A women's story about her and her family's flight to
the West Zone of German. Mrs. Foy is still alive and well. She lives in
MI. with her daughter Bea.
Story sent in by Ernest Cologne.
WORLD WAR II
I was born in my home in Beuthen, Germany on August 16, 1922. My
parents named me Erika Charlotte Walter. I lived with my parents and younger
sister Edith whom we called Dita. My older sister Marga was married and
had a child when World War II started and lived in Western Germany.
WAR! That word meant nothing to me when I was a child.
Later, through the years of my schooling, it meant History Lessons. In
my teens, I had the most interesting history teacher. She so fascinated
us with her lively renditions of historical events that no one heard the
bell ring, (or we did not want to hear it). We urged her to continue lecturing,
until her common sense finally told her to stop. The most exciting passages
in our history books were, of course: WARS!
But all of the excitement and glory in the historical renditions
of war did not prepare us for the actual human terror, pain, degradation
and exhaustion that comes of being in the midst of the struggle for power
and territory. Running for your life, finding a safe haven for a few hours
of rest, trying to maintain a shred of dignity while eliminating bodily
waste in the bushes or in a ditch, scrounging for something...anything
to eat, staying warm in the severe unsheltered winters, and maintaining
a degree of cleanliness are all the little points in a war that the historians
did not think important enough to record. These things should be recorded
for the education of all the generations to come who might think that war
is a "glamorous" and "honorable" way to settle a conflict.
When my parents talked of war, it was of World War I. My Father and
his brothers never went into military service because of their poor eyesight.
My paternal Grandfather died in 1910. My Motherís brothers were too young
to join the war in 1914. Her Father was exempt because he was a mining
engineer and was needed where he was to provide coal for the war effort.
He passed away in 1916. So, no one in our immediate family had any "first
hand" experience about what war really was like.
At the end of the war in 1918, the industrial region, where my ancestors had lived, become "divided" because Germany had lost that war. Three cities, Beuthen, Gleiwitz, and Hindenburg were left German. Five cities, Kattowitz, Koenigshutte, Antonienhutte, Tarnowitz and Schoppenitz were "given" to Poland. So, a new borderline was created. It cut Beuthen, (my hometown), and its suburbs off on three sides. Only one direction was left open to the west, should anyone want to leave the city.
My Motherís family left their home in Antonienhutte, rather than
become Polish citizens, and moved to Gleiwitz. My parents talked about
French occupation troops stationed in Beuthen. Beuthen had a garrison,
and they recalled that most of the time the troops had been quite courteous!
I remember a neighborhood in Beuthen, Germany of three storied houses,
(three big complexes), containing small, but neat apartments called "Refugee
Housing." As small children we kind of looked down on "those type of people".
We didnít realize that these people were the real patriots. Little
did we know that some day we, too, would be refugees. . . "Displaced
History books only have two versions of any event as big as a war:
The winnerís version and the loserís version. However, for the people who
lived through that war, there are as many versions, as many different stories,
as there are people willing to tell about it. Please, for
the education of our young people who will become our future leaders and
for the betterment of generations to come, please Tell Your Stories!
Here is mine.
It was the first of September in 1939. The radios were blaring: "German
troops are marching into Poland to free the Germans left suffering under
the Polish regime after the First World War! We are taking back
the territory so brutally ripped from the Fatherland that has resulted
in a cruel separation between and among family members."
At that time, we lived at the outskirts of the city of Beuthen and
could see the border on the horizon. It was true; we heard the whistling
of bullets, the loud roar of the cannons . . . "WAR!"
I was just seventeen then. At a time in my life when every young
person expects the world to open itís arms, invite them to "come on, live
and have fun," by meeting new people at dances, cafes, theaters, concerts,
etc. Instead, I took my turn issuing gas masks to the populace.
Public dance halls were closed. Only certain groups and organizations
were allowed to hold dances in closed sessions. So, my girl friend, Edith,
and I joined an evening shorthand class. This class was organized by the
executives of the railroad company. (Edith told them that her uncle was
working for them when she signed us up for class). We surely did not learn
a lot of shorthand. But oh, the dances and "costume balls" we arranged.
Fun, fun, fun!
One day, in my last year of school, in the middle of a class, we
were told, "You are all dismissed for the day. The Jewish Temple is
in flames and all of the Jewish stores are being smashed and looted. A
Jew was arrested for setting the Parliament building in Berlin on fire."
all went down-town to "gawk". But, when I saw all of that senseless destruction,
I was so overwhelmed with disgust, that I just wanted to go home.
Many boys in schools were given their diplomas early if they enlisted
into the service. The others graduated at the coming Easter break. Some
of those that had enlisted were my friends.
Well, the battle on our border only lasted a short time. Life almost
continued as normal. The radio and the newspapers only informed us that
German troops were advancing, here or there. The fact that the Nazis "herded"
the Jewish peoples into concentration camps was strictly kept from all
of the media, therefore the general populace.
Always hoping there would be an end to it all soon, we almost got
used to the reports, after a year or two. My Mother had some friends that
she had known for many years. She told us accounts of trying to say hello
to them on the streets and the friends whispering "Please, do not speak
to us, we are Jewish and you might get into trouble speaking to us." This
fear grew as, little by little, people were disappearing from our lives.
I first heard about some type of "camp" when my Motherís sister told
us that her husband was "requested" to leave his job and report to such
a camp to act as an interpreter. He was a linguist and spoke several languages.
My Aunt had no idea where the camp was and received only "censored" mail
from my Uncle. She never saw him again. They told her that he had died
The general information about these camps was that these camps were
established to "teach" non-conformists the Nazi Doctrines. This happened
after the "Blitzkrieg" (an intense air raid) in 1939 when German troops
pushed far into Poland.
As youngsters, we were slowly learning what this war was really about.
Hitler was on the march! Everyone became desperate to make sure they had
identification papers in order to prove who they were and what their ancestry
Who knows what direction my life would have taken in the world of
music or the field of medicine, had it not been for one fact: They started
to draft WOMEN into the military service, and I got scared!
To escape being drafted, I had to choose a field that was exempt. I registered
in medical school, but they closed the universities for the duration of
the war. So, I went to a teachers' college and became a Kindergarten Teacher,
which is equivalent to a day-care nursery school educator.
As part of my education in child-care, I was assigned to different
places. My first assignment as a student was at a private maternity clinic
that a gynecologist/pediatrician named Dr. Baum had opened. I was to observe
and help in the nursery with the new-born babies. I really loved to take
care of the babies. Every morning, bright and early, I took the train to
On the second day of my training, the nurse let me bathe one of the
babies. While I was doing this, Dr. Baum walked in, looked at me and asked
"Who are you and what are you doing?" I told him that I was the
new student and that I was bathing a baby! He watched me for awhile and
finally said "Carry on. You're O.K.!"
One morning, a week later, I arrived at the nursery and saw the nurse
holding a very small newborn over the sink. She sprinkled him lightly with
water and said "I might as well christen you because you're not going to
make it!" I was stunned! The baby's face was blue from his forehead to
his chin. The nurse told me that she did not have the time to "fuss" with
him. His problem was that he could not nurse in the "natural" way. His
head would have to be tilted back and nourishment put, drop by drop, into
his little nose, which was a very time consuming task.
Well, I was willing to feed him and "fuss" with him all day long,
day after day. I even took a later train home each night so that I could
devote all of my time and attention to this cute little "Life".
His parents had told me that they had waited for many years for their
"Little Miracle" and I was not going to let them down because of a little
"fuss". They spent many hours at the nursery window watching me trying
to help their baby survive.
We monitored the baby constantly and saw the blue color gradually
recede and then disappear. Just having him live and thrive was reward enough
for me. His parents named him "Walter" because that was my maiden name.
What a special honor to have someone named after me!
My second practice period was spent in a children's hospital. I was
assigned to a room full of children with digestive problems. All of the
inside walls between the different rooms were made of glass so that we
could see into all of the rooms from the corridor without having to actually
One morning, as I walked into my assigned room, I glanced into the
next room and gasped because I thought I was seeing a little "ghost". The
night before, a baby had been admitted with a very bad rash all over his
little body caused by his drinking unpasteurized milk. The doctor had covered
him with gauze that was saturated in a medicated white ointment. Every
inch of his little body was covered in gauze, including his face which
had holes cut into the gauze for his eyes, nose and mouth. It was quite
My third practice assignment was to assist a family with small children.
