First German War Brides to received Exit Permit
St. Louis Post-Dispatch 19 Jan 2003
Bob Lauenstein and his wife, Annemarie, are sharing a hospital room at St. Anthony’s Medical Center. Letters and cards from grandchildren are taped to walls. A scrapbook is on a table.
The scrapbook contains newpaper clippings from 1946. One of the stories is from the Los Angeles Times. It begins: “pretty, blue-eyed Anna Heinke, 23, whose father died in a concentration camp, today received the first exit permit given to a German girl since the war to go to the U.S. to marry her American sweetheart.”
Yes, Annemarie was the first war bride to come here after President Truman signed the GI-Fiancée bill, which allowed American soldiers to bring their fiancées home. When Bob and Annemarie were married at the Trinity Lutheran church at Eighth and Soulard, a photographer from Life magazine took photos.
It helped, too, that the young couple had a nice story. Bob was part of an advance party for the 2nd Armored Division that entered Berlin in June 1945. The war had just ended. Berlin was in ruins. The advance party scoured the city, but could find no beer. Bob and another soldier took a jeep and drove to the Russian-controlled city of Dessau 70 miles away. The soldiers knew that a brewery had somehow survived the bombing that had destroyed most of that city.
The brewery was closed for the day when the two soldiers arrived. They sat on the bank of the Elba River and tried to figure out what to do. Two young German women were nearby. The soldiers heard them talking.
“Don’t say too much,” said Bob teasingly to the women. “I speak German.”
He had studied German at Washington University. He had studied history, too, and journalism. The war had come along before he finish college. He joined the Army and landed in Normandy several days after D-Day.
The two young women were sisters. When they learned that the Americans needed a place to spend the night, they invited them home. They lived with their mother. Their father had been arrested on Christmas Eve of 1943 and charged with saying negative things about Hitler. His distaste for the Nazis was well-known. He died in prison.
The soldiers picked up their beer in the morning and returned to Berlin. The beer run became a weekly event, and before long, Bob and Annemarie were in loved.
In December 1945, the battalion received orders back to the states. Bob broke the news to Annemarie.
“I thought you might want to stay here and marry me,” she said. “That’s exactly what I want to do,” he said.
He received permission to get discharge in Berlin. He got a job as a translator. Then in November 1946, they came to St. Louis.
Bob eventually became an executive with a steel company. He and his wife had two children. The years rolled along. The couple celebrated their 56th anniversary in November.
Last month, Annemarie came down with pneumonia. She was admitted to St. Anthony’s. The doctors said she might not make it. She was put on a ventilator.
As Bob sat in the waiting room outside of intensive care, he told his daughter, Ingrid, that he had a lump on his collarbone. She told him he should have it checked out, and he did. A week before Christmas, he learned he had end-stage cancer. The doctor said he had maybe, four months to live.
He did not want to tell his wife until she was a little stronger. Unfortunately, Bob’s condition deteriorated, and he was rushed to St. Luke’s Hospital. The end could come any day, the doctor said.
So he would have to tell his wife by phone. They would never see each other again.
But doctors and administrators at the two hospitals come up with a plan. Bob was transferred to St. Anthony’s last Saturday. They gave him a bed in his wife’s room, and they moved the beds together so Bob and Annemarie could hold hands.
They both seem stronger now. “Just having him here with me is good,” said Annemarie. Bob smiled.
(written by Bill McClellan)