ERIKA WALTER FOY'S STORY
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, ďYou 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.Ē We all went downtown to ďgawkĒ. 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 ďherdedĒ 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 ďPlease, do not speak to us, we are Jewish and you might get into trouble speaking to us.Ē This fear grew as, little by little; people were disappearing from our lives.
I first heard about some type of ďcampĒ when my Motherís sister told us that her husband was ďrequestedĒ 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 ďcensoredĒ mail from my Uncle. She never saw him again. They told her that he had died of pneumonia.
The general information about these camps was that these camps were established to ďteachĒ non-conformists the Nazi Doctrines. This happened after the ďBlitzkriegĒ (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 was.
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 newborn babies. I really loved to take care of the babies. Every morning, bright and early, I took the train to Gleiwitz.
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 a while 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. The entire 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 enter them.
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 an experience!
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, which 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 in Hohenlohe.
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 any 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 bed.
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 concussion.
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 the air.)
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 peacetime, I doubt that I could have created this kind of diversion. That was one time when the rush and the haste of wartime 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) was 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 headmistress 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 right train!
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 streetcar 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 streetcar 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? They 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 breakfast.
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 I 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 Grand mamaís 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 hometown.
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 "ocean."
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 more money and said: "Try to find a place where you are needed". Panic!
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 what 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 everybody 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 come back.
Despite the historical events going on around us, the months we lived there, 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 so 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 passing.
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 pilot above.
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 mistake.
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 know 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 will be shot!"
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 out.
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 vehicle.
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 very 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 German.
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 their eyes! 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 nice 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 Motherís Day! 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 so 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 Americans.
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 first 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 operationsĒ. 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 charge.
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., 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 every 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 him.
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, eventually.
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 gift.
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 all 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, generous family.
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 it.
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 same 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 night.
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 "treasures".
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 tear-filled event.
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 the War-brides!
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 parents.
We had survived being ďDisplaced PersonsĒ 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.
Erika Walter Foy - German Woman Displaced Person
Source: http://www.mifamilyhistory.org/ - Michigan Family History site.