The name of that family was the same as the name of a friend of mine from
our ice-skating club back home. He was the same age as I was and I didn't
think that he had any children yet. When I arrived at the address and rang
the bell, who opens the door but my friend, Norbert Kalder! We both said
"What are you doing here?" I explained to him that I was on assignment,
and he explained that I had the right address, but the children were the
result of his parents having had two "late" children.
In Germany, they opened up day-care centers everywhere for preschool
children so mothers could help in ammunition factories. This was especially
true in the "liberated" territories,(these were the areas that were given
to Poland after WWI that were taken back by Hitler because the German population
was so oppressed by the Polish government) where, after graduation, I was
given full charge of one center and financial charge of three more centers
My Father was ordered to take a leave of absence from his bank in
Beuthen. He was to set up a welfare system in Hohenlohe and help with the
one that was already set up in Kattowitz. So, we moved to Hohenlohe. ----And
the war went on, and on .
"Black-out" was very strict. Heavy fines were imposed if there was
little light beam escaping from your windows. Black shades and thick draperies
were essential in every household. Every so often, the sirens would rouse
us out of a deep sleep, warning us to get into the bomb shelters in case
of an air raid attack. Seldom did we hear the planes or hear flak shooting
back at them. And never, ever did a bomb fall on us. After awhile, it really
became annoying to be roused in the night and I refused to leave my warm
The only time they reported that a bomb had
fallen, was on a hotel where some S.S. officers, (the elite military unit
of the Nazi party named "Schutzstaffel" who served as Hitlerís bodyguards
and as a special police force), in transit were stationed. And there
was no warning! No alarm. No sirens. Just a sudden, very
loud explosion, so powerful, that the windows rattled from the
My sister and I fell out of our beds and met each other, clutching
our feather bed blankets, on the floor. (Considering the fact that no one
heard a plane or a siren, my husband and I later concluded that it must
have been a sabotage bomb planted in the hotel, and not one dropped from
I was often "requested" to attend party meetings, (these were fascist
National Socialist German Workersí Party meetings), since the heads of
day-care centers were considered "on the staff." But at my age, staff meetings
with older people were boring and I spent my evenings at the theater or
at cafes with friends.
My friends also urged me to become a party member, but I managed
to decline with a whole lot of excuses and evasive conversation. In peace
time, I doubt that I could have created this kind of diversion. That was
one time when the rush and the haste of war time played in my favor!
In January, 1945, came the "punishment" for my refusals. They needed
educated, trained personnel as counselors and "house mothers" for a hotel
full of children. These children were from needy families that were to
be sent to a resort deep in the Polish mountains for a three-week vacation.
None of my peers wanted to go. Of course, the wishes of the "loyal party
members" not to go were honored. But we "non conformers" were ordered
to go to that "post." It was scary!
The Polish population at the resort was not very enthused about the
"German Occupation," or any German for that matter. If looks could
kill, I would have needed many more lives than the nine lives of a cat.
The building was gorgeous. Everything was first class. But the housekeeping
and kitchen staff (all Polish people) were cold and hostile.
At the beginning of the second week at the resort, we saw triumph
and sneers on the faces of all of the Polish people there. The radio news
confirmed our growing suspicions: The war was going badly for Germany.
Our electricity was cut off. In total darkness, the children started to
panic. Then, our telephones were cut off. But not before our head mistress
was able to report our dilemma to the party that sent us there. Busses
were sent to get us out of there!
The hasty packing, the frightened children, our last meal there,
the tensions were so great! We feared that any moment, any wrong word could
unleash the fury of the Polish people.
We made it safely out of the mountains and were taken to a city in
the "liberated" territory. There, each of us was assigned to a group of
children and ordered to accompany them by train to their home towns. That
done, we were free to go home and report the very next day to headquarters
in Kattowitz for a new assignment.
Alone, in a strange town with my big suitcase, I made my way back
to the railroad station to catch a train to Kattowitz. The station was
crowded at mid afternoon, with a mixture of Polish and German speaking
people. Here and there were German soldiers. Trains were not on time and
I felt that I might have quite a wait.
With the winter afternoon waning fast. I thought my best bet was
to seek out a trustworthy looking soldier who was waiting for a train and
stay near him for safety. Having found a likely looking soldier, we spoke
and it turned out to be a Berliner named Erik. He was on leave and had
to take the train in my direction! He took charge of my big suitcase.
When we got on the platform, there was a "mob" that stormed the oncoming
train. Little, weak me would have been left behind if it had not been for
Erikís help and strength.
I distinctly remembered the direction the train had come when I had
arrived there with the children. I wanted to make double sure I was on
the right train going home. I almost screamed when the train started out
and went in the same direction that led back into Poland!
Erik calmed me down and explained that all trains started out in
that direction because this was a switching station and trains have
to go around it to go to Germany. What a relief . . . I was on the
But then came one delay after another and it was midnight before
we arrived in Kattowitz. Here too, the platform and station were jammed
full of people who seemed to be filled with fear and panic. Erikís train
to Berlin was scheduled for four hours after we arrived in Kattowitz, so
he figured he had plenty of time to lug my suitcase to the street car stop
that would take me to Hohenlohe. He even wanted to come along and carry
the suitcase to the front door of our house. But I advised him to return
to the train station because there might not be another street car from
Hohenlohe to Kattowitz that night.
When I arrived home, the house was dark, of course, and locked up.
The whole street looked deserted. It was not the winter night that made
me shiver, but the thought of being all alone in the world. There was not
a sound in the air. It was so still!
What if . . . all the people had been ordered to leave their homes?
What if . . . I had missed my family in that crowded railroad station?
did not know I was coming home tonight. I was supposed to be in the Polish
mountains for six weeks with the first group of children, and who knew
how long afterward with another group.
I started pounding on the door and calling and whistling!
Finally, when my Mother unlocked the door, I fell into her arms,
crying with relief and happiness. She had been in the kitchen in the back
of the house baking "Streusel-Kuchen," (Streusel Coffee Cakes), for Sunday
That Sunday was a happy one. Happy that I was safe and my
family was together again. My parents said they would have never
left town without me! My sister, Dita, and I went ice skating, disregarding
the tragedies of the war. We were just enjoying the "moment" of happiness
in our small world.
Our "small world", as we knew it, was soon to come to an end, never
to be "ours" again. Monday, I reported to headquarters for a new assignment.
The atmosphere was very agitated and highly charged with unrest and nervous
tension. They gave me three monthís salary in advance and asked me where
wanted to be transferred!
Because of that question, I grasped the seriousness of the situation
and knew just how badly the war must be going for the German soldiers.
I named the city farthest from the border where I knew I would be welcome
and have a home: Neisse! My Grandmamaís sister lived there. My Mother and
I were her heirs. She was widowed and had no children. We loved each other
dearly. Neisse is way west of the Oder river, far from Poland.
When I came home from headquarters, I was very surprised that my
Father was there, in the middle of the day, instead of being at his job.
He told us that the word was out: "Get ready! When you hear the secret
password "Edelweiss" on the radio, go to the railroad station. All
women and children will be evacuated for a short time in case the enemy
advances. But donít worry, you will be back in a week or two." We each
packed one suitcase, my Mother, sister, and I. Oh, the foolish things I
had packed, even an evening dress, complete with accessories. Suddenly,
. . . there it was over the radio . . . "Edelweiss!"
My Father accompanied us to the station. Of course, the station platform
and the trains were so jam packed, not a pin could have dropped to the
ground. It was a very sad and tear filled "goodbye." The train pulled out
shortly afterward. However, we traveled only far enough to be out of the
sight of all of those husbands and fathers left behind to "defend" the
The railroad pulled that long, loaded train onto a "dead" track to
let the troop trains through. Oh, yes! They left us there all day, all
night, and far into the next day! It was a bitter, cold winter. The train
was not heated. I think we kept from freezing only by the heat of
the vast number of us!
We did eventually arrive in Neisse though, and were welcomed with
open arms by my Motherís Aunt Valeska. We were told at the station that
we could only stay one night unless we had other orders. Everyone else
was to go farther west, otherwise the town would be over loaded with people
and couldnít feed them all.
