On Jan. 23, 1943, my uncle, Frank Ebner Gartz, (photo in uniform, above) reported to the draft board in Chicago to start his training for WWII. So began the correspondence between him and family & friends, comprising almost 300 letters going both ways. I’m posting many of these World War II letters, each on or near the 70th anniversary of its writing. To start with his induction, click HERE.

This blog began in Nov., 2010, when I posted a century-old love note from Josef Gärtz, my paternal grandfather, to Lisi (Elisabetha) Ebner, my paternal grandmother, and follows their bold decision to strike out for America.

My mom and dad were writers too, recording their lives in diaries and letters from the 1920s-the 1990s. Historical, sweet, joyful, and sad, all that life promises-- and takes away--are recorded here as it happened. It's an ongoing saga of the 20th century. To start at the very beginning, please click HERE.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spilling Secrets

 Lutheran Church, Neppendorf

Come, enter with me into the courtyard of the Evangelische Kirche Neppendorf. We’ve been here before -- and learned when and from where (late 18th century and Gerstheim, Alsace, respectively) our forebears made their way to this little German community that became home to the Gerz/Gärtz family for nearly two centuries.

Like all families, they faced their share of trouble and tragedy: poverty, illegitimate children, death by sometimes tragic means. But tucked into the back of the church, a small museum celebrated the good things in life: the communal spirit and optimistic outlook of Neppendorf and Siebenbürgen residents. It was an ethic based on the belief  that anything is possible--if you’re willing to work for it. We also discovered a stunning and unknown connection between our own family and this museum.

Embroidery-typical of Siebenbürgen.
  Similar to samples my grandmother,
Elisabeth (Lisi) Ebner, created
At the top of a small flight of stairs, Renate, the church secretary who had been our guide to our family’s genealogical history in Neppendorf, pushed open a heavy wooden door, revealing a small, neat, brightly lit museum of German life in Transylvania, and Neppendorf in particular. I felt immediately at home among the familiar--looking artifacts: musical instruments, furniture, books, and needle work in the same style my grandmother created, thick black or red embroidery on white woven cloth. I’d lived in Germany for a year as a college student and yet never felt as if I’d “come home” as I did here.

The walls were lined with photos, displaying Neppendorf weddings, families, individuals, the town’s celebrated band, the rebuilding of their church. As we pondered the wedding photos, brother Bill paused, his eyes widening. “Wait! Isn’t this Grandpa’s sister?” Cousin Maria and I stared. Sure enough, Katarina Gärtz and her bridegroom, Josef Huber, stared back at us across the past century, posing in their wedding finery, holding hands, in 1912.

As we made our way around the room, shouts of recognition continued. In this little church museum, 5000 miles from our home in Chicago, we discovered three photographs that we recognized from our own family collection. Had we not come, we never would have known that our family’s photos help tell the story of the Siebenbürgen Germans in Neppendorf!

1911 Photograph. Left to right: 
Katarina Gärtz, Elisabetha
Ebner (my grandma), and Sarah
Reisenauer, Josef Gärtz's cousin.
On this wall we found a photo of my grandmother posing with Katarina Gärtz, Josef’s sister, and Sara Reisenauer, his cousin. It's the same photo my parents had included in a family history photo album they had made for us kids in 1984.

But it wasn’t until almost three years after this visit, when I was able to decipher and translate the missives between my grandparents, that the previously-unknown significance of this iconic photo emerged from the pages of a long-buried letter. Stay tuned for that stunner, coming up as we follow the correspondence between Lisi and Josef. 

Photo Collage, Museum
Katarina Gärtz/Huber
and family in upper right hand
corner. Close up below right.

Die Neppendörfer liebten immer das Schöne, die Gemeinschaft und die Arbeit

The final picture was another of Josef’s Sister, Katarina -- this time with her husband and children, also our personal family history album. This last photo was in the upper right corner of a display headed with a joyous statement about what my grandfather’s fellow- townspeople held dear. It says, in English: “Neppendorfers always loved beauty, community, and work.”

Katarina Gärtz/Huber, husband,
Josef and their 2 children

It doesn’t mention “fun,” and I think I know why. I feel pretty confident that working people of that era didn't pursue “fun” as relentlessly as so many do today--as an end in itself. First of all--there wasn't time. But humans need fun--so it was delivered by working together--as part of a
community, creating beauty--in their gardens, their needlework, their craftsmanship, their churches, their homes, their singing-and then reveling in their creations. Yes, life was harder, illness and death ever-present, but perhaps without directly seeking “fun,” they found it in the pleasure of the every-day, and with it, satisfaction--whence they derived happiness.

And more discoveries were to come, including our family’s role in the musical life of the town. The Gärtz known as the “John Philip Sousa” of Neppendorf helped bring the town joy and renown after the devastation of war. Next up on Travel Tuesday.



Susan Bearman said...

Great picture of you. I love the short do. I think it's so cool you found pictures of your family in another part of the world.

Thanks again for entering the Second Annual Two Kinds of People Writing Challenge. I hope you had fun creating new beauty in your work.

Kathy Reed said...

You've got me hooked. I've read every one of your posts and can't wait to see what comes next.

I'm just amazed at how the Germans maintained their culture and traditions in a different country.

Sandy said...

These are beautiful photographs. I live ethnic dresses and the people are beautiful too. What an amazing story.

Linda Gartz said...

Thank you, Susan, Kathy, & Sandy, for visiting and sharing with me your responses! Thank you to Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings (link at end of post) for selecting this post in his Sunday March 6th, "Best of the Genea Blogs."