In a poignant
series of letters to Ruth Brenner, Director of the adoption agency
that placed him, one young man stationed abroad during World War
II shared his hopes and fears and pleaded for information about
his natal origins. Brenner responded sympathetically, but explained
that she could not violate her agency’s confidentiality policy.
The two nevertheless became close enough for him to call her “Godmother”
and for her to agree to serve as the executor of his will. This
young solider died in China, his desire for reunion
frustrated. Following are three excerpts from their correspondence
in late 1943.
My dear Godmother:
I hate to have to bring this up in a personal letter but I recently
wrote to the Board of Health in Flatbush and they sent me a curt
refusal to divulge information pertaining to my origin and family.
They suggested emphatically that I should get this information from
the institution I was in. Very polite but coldly abusive. I believe
I have a decent right to know more about and be free to call on
members of my own family if I so chose. I an no animal I am a man
conscious of this phase lacking in my makeup. Please respect the
fact that I am an individual too and let me live with myself peacefully.
I cannot and refuse to make my adjustments to conform to an institutions
code while I am still capable of thinking. . . .
Again I must ask you to divulge more pertinent information as to
the identity and present whereabouts of my blood relations. And
that word is not singular, it is plural. I want to know also if
I have any brothers or sisters. Yes if I learn I do, I certainly
intend to meet them. I feel it would do me more good than harm and
after all these years with the same thought in mind I’m more
convinced than ever that it is a necessity and not curiosity that
makes me make these requests. It is something I am no longer in
doubt of. I am positive, and because I have no means of accomplishing
my desire I am greatly upset and concerned.
Perhaps this time you will feel disposed to assist me in this matter.
Perhaps you will not. But I shall learn some day if I live. . . .
Your godson, . . .
* * *
My very dear. . .
Now in reacting to your disappointment you have again asked me
for more information as to the identity and present whereabouts
of your relatives. When you make this kind of request of me, it
is in my more official capacity of representing the agency as its
executive director. As you godmother, I am concerned for and deeply
identified with you in your wishes and needs and want to do my best
to be helpful to you in any way that I can. As director of the agency,
I am responsible for carrying out our responsibilities and obligations,
both to the children coming to our care, but also the parents who
entrust their children to the agency. For the sake of the children,
the agency asks parents not to expect to be told of their whereabouts,
and at the same time the agency agrees that information about parents
will be kept confidential. . . .
If you could only see that each time you experience a setback which
happens often enough to young people. . .you are thrown
back on the unknown family and imagine that they would be all that
for which you long.
Love from. . . .
* * *
Dear Mrs. Brenner:
I still believe you are wrong in your opinion that I try to learn
of my parents only in times of stress. But we’ll let it go
at that: For many years I have had one thought in mind, and certainly
it gets stronger not weaker and that is to learn more of my own
business. This, if I ever have time to do, I shall do. That, I am
determined and nothing shall deter me. I realize you feel you have
your responsibilities to your organization and we’ll let it
go at that. But I feel and am quite convinced you know—that
your organization failed in its own responsibilities. . . .
Yes there are responsibilities of an organization of your type
and so when we mention such responsibilities I weigh them and find
they do not balance. Am I bitter, no; but am I different, yes. Is
that not enough then to prove how really silly those “rules”
are? Do I know what I shall do if I should know who my real mother
or father is today? The answer to this is no. But do I know how
I shall be if I do not know these things? Yes, definitely. Just
as I am today—living—for self escape. So far I have
been fortunate—yes I can find diversion in hard work and accomplishment,
but I am not pleased at being a moody person, trying hard to get
along with people, afraid of society, and being overly sensitive
and on edge. . . . I feel I need to know.
Your godson,. . .