I had orders to report to headquarters to head a new day-care
center. So, the next day, before reporting, I took my Mother and sister
to the railroad station. Before we had a chance to agree on a place or
a town where we would meet again, a sudden movement in the crowd swept
my Mother and sister from my side! (You have to live through a crowd
movement before you understand the tremendous "power" of a human wave.)
Just before they disappeared from my view, I screamed over hundreds
of other voices, "Freiwaldau! Weíll meet in Freiwaldau!" (Freiwaldau was
a beautiful small town in the mountains west of Neisse where I had once
spent a very pleasant vacation.) I only saw my Motherís head nodding in
agreement . . . and then they were gone, swallowed by that human
I was assigned to a day-care center in the suburbs. But the people
there said, "We are keeping our children with us. We donít want
to be separated." So, I reported this to headquarters and they gave me
money and said: "Try to find a place where you are needed".
I went back to Aunt Veleskaís house and stayed there with her the
rest of the day and into the night. At two a.m., I woke up from the sound
of our "family whistle." It was a signal that the Walter family used to
call each other over some distance or in a crowd. I opened the door and
... there was my Father! I was overjoyed that he had joined
me. But now, my Mother and sister were ... who knew where?
The next morning the radio blared: "Women, children and old people
will be evacuated from Neisse and surrounding areas". My Aunt said
that she was too old to leave her home, so she stayed. My Father was to
stay at her house. He took me and my suitcase to the station. There, it
was so crowded that you could not fit one more person on the station platform.
The street in front of the station was also full of people. Big trucks
with open beds were lined up. Men were "loading" wives, children, and the
elderly onto the trucks
The goodbye-tears were flowing heavily. Father said, "Take good care
of your Mother when you find her!" as he shoved me up into the truck and
handed me my suitcase. He looked so forlorn and lonesome in that
crowd, I could not bear it. I tapped the men on either side of him on the
shoulders and shouted, "Please, help my Grandpa up!" Before my Father knew
was happening, he was up by me and the truck took off! I sat him down on
my suitcase that was leaning against the cab of the truck and put my scarf
on his head like a "babushka".
I was scared, of course, when I heard rumors that "they" checked
for identification papers at the city limits! But after sleepless nights
and worry, my Father did, indeed, look very old. I would have said
that he was my very sick Grandma. It was a very cold January and
was bundled up like Eskimos. Women were wearing pants as well as anything
else they could to try to keep warm.
Like a miracle, we did arrive in Freiwaldau. All the people from
the east were bedded down and fed in schools and church halls. Everyone
had to register and could only stay one night, then keep going west.
My Father and I went from one place to the other and searched for
my Mother and sister. We searched everywhere we were told that people were
being taken care of. Nothing!
After dark, tired and hungry, we went into a little grocery store
and bought some food. We told the owner about our search. Of course, he
must have heard many sad stories like this, but he said, "A customer of
mine was here awhile ago and told me that she took in a lady and her daughter
such as you describe. Maybe they are the ones you are looking for". He
showed us where the customer lived and we went with slight hope in our
hearts. We timidly knocked, hardly daring to hope that this was the end
of our search and. . . there they were!
Can anyone imagine the joy we felt in all of that misery? The reason,
my Mother explained, that she had looked for a private party to take them
in was so that they didnít have to leave that town until
I found them there. If they had stayed at the usual bedding down place,
they would have had to move on the next day, farther west. Our happiness
was doubled because I had brought my Father with me.
Our young hostess was going west with her three-year-old son in three
days. Her husband was a soldier and she wanted to wait for him at his parent's
house in a town that was farther west. So, she left her house to us. That
night my sister, Dita and I slept in a room that hadnít been heated all
that winter. We kept our winter clothes on and bundled up with feather
beds. Even so, we had never been that cold before, nor that
cold ever again.
All four of us volunteered to help the town handle the "flow" of
people, instead of going farther west. My parents helped with the paperwork,
and Dita and I helped by giving out warm clothing that stores and residents
had contributed. Many people had lost their luggage or had not had time
to pack before fleeing their homes. My Father, too, had not saved a single
thing, only what he wore.
It happened that my Mother met a very good friend of hers whose husband
was an architect and an officer somewhere out there in the war. She invited
us to move into her villa near Freiwaldau. She had two little children.
As the battle front came closer to that town also, she took her children
west. She "gave" that villa to my Mother. Perhaps, she never expected to
Despite the historical events going on around us, the months we lived
were really very happy ones. We were unwittingly in the melancholy calm
before . . . the BIG STORM!
Looking back, Dita and I became really close for the first
time in our lives. We are five and a half years apart in age. I am the
eldest. Dita had lost all of her friends and I had lost all of mine. So
now, between us, age did not mean anything.
We volunteered to help in the Red Cross. All of the fancy resorts
in and around the town were occupied with wounded or convalescent soldiers
from all branches of the service. In one medical troop, while taking care
of the wounded, we found two men from home! One was an actor/writer
from Beuthen. The other was a singer from the Kattowitz Opera Haus. We
brought them home to the villa for dinner and to meet our parents. It was
good to be able to talk about home!
Another "surprise" awaited me. As we walked in the town square one
afternoon, a man in a black "Tank Regiment" uniform passed by Dita and
me. He stopped, turned around and cried, "Beuthen!" Of course, we stopped
too, and realized that we knew him. His name was Gunther Opatz. He was
my age, and had lived on the same street back home that we had, but had
never approached me to converse. He would only politely say, "Hello." in
His father was a shoe maker with a small newspaper/magazine-tobacco
store in front of his shoe repair shop. My father was in the banking business.
Back then, Gunther did not dare to approach me for a date because of the
class differences between us. He had wanted to become a ship builder and
then come back and ask me to marry him.
He confessed all of that to me when he so miraculously "found" me
again. He called it "fate". We only had a few days to visit together before
he was shipped back to his outfit. He wrote me many letters for as long
as we were living in that town.
I never saw him again. My parents told me that he found their address
years later and asked about me. I was long married and had children by
then. When they wrote back to him, his father answered and told them that
the news about me affected Gunther so badly that he had a severe reoccurrence
of Malaria. He had caught the disease in Africa when his tank division
was fighting there. I do not know what became of him thereafter.
Off in the distance, we could hear the "sounds of war" once in awhile.
Spring came early and lulled us into a false sense of security. The sunshine,
the healthy mountain air, the pleasant company all seemed so unreal . .
. and yet so pleasing!
On April 12, 1945 Dita and I were in the town square in the early
afternoon. Through the loudspeakers mounted high on lamp posts, came the
beginning of an announcement: "IMPORTANT NEWS!" They kept the public
informed with the information they wanted us to know about the battles
in this way. One hardly listened anymore, really. Because, to know the
"actual" truth, one had to listen at night to the radio on a taboo
channel that was turned down into whispers.
But this news bulletin was different: "PRESIDENT FRANKLIN
DELANO ROOSEVELT IS DEAD!!" Everyone seemed to stop in their tracks.
How was this going to affect the outcome of the war?
WAR! We were so sick of war! When you are in your late teens,
early twenties it is so hard to cope with war. The thunderous noise of
cannons became more frequent and louder from the distance.
Dita and I were again walking through a park or a grassy field. It
is no longer clear to me anymore exactly where we were going to or coming
from, but I believe we were in Freiwaldau. We heard the engine sound of
an aeroplane. The war was still raging, so we were afraid that it could
be a Russian plane. We ran to the nearest tree and threw ourselves to the
ground under it, hoping that the foliage would help to hide us from the
Dita was to my left. Not far to my right, about three feet away,
I saw divots of grass and dirt being pitched into the air as the plane
roared over us and the "tat-tat-tat" of machine gun fire sounded past us.
As the plane zoomed away, we looked up at our "tree" and laughed shakily.
It was a very young Birch tree with only small spring-green leaves
budding on the branches. After all, it was only April.
Then one day in May, the wounded had to be evacuated in case the
Russians came too close. The medical troop had to accomplish this with
a "fleet" of ambulances. The doctors said, "We are not leaving you girls
here for the Russians. We are taking you with us!" Dita and I told them,
"Not unless you are taking our parents, too. We donít want to be
separated ever again!" Since we were civilians and not authorized
to travel in a military vehicle, the doctors came at two a.m. with an ambulance.
