Author Talk: Wyngate Senior Facility

Last Wednesday, October 5th, I spoke at the Wyngate Senior Facility in Circleville, Ohio. All of the residents were old enough to remember WWII from their youth.

On Saturday I stopped by to talk with Lloyd Koch, a resident at Wyngate. Lloyd and I enjoyed the warm temperature, sunshine, and talked about the book. He also talked about his rural upbringing and his time working at DuPont. Lloyd used to raise pigs when he was young. He was amazed by the size of Wunzu, the pig my brother milked. He had never seen such a huge pig!

Ohio Author’s Panel

Update: Participating in the Ohio Author Panel last night at the Pickaway County Library was interesting. The works and experiences of the other authors were quite different from mine.

The program was introduced by Michelle Callahan, librarian, and sponsored by Keystone Books & Gifts.

Original announcement:

If you want to know about the life of an author or learn more about the process of writing, will host an authors panel tonight (September 12, 2017) from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. at the the Pickaway County Library, located at 1160 N. Court St., Circleville, Ohio.

Various authors from around Ohio – including yours truly – will answer questions on all aspects of writing — from the beginning of an idea to writing the book, and the life-changing experience of being published.

The event is free and open to the public, and will include book sales and signing! Hope to see you there!

The Ballou: yet another connection, and a different view

This photo was kindly submitted by Leo Wagner, who was on the voyage with his wife Ann and daughter Heidi.

Two days ago I was contacted by Heidi Wagner, a fellow passenger who crossed the Atlantic on the same ship with me and my family!

It was a joy to talk to her. We shared our respective histories, immigrant experiences, and love for our adopted country. She is doing research for her 92 year old father in hopes of locating the family of a dear friend of his with whom he had lost contact after arriving in the USA in 1952.

All immigrant refugee families on the ship received a post card with the picture of the USS General Ballou (also referred to as MS General Ballou) on it. I remember our postcard, unfortunately in the ensuing 65 years it was lost. Heidi just sent me a picture of the postcard her dad still had.

Heidi and her father are both looking forward to reading Why Can’t Somebody Just Die Around Here? Writing the book is a gift that keeps on giving!

Author Talk: Germania Club

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.


Author Talk: Bethany Lutheran Village, again

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.

POW Connections

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.

The USNS General S.S. Ballou, Part 4: Still more connections!

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.