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, August 14, 2012

Threats to the Dream-Vienna to Bremen

This is a repost, originally published on December 28, 2010.

Josef wrote both in his diary and to Lisi about his terror atop the train from Pressburg (Bratislava) to Vienna, one corroborating the other, but each using slightly different language. In the diary he wrote:

I thought the sharp wind would throw me under the fast train like a piece of paper, but I held tight until we were in Austria. Then I came back down into the car and was very happy, but also distressed because my colleagues weren't there, and it was very much fun to travel as a threesome.

In his letter to Lisi about this moment, he was more emotional and wrote: Oh, no! My colleagues had disappeared, and I stood crying in Vienna. Nevertheless, I pulled together some fresh courage and waited two days in Vienna, thinking perhaps my friends would come, but it was in vain. I had to set out further alone.

[For an update on what happened to Josef's colleagues, Johann Rastel and Andrea Lichteneker, see the end of this piece.]

Josef must have arrived in Vienna, late December 26th or early December 27th because he wrote:

I departed Vienna Wednesday evening [December 28, 1910] at 10 pm. On Thursday [December 29, 1910] at 11:00 am, I arrived at the German border, where it got dicey again. There the border officer asked me how old I was. I answered 24 years [he was only 21]. Then he asked for my passport. I said, 'Immediately, Sir. My passport is in my suitcase.

I used that brief moment to step off the train and remained standing there until he went into the other car. I came inside again and laughed from heartfelt joy at my second clever ruse.

Making it successfully across the German border reduced the possibility of Josef being sent back to Transylvania, but more threats to his dream of America still lay ahead.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the United States had pressured European countries to require increasingly stringent medical exams for emigrants before they even boarded a ship to America. A sure-fire way to be left behind was a diagnosis of trachoma, pink eye, highly contagious and, in those days, incurable. Sure enough, the medical exams begin well before getting to the port city of Bremen.

The trip continued to Leipzig where we got out and had a medical examination by an eye specialist. From there we traveled directly to Bremen. We arrived in Bremen on Friday [December 30, 1910] at 9 a.m.

It was from Bremen he wrote the letter to Lisi from which I've been quoting portions. How he began that letter and what happened after its completion will be published next week (It was originally published 100 years to the date that he departed, 12/31/1910) . He, along with hundreds of others, still had hurdles to jump before boarding the ship to America.

New Year's Eve in 1910 ushered in a new year with a completely unknown and uncharted future for Josef's -- and therefore, Lisi's -- life.

I have continued to send old family letters (saved by my grandmother) to my Rosetta Stone, Meta, to decipher from the old German. This past April, 2012,  Meta determined that an unknown author turned out to be Josef's sister, Katarina, writing in 1936. She mentions that Johann Rastel asks about Josef, so he was clearly sent back from the train on which Josef had escaped detection by climbing on the roof (see last post). Andreas Lichteneker was sent back too, but he couldn't send greetings. Katarina reveals he died in World War I--a fate which easily could have befallen Josef had he not kept his wits about him and made his daring move to the top of the train.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I am enjoying Josef's story yet again. He was a risk-taker. Interesting that he felt he could share his emotions with Lisi, but chose not to in his diary.