They sneaked us out of the house into the back of the vehicle and piled
equipment in front of us, (in case of an ID check point).
We drove like a "convoy" all day. At sundown, we were in Glatz and
bedded down in an airforce camp, which had only that morning been
evacuated by the Luft-Waffe (the German airforce). The quarters were elegant
and the food, which the airforce had left behind, was exquisite. So, this
was how the Luft-Waffe lived!
We took off the next morning. The soldiers "dumped" some medical
equipment and filled some vehicles with food. Our medical troop was infantry
and it looks like in every country of the world the airforce and the infantry
have a "grudge" match going. One branch has so much disdain for the other
branch of service. There were many rancorous remarks made about the life
style of the airforce troops.
Going on to West Germany was not easy. We were in the mountains and
had to go partially north, because straight west was the
border to Czechoslovakia. I donít know how, but some of the vehicles, ours
included, got separated from the convoy and crossed over the border by
We saw some people walking and some were running, begging us to stop
to take them with us. We had to throw out equipment and even suitcases
to make room for as many people as we could save. Those people told us
that "word" had gotten around that: "All Germans had better get out of
Czechoslovakia by noon, or else get shot!"
We tried desperately to find our way back out of Czechoslovakia.
But, before we were able to, a horde of armed men cut two of our ambulances
off from the others. We were "directed", at gun point, to go to a small
village. They then told the drivers to stop in front of their school building.
In our vehicle were three women, Mother, Dita and I, and six men.
One of the wounded soldiers with us could speak Czechoslovakian and he
heard them say: "If we find any weapons, or such, on them or in
the vehicles . . . shoot them all!"
When our trip began, my Father had given his Walther pistol to a
man from Beuthen. All of the others had thrown their weapons away when
we discovered that we had crossed the border into Czechoslovakia. So, the
statement about getting shot did not worry us at that moment.
We were "herded" into the building, men in one room, women in another.
There were two Czechoslovakian women who indicated in broken German that
they were teachers. They ordered us to strip, while cursing at us in a
constant stream of ugly sounding words. The women checked our clothing
very carefully at the seams, hems and linings, for valuables. They took
rings, but oddly enough, they did not take my watch that my Father had
given to me as a child. It was chrome, not silver or gold.
When we women walked out into the school yard, the six men, including
my Father, were lined up against the wall of the building with a bunch
of the "hoodlums" standing a few feet in front of them with raised rifles.
The wounded soldier who could speak Czechoslovakian was pleading and asking,
"Why? Why?" He was told: "We found a handful of ammunition in your
vehicle, that is why!" The wounded soldier talked like a waterfall to the
"leader" (big mouth) of the group, begging him to let us go. We didnít
the ammunition was in there!
It took a long, frightening time and much arguing among themselves
before the hoodlums came to a decision. Meanwhile, we stood there, praying
quietly, fearing the worst.
Our captors elected a committee of ragged looking ruffians, all heavily
armed with as many weapons as each one could carry. They were to "escort"
us out of the village, on foot, to the main highway that led to
Prague, the Capitol of Czechoslovakia. We never saw our vehicles again.
On that long march, we were not allowed to talk. But the oldest man of our escort spoke a "hard" German and constantly "hammered" us with threats such as, "We are going to tie all Germans to tanks and run them over", etc. My Mother was walking in front of me and Dita was walking next to me. Dita started crying. I whispered to her, "If they start shooting, jump into the ditch and make believe that you are dead!"
A half a block away from the main highway, we saw many, many people
walking on the edge of the highway. They were all Germans, soldiers and
civilians. Our "escort" said, "Go . . .go with them. Run! Run . . . because
you had better all be out of Czechoslovakia by tomorrow at noon! Donít
stray from the highway and try to take a short cut. For, anyone trying
Since it was only May, the fields to the left and right of the highway
were either bare or had very low growth. Trees and bushes were scarce.
After a few miles, one of our doctors and a nurse decided to take the first
chance they found where there might be enough cover to hide behind and
cut across the fields.
We didnít turn around to look when the sudden, deadly shots rang
As time went on, more and more people appeared. They seemed to suddenly
grow like mushrooms out of the ground. We walked northwest. Here and there
a vehicle would go in the other direction. Then, like a cloud of locusts,they
came. Traveling in every type of military and private vehicle you can imagine,
all going southeast came . . . the RUSSIANS!!
In a very disorderly fashion, not at all like a military convoy,
but all over the road three and four abreast, they raced like mad men past
us. Often they came so close, that we had to jump into the ditches to get
out of their way or be run over. Drunk with victory fever; singing, screaming,
drinking, waving weapons and loot, those Russian soldiers were on their
way to the capitol city to celebrate.
Some of their loot were feather beds. They slit them apart on those
open trucks while racing by, almost choking us to death with the showers
of loose feathers.
Whenever a vehicle stopped running, it created such a traffic
jam that everything halted in chaotic disarray. Then, some Russian soldiers
would dismount and come close to the people. Anybody who looked
like a mechanic was pulled out of the lines and ordered to "fix" that stalled
Dita and I wore red scarves on our heads and were always walking
together. My parents were walking behind us, but in the crowd. Once in
awhile, some people got between us. My Father was not much of a "walker".
At home, we had to beg him to go for walks on Sundays to the park or forest
preserves. It was hard for him to keep up with us. So, as long as my Mother
could see those two red scarves ahead of them, she was satisfied.
During one of those "traffic jams", she suddenly missed seeing us
and was frantically alarmed! She let go of my Fatherís arm and ran as fast
as it was possible, pushing through the crowd, calling, "My girls! Where
are my girls?"
She found us at the side of the road where the ditch builds a little
hill, surrounded by a bunch of Russian soldiers. She saw me just
when a man in a Russian uniform, who had carried me there, laid me down
in the grass. My Mother screamed, fearing the worst! That man had
medical insignia on his collar and was the cleanest Russian with
the kindest, bluest eyes I have ever seen. He spoke some German
and told us that he was a doctor.
I explained to my Mother that I had spotted a small space between
a tank and a big truck during the traffic jam and had tried to squeeze
through. At that very moment, all of the vehicles had started moving
slowly, and I felt myself being crushed! Having both hands
free, I pulled myself up, like trying to push the truck and tank apart,
and managed to avoid having my chest caved in. But, I got caught at my
thighs. Thank God they were going that slow, or I
wouldnít be alive.
The Russian doctor had witnessed everything that had happened. He
quickly stopped the traffic, pulled me out and carried me to the grass.
He examined my thigh and said it was not broken, but it would swell badly
if I did not keep walking. Politely, he advised my Mother to make cold
compresses for it as soon as we had the opportunity. He then gave me a
few chocolate candy bars and said, "For quick energy!" I put some of the
candy in my coat pocket and held one in my hand.
A few yards away, another Russian soldier with, oh, so much hate
in his eyes, grabbed the chocolate bar out of my hand as I walked by him.
He threw it onto the ground and stomped on it. There was no mistaking
his hatred and disapproval for the Russian officerís kindness toward a
Although we were "driven" by fear and rumors, it was such
a slow process. So many people going north against so
many Russians "pouring" toward the south.
What did we eat? People shared. The soldiers with us carried some
rations and many civilians had food, of sorts. Some farmers and merchants
of German nationality had hauled, (or tried to haul), wagon loads of food
stuffs. Some were lucky, some not. We often saw tipped over wagons in the
ditches with sacks of grain, flour and sugar, etc., slit open by the Russians
who had pushed the wagons into the ditches.
A German soldier had given my Mother a mess kit. A German mess kit
is shaped like a kidney bean. It has a gallon pot with a deep cover, which
serves as a frying pan. Walking past these open sacks, my Mother had secretly
scooped up some sugar into this mess kit and later "dealt" it out to us
for quick energy, together with pieces of old, dark bread. I remember putting
my piece of bread into my coat pocket and breaking off and eating little
pieces as we walked.
Where and when did we sleep? Huddled together in groups in the ditches.
Whenever we saw a bunch of trees nearby, we sneaked there in the dark to
have more protection from the cold, May nights. One time, we saw such a
grove of trees at dusk on the horizon and strained to reach it for the
night. But, it was farther than it had seemed. By the time we had arrived
there, it was pitch dark. No moon, no stars. Good, then no one will
see us go in!
