, shaking her head. “We have everything to fear. Doesn’t the president know what’s happening in Germany?”
I remember it was just before Valentine’s Day in 1934 when we got the news. An extreme right-wing group tried to bring down the government in France.
“It’s the Nazi Party all over again,” Mim told me.
I assured her things weren’t that bad, but she refused to believe me. That night, Ephraim and I put our heads together. And for Valentine’s Day he gave Mim a round-trip ticket on the ocean liner Île de France.
“Go to Paris,” he told Mim. “Bring your mother home.”
“I’m coming, too,” I explained. I showed her our train tickets to New York City, where we’d meet the ship. “Ephraim and the children will be fine here without you.”
This time she didn’t say no. We telegraphed Lillian to expect us in early August. She telegraphed back that she would be happy to see us. Then Mim wrote her a long letter explaining that we wanted to bring her back to the United States. Mim must have given Lillian a dozen solid reasons why, not the least of which was that Lillian was now “a woman of mature years,” as Mim put it. Lillian must have been around 60 then.
We waited and waited for Lillian’s reply. On the day we left for Europe, we had still heard nothing.