I recently spoke at the Germania Singing and Sports Society in Columbus, Ohio.
As usual, at the book signing afterward, I met and spoke with people who told me their own personal stories. One elderly gentleman could easily relate to the bombings we endured in Weimar, Germany. The reason? He lived near Weimar during WWII. His first name is Gerhart!
I had a long conversation with a woman whose father (a doctor) had treated Holocaust survivors. She had previously attended a presentation by Holocaust survivor Murray Ebner’s daughter. She was kind enough to give me a copy of Mr. Ebner’s book which she signed. A first for me.
Another elderly survivor of WWII spoke to me about how terribly skinny and ill her father looked after he came home from Russian captivity. She was in tears as she talked.
At least as meaningful to me as the above comments were the comments by Americans who had no direct tie to WWII, including a few twenty-somethings. My family’s story touches multiple generations and people from different backgrounds.
On June 8th I spoke for the 2nd time at Bethany Lutheran Village, a retirement community in Dayton, Ohio. This time I spoke to the women’s group.
After most presentations a few individuals speak to me relating their own similar experiences. Two elderly ladies told me about their lives. One elderly lady called herself a “war bride.” She understood what we went through when we were bombed. Her city had been 70% destroyed during WWII.
Another attendee spoke of her father who was Jewish. My father’s special relationship with his Jewish friend in Transylvania touched her. She said she had letters (in English) her father had written about his WWII experiences. She was hoping I knew who might want them. Unfortunately I could not help her. As expected, a number of ladies spoke about their visits to Rothenburg o/d Tauber, Germany as tourists. Rothenburg o/d Tauber was the city where our family was reunited in September 1946.
Gustav, Gerhard’s father in his early 20s.
I met an 81-year-old Saxon lady (possibly a relative) at a recent breakfast, and she has a story similar to mine.
She obviously remembers her homeland quite well. Her father, being Saxon, was forced into the Waffen-SS. He fought in the war and became a POW, as did my father.
Gustav, a few years later and about two years after being released from POW camp.
After her father was released and returned home our stories diverge. Having perpetrated the crime of being Saxon, he was arrested by the communists and schlepped off to Siberia as a slave-laborer. He died there at the age of 37. The lack of food, clothing, adequate shelter, and extreme cold was difficult for the healthy to survive. For those in poor health, such as former POWs, it meant certain death.
Gerhard’s father’s certificate of release from the Prisoner of War camp.
When my father was released from Russian captivity (Focșani, Romania POW camp) he returned home in extremely poor health. In the early years of WWII, before Dad went to the front to fight the Russians, he surreptitiously went against the regime to help his Jewish friend Mr. Massler. His friend, now the communist police commissioner of Bistrita, Romania (Bistritz in German) protected him from arrest. He returned kindness with kindness. My dad survived.
To add to the poignancy of the Saxon lady’s story about her father was that she once met a former Transylvanian Saxon slave laborer who had survived. In hopes of gaining some knowledge about her father’s death she asked him what they did with the bodies of those who died. He responded, “We stripped them of their clothes and dug a shallow grave wherever they had collapsed and died.” As she told me this she began to cry.
Gerhard continues to receive messages from people who were on the very same ship that brought his family over from Germany to the United States:
Gerhard, Thank you for emailing me. My father and his family were on this ship. I found the name of this ship on their naturalization paperwork from Germany. I don’t know much about the trip over on the boat other than all my family became very afraid of water and never got on a boat again. There are still two members of the family alive. I feel overwhelmingly compelled to contact them and get their experience before their passing.
This morning I had an enjoyable breakfast with an eclectic breakfast group, four of whom have read my book. They meet regularly at Abner’s in Hilliard.
We had a great Q & A session and good discussion. The meeting was organized by Gabe Kovacs who also came to the USA on the USS General Ballou – the same ship my family came over on. The string of surprises encountered as I market the book continues!
A second guest was invited because she was also a refugee and immigrant. It turns out she was also born in Transylvania and we are related. Amazing!