All of these past nights, my Mother had barely slept, fearing for
her two young daughters. The rest of us must have dropped off to sleep
right away, exhausted. But my Mother kept alert, even under the safety
of darkness. After but a short while, she woke us up and in a whisper said,
"Letís move to another spot farther on. I feel uneasy here and I smell
a strange odor, even though I canít see a thing."
The woods were quite thick. As we moved but a few yards away in the
dark, a sudden bright, bright light shone on the very place where
we had lain, and a heavy, heavy motor noise made us jump! Instantly,
a tank started moving forward without any warning. We would have
been run over and crushed to death, without so much as a blink of theireyes!
My Mother had saved all of our lives, one of many "miracles" that took
place on our march.
As we trudged on, it felt as though we were walking steadily upward.
Was it simply the weariness, or was it real? The landscape changed from
those wide-open fields to more and more wooded areas, then to actual forests.
Our view was often obstructed. The traffic had thinned out considerably.
Here and there, we had ten to fifteen minutes when not one vehicle was
coming at us.
At dusk, one of the soldiers in our group suggested in the silence
of such a lull, that we should make a bee line for the woods and find a
place to rest. With much trepidation we sneaked away from the road.
Quite a way into the woods, he found a beautiful spot, with
fresh, soft grass among young, thick evergreens. He said, "Tomorrow is
Let us stay here, if we can, rest for a whole day, and "celebrate"
in that fashion!"
I did not see all of that beauty until the next day. They
tell me that I had fainted from exhaustion. I was told that the same skinny,
unobtrusive looking soldier who had led us there, had "stolen away" in
the dark of the night. Everyone who knew he was gone feared he had been
shot or captured.
At last, when he made it back to us, he had brought FOOD
with him! He had ventured down into a village he had spotted earlier while
we were walking. He truly had a heart of gold.
At that time, there was an older couple in our group with their daughter
and her one-year-old baby. (Groups changed so often, because some people
walked slower, some faster.) For that baby, and for me, he had "acquired"
some milk and a Farina type of mixture and made the mothers feed it to
us. With every spoon full, I ached as I "felt" my senses coming
back to me. For the rest of the people, he had acquired some hardier foods.
He could have kept on going, being in a better position to feed himself
for many days with those provisions. With food, and without us, he was
assured of more success. But, he had come back!
That Motherís Day was a gorgeous Sunday, full of warming sunshine
and . . . so quiet, like a day we had ceased to remember could
exist! There was a little brook nearby with clear, sweet water. Everybody
made good use of it. We drank our fill, filled all the vessels we had,
and somebody had some soap! We all washed ourselves, even our hair.
What a "pleasure!"
Most of the things people had started out carrying on this journey
had gotten thrown away. On a "hike" like ours, even the lightest load felt
heavy after days and days of having to carrying it.
I had managed to keep a small leather sewing kit with handles strapped
on my wrist throughout all that time. In the kit was also a compass and
an eyelash brush. Someone in the group had toothpaste. I used that little
brush to clean my teeth. It felt heavenly!
A full day of rest had given us new energy and new hope. We
later learned that it had "saved" us from a terrible trauma that
had befallen another group, who had not taken a day off.
We were told that a "horde" of Russian soldiers had broken loose
from the "convoy" and had terrorized that group. We found them crying
and in shock on the side of the road. That beastly horde of Russians had
raped the women and pistol whipped the men, . . . in front of their
children! Only God knows why we were once again spared from
suffering such horrendous torture.
As we plodded along, someone discovered that one of the fields to
the right of us was a potato field. The flow of vehicles with Russian soldiers
had become a trickle, then stopped completely.
With no enemy to watch us, we had decided to dash into the field
and dig up the potatoes that had been left behind after the harvest. Once
more, we felt that we had a "God sent gift" to sustain us.
There was no water near by to wash the dirt off of the potatoes,
so we wiped them in the grass as much as we could and ate them, peels and
all. I promised myself then, that if we survived and were blessed enough
to live a normal life, that I would never eat another potato peel
again. And I havenít.
At the edge of the mountain range which divided Czechoslovakia from
Germany, we sighted a town, Theresian - Stadt. As we neared the outskirts
of the town, more people met up with and joined our group. The rumors and
"whispers" started from mouth to mouth: "When you walk through this town,
do not let on that you are German or Ďtheyí will kill you!" We tore up
all our identification papers and paper money into little bits and secretly
scattered them into the ditches as we slowly made our way into the town.
On one of the streets there was a big, three- story building that
we had to pass. It had windows which were wide open, but barred. Behind
every window, filled to overflowing, were men and women. They were very
poorly dressed, pushing each other to get in front of the windows, angrily
screaming words we didnít understand and shaking their fists at us. Someone
in the group that had joined us said that this building was a jail and
those angry people inside were Croatians that the German Army or the S.S.
had captured and put there.
I donít recall any townspeople in the streets as we passed through
this town. I distinctly remember only we poor D.P.s wanting to get out
of there as soon as we could.
Our path out of that town led us up into the mountains. Some of our
group, especially the ones that had grown up in flat land areas, were soon
so exhausted that we didnít want to walk anymore. We were tired, always
scared, and very thirsty.
Once again, just in time, another "miracle" appeared. I had left
the path we were walking on and wandered for a little way into the brush.
To my great joy, I found a spring bubbling with cold, sweet water. Filling
the mess kit that I carried with that delicious water, I ran back and forth
to let everyone drink while the others plodded slowly along that upward
path. I didnít stop until everyone had drank their fill.
The many, many trips up and down this steep path took their toll
on me. I was even more exhausted than I had been before finding the spring
and my feet hurt very badly with blisters on my heels.
It is very puzzling to me now that after fifty years, I remember
what I wore: A very warm, chocolate brown winter coat with a hood and deep
pockets, brown ski pants with a tan skirt over them, brown leather and
felt boots that reached just under my knees. But even stranger, I donít
recall what I wore under the coat for a blouse, etc., as the top
of my outfit.
A few feet off of the path, I spotted a short, but wide tree stump
that was overgrown on both sides with foliage. It looked so inviting
to just sit and rest - so I did. I told everybody to go on ahead and not
to waste any time waiting for me. By the time my parents caught up to where
I was sitting, I had covered my face with my hands and was sobbing from
the pain in my feet and the suffering of helpless exhaustion.
Of course, my Mother would not hear of my being left
behind. So, she encouraged me to go on with her and my Father. As I raised
my head out of my hands and prepared to get up to continue the journey,
I spotted "something" in the weeds next to the stump that I was sitting
on. I reach down into the weeds and pulled out a pair of very soft, tan
colored, leather shoes!
I could tell that they were hand made and they looked as though they
were brand new. I pried off my boots and gingerly slid the shoes over my
sore feet. With great relief, I found that the shoes fit me perfectly!
Another "miracle"? Who knows! To me, the shoes were just another comfort
that was "God sent" at the perfect moment.
That experience gave me new courage to go on. Almost cheerfully,
we realized that on the other side of this mountain range ... was Germany!
At the top of the mountain, we could see the first village and raggedly
hurried down into it. The town hall was not far. We had to register our
names and where we were from. They gave us some money and told us to go
to the schoolhouse where they were prepared for us "Displaced Persons".
They had blankets with mattresses stuffed with straw for beds on the floor
in the classrooms. There was a meal in the cafeteria. After all of the
time we had spent out in the uncertain open, these accommodations felt
like a true "luxury".
The next morning, my sister, Dita, became very sick. My parents and
I talked about it in the grocery store while we were buying some food.
The grocer and his wife urged my Mother to bring Dita into their
home and use their spare room. When I saw my sister all cozy and warm in
that bed, with white linens and feather pillows, so safe and secure, I
broke into tears of joy and thanks. Those people were so kind and generous
to us, we could only be forever grateful.
We wanted to go to Dresden, but we were told that it had been bombed
and was very much destroyed. So, after my sister recovered from her sickness,
we headed out, walking in a north-west direction toward Chemnitz.
The two German soldiers, who had more or less adopted our family,
bade us good-bye and went straight toward Hamburg. The last of the group
we had been traveling with scattered in many directions, each trying to
reach family or friends.
