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, June 5, 2012

Swindlers through the ages

Samuel Ebner, Lisi Gartz's dad

The best defense is an offense, and that was as true in the past as it is today. A century ago, a deceitful notary took advantage of my grandfather’s absence to wrongfully sell his property. My grandmother's father, Samuel Ebner, (left) wrote her and her new husband, Josef, a letter dated May 11, 1913. He was clearly in great distress over the illegal sale. It’s a long letter, so I’ll summarize the facts and include only the best quotes from the letter. 
Hof courtyard in Grosspold, Romania Lisi's home town.
House is at right; Pig pen with 2 huge pigs in the back
Owner pictured
Josef owned a Hof (home and small parcel of land surrounding it) in his hometown of Neppendorf, Hungary (today Romania). Here’s a photo of a typical Hof that I visited a few years ago, probably not much changed over the last century. Josef's may not have been as large.
The town notary sold the Hof without Josef’s authorization. Samuel and Josef’s mother complained about the illegal sale 
to the notary, whose response was to heap abuse onto the two parents. Samuel wrote:
May 11, 1913
Dear Children,
Katarina Gärtz, Josef's mother. 
I went with Josef’s mother to the notary. I have to tell you, he is an abusive boor, insulting both me and your mother. He even said that if Sepp (Josef) were here, he’d cuff him about the ears! 
I told him that the Hof should not have been sold without Josef’s authorization and now additions have been built [onto the property.]
[The notary] called me a crooked Saxon and claimed that I only wanted to swindle him. I told him I am no Saxon. I am an honest German. I demanded the truth from him...and said I would not sign anything before I heard from [Josef and Lisi] what I should do.”
I did everything that was possible, but too much has already been built on your Hof: a well, an anteroom, a back room, a stall of cement, a pigpen also with cement, very nicely constructed and filled with sand. The new owner wouldn’t talk to me.
I inquired about going to court, but your mother will have to pay all the expenses. So I don’t know what I should do. 
In other words, the person who had bought Josef’s property had already invested so much of his own money into the hof, it would be hard to get the property back. As is so common even today in America, the expense of a lawsuit precluded getting justice.  Samuel wanted to know if he should buy another home for Josef and Lisi as several were for sale in a nearby area. 
Mrs. Jickeli's precise handwriting
The family even called upon Mrs. Jickeli, Lisi’s former employer, (read her chastising letter to Lisi here) to see if she could get get any satisfaction, but even a woman with her great influence couldn’t help. Mrs. Jickeli had the situation checked out and wrote to Lisi and Josef her opinion.
I quote from Berta Jickeli's letter of March 16, 1913:
Josef’s mother can certainly file a lawsuit. However, she will not get any justice in any court, and will have to pay many Kronen [money]. To pursue such a hopeless lawsuit would be to throw money into the air. [It would be better] to save the expenses and buy a new piece of land if you would someday want to come home.
Certainly the folks of the older generation were shaking their heads in dismay at Josef and Lisi’s rash emigration a year a half earlier. Josef having left without fulfilling his military obligation, Lisi leaving to join him in an impetuous marriage, -- and now this, Josef losing his house. 
Of course, those back in the old country couldn’t have known in 1913 how much would change in just a year, how their country would be wracked and ruined by war, and how dependent they would all become over the next decades on the loving generosity and care of these foolish youths.


Marian Kurz said...

Reassuring to know that corruption was not founded in Il. Wonder how many immigrants still are swindled of wages, entry into the country, etc..so glad your grandparents survived,but conditions being what they were, it must have been very difficult.

Carol said...

What a fascinating post, drew me in, love the connection between the family letters and history.

Adrienne said...

I love the way your writing keeps drawing us forward in the story. We get to experience history as it happens, anticipating cataclysms the participants could never have foreseen.

Kathy Reed said...

I feel like I'm hearing about a 21st Century portrayal of these events when I listen to my son-in-law. He parents defected from Hungary and ended up living in Venezuela. To this day there are disputes about property left behind. How much I take for granted.

Sandy Arnone said...

Another illuminating post and presentation from a great talent.
The court system is as inconsistent today as it was in yesteryear. "She will not get any justice in any court." Often true today.

Linda Gartz said...

Hello all! You guys are so fast on the comment draw, I needed a day to reply. It's heartening to hear that you were drawn in, Carol, and that you, Marian and Kathy, and Sandy, found resonance with the past and your own knowledge. Adrienne, right -- I'm writing with 20-20 hindsight, but my grandparents had to make the plunge with no knowledge of what was in store.

Thanks to all for dropping by and commenting!

Paul E. Gartz said...

Sis, Yikes. Never heard this story. How incredible…and apparently as easy to do then as now. Power is the key whether at the individual or nation level. Properties used to be seized with weapons. But is now done with paperwork, lawyers and courts and loads of $$$. What is also interesting is that our grandparents on dad’s side recovered better in attitude and results than on our mom’s side where there were also inequities. Interestingly also, this is apparently a pattern in the males of our family in even our generation. Karma? Just in past 2 years, one of our close relatives had a rich neighbor swindle him of his land while he was still living on it. Why? Because he could! How? He threatened our relative with all his $Ms saying, basically, he would crush and grind up our relative if he even fought it. He did fight, but the court and judge sided against the facts and context and simply gave the land to the rich neighbor. [This relative can say more if he chooses.] It also happened with me a number of times and, in spite of resources and determination to fight for rights, each time the lawyers became part of the problem and the money powers won…completely against the law and any concept of justice. And this is the US! We are seduced by TV and movies to think that justice happens here and the individual wins. It does, but not as frequently as one thinks.