My family was on their own, wondering which direction to head for,
since we had no relatives in the West. The only one we knew of was a distant
cousin near Nuremberg. But then, who was to know if she was still there
after so much turmoil in the land?
The small villages that we passed through were made up of mostly
farmers. All were very sympathetic toward us for our misfortunes. They
were very grateful for having been spared from the warís turmoil and still
being able to remain in their own homes.
Each village showed us great hospitality by having us spend the night
in their homes and feeding us their good, wholesome food, which, unfortunately,
gave our weakened systems some problems.
We had hoped to catch a train from Chemnitz to Nuremburg, but most
of the railway tracks were dismantled or destroyed. So, our feet were again
our only transportation.
We arrived in a town called Hof and saw for the first time in our
travels that the trains were still in operation here. The only one
we could board was a freight train. There were swarms of people in similar
condition to ours crowded into coal cars. At least we didnít have to walk!
That train only went as far as Bamberg and everyone had to disembark
there. While standing on the platform, wondering when, or if, there would
be another train, we saw two G.I.s. Our first sighting of "Americans".
I was so anxious to try out my school English, that I walked right
over to them and struck up a conversation. To this very day, I still remember
one of the G.I.ís name, Clinton Hatch from Texas.
My Mother had followed me and hung onto my arm throughout the entire
time we were talking. Later, she told me that she had heard that soldiers
take young girls by force with them wherever they are ordered to go. I
told her that maybe Russian soldiers would kidnap young girls, but not
We finally boarded a train to Nuremberg and, after a small search,
found our distant cousin. She only had a very small apartment and already
had her daughter, along with her family, living with her. They had
been bombed out of their home. We went back to the railway station
and got on the first train out, wherever it took us.
We rode that train the whole night. At dawn we saw Wurzburg, the
place that did not appear to have been destroyed by bombs. We got off the
train in the first light of the sky and walked out of the station.
Then, in the light of the full sun, we came to realize that what
we had presumed to be tall, intact buildings, were nothing but empty shells
of burned out houses. The darkened window openings stared at us in the
morning light like "dead eyes". We shuddered and huddled together until
another train stopped. We boarded it for a town called Kitzingen, that
we had passed the night before.
Kitzingen was a small town on the main river. It only had two
of the houses bombed out. This little town was to be our home for a few
years. Ten weeks had passed since we had began our "flight" to the West.
My Father was very weak and we had to stay put "somewhere" so he could
gain strength and recover.
In order to qualify for financial assistance from the authorities
in Kitzingen, members of the family, who were able, had to perform some
type of community work. So, my sister and I reported for work.
Dita was 17 years old and I was 22 years old at the time. The only
thing that was available for the "Displaced Persons" to do, was to haul
bricks in a push cart from the bombed out house to the Theater, which was
the second bombed out building in town.
We had to find the unbroken bricks, clean off the old mortar, and
stack them into the cart. Then we would push the cart to the Theater site
where somebody was rebuilding it. There was a lot of idle talking and,
once again, laughter amongst we young workers. We did not mind what
the work was that was assigned to us, just as long as we knew that there
was no more war, and no more having to walk
to "somewhere else"!
We stayed in a building that was adjacent to the sports field, (stadium).
The building had served as overnight housing for youth groups when they
came to town for sporting events before the war. One large room was lined
with beds along the walls, a table in the middle of the room, and a wood
stove for heat.
Every night we had to share that room with different people who had
lost their homes in the East, as we had, and were in transit to other places.
Most of them stayed only one night. But there were others who needed a
longer rest and stayed the better part of a week or so.
One couple, in particular, comes to mind. A Gypsy couple, robust
and feisty. Fighting one minute and falling lovingly into each otherís
arms the next. They made a lasting impression with their caring attitudes
toward us "have nots". Gypsies carry all that they have with them all of
their lives, so they always have what they need as long as they are together.
This couple stayed about a week. All of us there had never eaten
so well since leaving our homes. The Gypsy man came back from an "outing"
with foods galore, and the woman cooked it for all of us. We really missed
their companionship and "talents" when they finally moved along.
The same building we were in had a small apartment made up of a bedroom
and a kitchen. It had housed the caretaker of the building before the war.
Eventually, the town authorities allowed our little family of four to move
into it, so we had a little privacy.
The American troops were housed in a garrison outside of the town,
up on a hill. However, they used the gymnasium on the other side of the
sports field as a social club and the field itself for their sports activities.
I remember my Father watching them from the window while they played football.
He commented, "All of those Americans are really built muscular. Look at
their shoulders, wow!"
Much later we found out that they were wearing "shoulder pads" for
the game. This American "Football" was unknown to us. The European game,
"Fuss-ball", was what is known now as "Soccer".
As my Father grew stronger, he wanted to do his share of the
work to earn the money that the town allotted to us. All of the positions
of authority and office positions were filled with the local townspeople.
He was ordered to be a night-watchman at a construction site. Poor Father,
he was used to mainly sitting in an office all of his working life in the
bank back home. Having to pace around on his feet all night was hard on
his poor feet and weakened condition.
By December, the American Army started to employ civilians for their
"routine operations". This was my chance to free my Father from
that "dreadful" job. At first, I became a secretary at the same Theater
that I had "helped" to rebuild. The Army used it as a movie-house for the
G.I.s. I also doubled as an interpreter, which allowed our family to fulfill
our work obligations to the town and free my Father from the night-watchman
job. He could then continue to rest and regain his health and strength.
That was a happy time because I got to see American movies. The first
one I saw was "Lassie Come Home" and Iíll never forget it.
Soon, I was asked to be the secretary of the snack bar on the base
and had access to the duty jeep, with a driver, whenever I needed
transportation. The man in charge of the snack bar was named Sergeant Knight
from Minnesota. He had brought his wife and two children over to Germany
and was looking for someone to help with the children.
My sister was looking for a position to do her part in the work world,
and took on that job, which worked out very well. In fact, when my parents
were able to go on a trip to visit my older sister, Sgt. & Mrs. Knight
appointed themselves as our "protectors" and insisted that my sister, Dita,
and I move in with them until my parents returned.
My older sister, Marga, had left home earlier then the rest of the
family to go to Lubeck. She was married and had a three-year-old daughter.
Her husband had joined the German Army and was not yet "accounted for".
We had conducted what searches that we were able to, trying to locate both
of them, but these searches were fruitless. Finally, we learned that she
had ended up in a town called Bremen, and her husband had eventually located
her there after being released from a P.O.W. (prisoner of war) camp.
Most of the American "fighting troops" had been sent home and were
replaced with young G.I.s straight out of "boot camp". They were required
to attend regular classes in the morning hours. One of those requirements
was to learn the German language.
Since I was working for S-2, (intelligence), the officer in charge
persuaded me to take on the task of teaching the German language to young,
American G.I.s. Well, I had taught German-speaking people how to speak
English, I might as well try to teach English-speaking people how to speak
German. All I had to do, I reasoned with myself, was to reverse the process.
But, I really had to "hit the books" to find English explanations and definitions
for my German lessons.
As "cute" as these young men were, at times they behaved like little
boys: An apple for the teacher, spit balls and rowdiness. This "tomfoolery"
was unheard of in the schools I had attended.
When bad weather prevented other groups from their scheduled out-door
activities, they would join the regularly scheduled classes inside. Some
days, I had two and three times as many G.I.s as was normal in my classroom.
I requested, and obtained, the presence of an officer at those times to
instill discipline in the young men. I was only there to teach them
the German language, not behavioral etiquette.
One day, I lost my voice due to laryngitis and had to quit teaching.
The very next morning, a jeep stopped in front of the two story house where
we had moved into an upstairs apartment. The driver handed me a hand written
request to "Please become our librarian in the Red Cross building on base.
Headquarters will not send us any new magazines or books because our use
of the library is so low." I wanted to do "something" and I did not need
to use my voice in a library. So, I accepted!
I had an office with a gigantic desk. It looked twice as big to me,
since I am only 4' 11 3/4" tall. There was a regular reading room with
a table, chairs and magazines. The main portion of the library was in a
great big room with the walls lined with book shelves and a large, comfortable
couch to curl up on. I was instructed to mark down the names of all the
visitors to the library and report that number monthly to the officer in
Well, the word got around quickly that the "Teacher" was now the
new "Librarian", and my "Students" literally flocked into the library day
after day. Needless to say, with the number of visitors I was able to report,
Headquarters flooded the library with new reading material. The
"true readers" were delighted, of course.
After my voice healed, I sat curled up on the couch in the big room
of the library, with a ring of G.I.s crowded around me. I was "lecturing"
them because it had come to my attention that a bunch of them had swarmed
into town, behaving like a passel of "Kindergarden-aged children" and rowdies.
I told them, "You are representing a great country by wearing this
uniform. Now, make your country and this country proud of you! Etc.,
While conducting my speech, which seemed to make a great impression
on the young men, my future husband, Peter Paul Foy from Chicago, Illinois,
had appeared in the doorway of the library with his friend. They had stopped
and listened to what I was saying, but could not see me through
the crowd of G.I.s surrounding me. Peterís friend later told me that Peter
had said to him, "Do you hear that voice? I will marry that girl, if she
will have me!" His friend told him that he was crazy and to come away with
him to play ping-pong.
Apparently, that was when Peter started planning his "campaign" to
win me over. His roommate, Karl, was a "reader" and had checked out a book
named "Captain Blood" at my library. Peter asked his roommate not
to return the book until he told him to. He then came to the library
day to ask me for "that" book. It was his "excuse" to speak with me.
Eventually, he offered to type out my monthly reports. He looked for every
possible reason to "hang around", right down to polishing my fingernails
so that he could hold my hand.
Peter even went so far as to seek out one of my G.I. friends who
often escorted me to the dances at the Social Club. He asked him whether
or not his "intentions" were serious toward me. If they were not, then
to please "bow out", because Peter wanted to marry me.
Well, my friend, Robert Robinson, was just a very good, polite friend
to me. Together with Peter, he helped to plot a plan. Robert would "stand
me up" when we next had plans to go to the Social Club, and Peter would
then show up, console me, and take me to the Club himself.
I loved those dances. It was like I was trying to make the
world "stand still" to make up for all the years of no music, no dancing,
no carefree living. I had a different partner for every type of dance;
Tango, Rhumba, Waltz, Jitterbug, Polka, Fox Trot, etc.
But Peter tried, and usually succeeded, to have the last dance
of the evening with me so that no one else would "whisk me off" to take
me home. He wasnít a very good dancer, but he was polite and pleasant ...
a gentleman in every way. I felt comfortable and protected when I was with
No, I did not "fall in love" with him. When, one day he asked me
to marry him, I said, "Yes, sure!" I was joking because so many G.I.s had
asked me the same question, so often. But Peter was dead serious and gave
me a ring! I protested and told him how I felt. He declared that his
love was big enough for "the both of us" and I would "learn" to love him,
One day, after about seven months of courting me, Peter did not show
up for our date. Surprisingly, I found myself worrying about what could
have happened to him. "Was that love?" I wondered. When he did come to
my house, about two hours later, he could have used many different excuses,
(i.e., suddenly called to duty, etc.), but he chose to tell me the truth.
He had spruced up quite early for our date that day. Then, having
so much time left before the appointed time that he was to meet me, he
decided to carefully lay down on his bunk and "rest" awhile. He fell
asleep! I was so impressed with his honesty, that I accepted his reasons
and his heartfelt apology.
On a later occasion, Peter had a bracelet engraved with the date
that he had first heard my voice, March 7, 1947, and gave it to me as a
In late September of 1947, Peterís company was transferred to Schwabach,
which is just south of Nuremberg. I had accepted Peterís marriage proposal
and we had already started preparing the "mountain" of paperwork required
for our marriage in Kitzingen. Now, with his transfer, we had to start
over again at the place where Peter was currently stationed. I was
required to travel to Schwabach for interviews, blood tests, etc.
To discourage American G.I.s, the authorities made it as difficult
as possible for them to marry German women, as though we were not worthy.
They "dragged" out every requirement, and I think created more, to prolong
the process as long as they could.
As a result, I had to rent a room in Schwabach to eliminate so much
traveling back and forth from Kitzingen. I found one with a very nice,
One extremely cold winter day, Peter and I had an appointment, required
by the authorities, to see a Chaplain in Nuremberg. We had the use of a
jeep. But it was so cold, that by the time we arrived there, Peterís
hands were frozen to the steering wheel! He told me that he felt
that "anything" that we had to go through to be married was well worth
The Chaplain was required to "interview" us and recommend whether
or not he felt we should get married. Our interview went very well and
we "passed" his scrutiny. Also, the security "screening" that I had
to pass, showed that I had never been a member of the Nazi party.
Even so, it still took us until June 19, 1948 to obtain clearance from
the military and civilian governments to exchange our wedding vows
in the town hall in Schwabach, Germany.
Restrictions, controversies, and difficulties did not all
come from the "American side". The "German side" did their share also.
For instance, I was told that only the best man and the interpreter
could be present at the time of the marriage ceremony. Afterwards, these
people asked me why my parents and sister did not attend our wedding-rites!
On the American home front, my future Mother-in-law had asked me
if it was important for me to be married as a "White Bride". I, of course,
told her "Yes!" She sent me a light grey suit with only the accessories,
(blouse, shoes, gloves, purse, etc.), in white. She also sent me other
travel clothes ... with black accessories. I felt that she had sent
me a message through her actions.
Or when, two days before the wedding, all of my new, "white"
accessories were stolen from my rented room. The rest of my new traveling
clothes were right there beside the white accessories and had not been
touched. So, somebody did not want me to marry an "American".
This was at a time in Germany when you could not just go into a store
and buy what you wanted, when you wanted it, even if you
had enough money. The goods were not available "at will". There was a constant
and necessary need to know who could get what, from where,
usually at an inflated price.
Peter had "bought" my wedding ring, (a blue sapphire with two European
cut diamonds on each side, set in a wide, gold band), from someone, who
had connections to someone else, who probably got it from someone else.
He paid for it with cartons of cigarettes from the PX, (post exchange store
on base), American chocolate candy bars, and about thirty dollars. Such
a treasure was probably originally sold for food for some family during
the hardest times of the war.
Even the local professional photographer wanted American cigarettes
and many German marks "in advance" of the wedding. His excuse was
that on the day before the wedding, everybody had to exchange their cash
for the new German currency being issued, but it had to be exchanged
in their own home towns.
This was true, and was the reason my Father could not join
us in Schwabach two days earlier, as had my Mother and Dita. My older sister,
Marga, could not join us at all because she still lived in Bremen and it
was so far away.
The kind couple that I had rented the room from, offered us the use
of their whole house for our wedding reception. My Mother
cooked a delicious meal. The cook, from the military base, baked us a gigantic
wedding cake. Peter purchased enough drinks at the commissary, (food store
on base), to literally "supply an army"!
It seemed that anyone who "smelled" free drinks dropped in, invited
or not. Mostly, there were G.I.s in search of "something to do" on a Saturday
But, there was also a very well-dressed, elderly gentleman, who congratulated
us and gave me a big, old, silver coin as a gift. I thought he might be
an old friend or relative of my landlord. But after the old gentleman had
departed, they asked me who he was! We were all very
puzzled. I still do not know, after all of these years, who that gracious
old gentleman might have been. The coin is safely tucked away with my other
As the evening wore on, everyone wanted to toast with us, wishing
us happiness and health. I "sipped" from my glass with each toast and set
it down until the next one.
However, my new husband, emptied his glass every time!
By the time the officers from his company came to the reception with bottles
of champagne, Peter was sound asleep in my room. I entertained them as
well as I could. In the meantime, members of my family tried to awaken
Peter, to no avail.
The officers then explained a typical American custom to me. At about
10:00 p. m., somebody is supposed to "whisk" the bride and groom away from
the reception party and take them to a Honeymoon Suite. Well, they fully
intended to do just that!
The driver of the jeep that they had arrived in, managed to get Peter
up long enough to put him into the vehicle. They then "whisked" me out
of the party and drove us to the best hotel in Schwabach, where they had
rented a "Honeymoon Suite" for us. At the door, they insisted on
"kissing the bride", and insisted Peter carry me over the threshold
of the room. The whole ritual was unknown to me, but I liked it and appreciated
their efforts on our behalf.
As soon as we were left alone, Peter fell onto the bed, saying, "Itís
a miracle! Itís a miracle!" and was sound asleep again. So! Thatís
what a "Honeymoon Suite" is for?
Very early the next morning, Peter woke up complaining. About a hang-over?
No. About how hungry he was! He wanted to go "home" to my room. Of course
he was hungry. With all of the arrangements and celebrating, he hadnít
taken the time to eat anything! While walking back to the rooming house,
we did not even see any early church attenders, only the rising sun of
a very lovely Sunday in June.
My Father and younger sister soon went back to Kitzingen. But my
Mother stayed with us in Schwabach until we were to leave for America.
At first, we were supposed to fly, then the orders were changed. Now, we
were going to travel by boat. Before that order, the military was going
to send the G.I.s home alone and we, the war-brides, would follow later.
But I said, "NO! If we canít go together, I am not going at all!"
Peter was very willing to stay and become a German citizen, if it came
down to that. But, as it turned out, we did leave together.
The "good-bye" in Schwabach with my Mother was heartbreaking. We
did not know when, or if ever, we would see each other again. Peter and
I went by train toward Bremmer-Haven, the seaport which the Americans used
for their transports.
At Kitzingen, we had a ten minute stop-over. There, on the train
platform, was my Father and my sister, Dita, saying "good-bye" to us, another
The train was to be in Bremen at 5:00 a. m. for a ten minute break.
As early as that was, my sister, Marga, waited on the platform for us to
pull in. It seemed the tearful wrenching of my heart would never end.
In Bremer-Haven we were housed in a hotel while awaiting our departure
for America by boat. Days and days went by. Every morning we were required
to check the bulletin board in the hotel lobby to see if our names were
listed for that dayís journey. All the time we could have spent with my
family was used in the "hurry up and wait" process that the military seems
to be famous for.
Finally, we were passengers on the "S. S. Huddleston". I think that
was the name of a former hospital ship. We sailed through the English Channel
and I saw "The White Cliffs of Dover". I was feeling just fine. But, as
soon as we were in the open waters of the Atlantic ocean, I was not feeling
so fine anymore. I wondered if I was what they call "sea-sick".
We females, "War-brides", had to sleep in a gigantic room on the
main deck, while our G. I. husbands had to sleep down below. Every night,
at 10:00 p.m., our husbands brought us to our door and we had to say "good-night"
and part, married or not. That was very hard to do, but necessary, I suppose.
That was in July of 1948. On August 16, 1948, I would turn 26 years
old. But, I looked so young, that the stewardess in charge of the
War-brides tried to send me to the front of the ship to the cabins where
an American General was staying with his family. She thought that I must
have been one of his children that had strayed away from her parents. I
had to show her my passport to prove that I really belonged among
Was I "sea-sick"? Every morning I hurried down into
the breakfast room and the steward in charge of our table "rushed" my food
to me. And every time I ate a few bites, I hurried back up the stairs to
"hang" over the railing. One of our table partners, who used pepper heavily
on all of his food, didnít exactly help my situation by heartlessly
displaying his habit.
Our journey took fourteen days. A "SLOW" boat to somewhere. I had to live out of my suitcase that my dear Mother had so carefully packed for me. However, before we could disembark, Peter had to buy another two suitcases at the shipís on-board store because I was not able to fit my belongings into the one suitcase, as my Mother had. I knew that she was an extraordinarily gifted packer. Right then, I came to realize just how "gifted" she was.
I was delighted at the sight of land and the "Statue of Liberty"
in the early morning light. Some Americans have not even seen this beautiful
sight "first hand". It is truly a sight worth remembering.
One of the first things I wanted to do, was to take a ride in those
famous "EL Trains" in New York City! I wanted to hear the "natives" speak
and listen in on their conversations to hear what this life in America
was all about.
To my horror, I could not understand what the people were
saying and frantically alerted my husband. I asked him, "Did we land
on the wrong shore, in the wrong country? Listen to the people talking
around us, tell me what they are saying!" But, Peter could not
understand them either! We quickly learned the explanation for this phenomenon:
We were in Brooklyn!
One young couple that had shared our table on the ship were named
Bea and Jeff. We four stuck together after landing in New York City. I
invited Bea to move into my room at one Army camp, while Peter and Jeff
were sent to another camp to be "mustered out", or discharged, from the
service. While we were on our own, Bea and I started to explore the city.
We had heard so much about banana-splits and ice cream cones. And
oh, how long had it been since we were able to buy a sour pickle
in Germany? So, there we were, walking down Fifth Avenue with an ice
cream cone in one hand and a big sour pickle in the other hand.
We were enjoying ourselves so much that we did not care when we noticed
that many people were staring at us in a very strange way.
One day, on base, we went roller-skating. Now, I am a figure ice-skater
from way back in my childhood. But on roller-skates, I did not feel as
sure of myself as I did on ice blades.
Suddenly, there I was ...down on my backside, so hard, that
the roller skates came off of my feet and "flew" in two different
directions. The palms of my hands were bruised a deep purple for many days
afterward. Miraculously, I suffered no other ill effects from that fall.
When our husbands came back, we rented two rooms in the Dixie Hotel,
just off of "Times Square." We went shopping for summer clothes, and the
guys bought suits. They had told us to meet them in the lobby of our hotel
in two hours, while they went to change into civilian clothes. They also
had a "facial" and a manicure.
We hardly recognized them! They really looked good to us. We had
only seen them in uniform the whole time that we had known
them. They could finally be "civilians" in regular clothing instead of
one of the "G.I.s".
After about a week in New York, Bea and Jeff went to Jeffís home
state. Peter and I boarded a Grey Hound bus to Chicago, Illinois. Peter
told me that we would see more of the country if we took the bus than if
we went by airplane or train. I agreed.
Later, he confessed to me that our bus tickets were all that we could
afford after our extravagant stay in New York City. But it was worth every
penny we had spent.
As soon as we left the city, my "sea-sickness" returned. I
guess it is called "motion-sickness" on land. I had to sit in the closest
seat by the front door of the bus and the bus driver was kind enough to
stop whenever necessary, or possible. I was miserable!
One time, we had pulled into a bus station to let people off and
on. I had dashed out to the rest rooms and had to spend more time then
I had expected. When the driver was ready to get going again, he turned
to Peter and said "Where is that little girl that was with you? We have
to leave her behind if she doesnít show up pretty soon!" Peter told him,
"That little girl is my wife and there she comes."
Finally, on the first of August, 1948, I saw Chicago, Illinois for
the first time in my life. It was Peterís home town and was to be mine
for almost fifteen years.
Peterís family made a show of welcoming me warmly and asked us to
stay in the basement apartment of their home. My Father-in-law had fixed
it up for us. There was a bedroom, sitting-room, and kitchen.
I thought that maybe they did not like me very much because they
had only put regular blankets on our bed, no "feather bed". I missed
my German feather bed. I was soon to find out that "feather beds" were
almost unknown in America at that time.
There were difficulties being a War-bride from Germany after the
war. Many subtle comments and actions made life more unsettling in my new
home than it had to be. But, as long as Peter was with me and stood by
me, I could endure the strange ways of some of his family.
Peterís Father wanted to show us "his" city and drove us around in
his car. Soon, he refused to take me along, because there was that old
"sea-sickness" again, "car-sickness" this time. My clothes started to get
tight and my Mother-in-law suggested that I go to see a doctor. Why? I
was not that sick. But, I went.
The doctor examined me and smiled. He told me, "Everything is wonderful!
You will have a 'little one' on St. Patrickís Day next year!" I was really
shocked! Peter and I were both delighted. I had never suspected
that being pregnant was the cause of all of my "sickness".
So, thatís why those people in New York were staring at Bea
and me when we were eating the pickles and ice cream! Apparently,
that was a sure sign of an expectant mother. And, "Thank Heaven"
that the roller skating fall did not harm my unborn baby!
So, there I was. In a new land with my new husband, awaiting the
arrival of my baby and beginning a new life. It was as exciting and adventurous
as anything I had lived through. I was ready for this new role of wife
and mother, but also a little frightened of being so far away from my dear
We had survived being "Displaced Persons" during and after World
War II to live, love, and laugh again. My parents and older sister Marga
with her family all settled in Bremen, Germany. Dita eventually married
an American and came to live in America.
Not everyone was as "blessed" as we were.
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