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.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Facing Death-A Memorial Day Tribute

Lt. Frank Ebner Gartz DOB 1924
This Memorial Day, I'm remembering two relatives who each served in one of the two world wars.

World War II
My dad's younger brother, Frank Ebner Gartz, was a navigator in the last year of  World War II. He trained stateside from January, 1943 through December, 1944. On Christmas day, 1944, he and crew of young men flew to Italy via North Africa to fly missions as members of the Second Bomb Group stationed at Amendola Air Base, near Foggia, Italy, on the Adriatic Coast. 

Frank Gartz and his crew. Frank standing 2nd from left.
Frank flew twenty-five missions. One of my  favorite quotes from his letters was advice he gave to  his bombardier, whose actual last name was Booms (did a name define his  destiny?). The bombardier and navigator sat in the half-spherical Plexiglas nose of the B-17, able to see clearly all the enemy flak zooming toward them. Frank wrote my grandfather after a particularly harrowing mission in March, 1945:

Today I flew my 10th mission, and it was the hottest thing I have seen so far. There was more and bigger flak. We bombed an oil refinery in North Eastern Vienna and those people don’t like us to drop our presents to them. 

B-17s flying in formation; photo taken by
Frank Ebner Gartz (see below for permission
to use photos from this blog).

Lt. Booms, my bombardier, had a rough time. He said that they threw everything they had at us including their kitchen sinks. Booms has to sit up in that Plexiglas nose where he can see all that stuff exploding around him. It sort of gets on his nerves. I was trying to explain to him that when your time comes it doesn’t matter where you are…your number is up, and that’s all there is to it.

Such was the fatalism of a twenty-one year old who faced death every time he took off on a mission. 

World War I

My grandmother's brother, Samuel Ebner, was also twenty-one when he was sent off to fight in the Battle of Galicia in August, 1914, one of the first battles of the war. I have no photo of him, only this last postcard he wrote on August 19, 1914, just eight days before being killed. He wrote:
Dear Parents,

I share with you that we are now in Galicia. Most beautiful greetings to all. Farewell.

War Memorial to "The Fallen"
Grosspold, Romania
Photo by Ulrich Wien
Kaspar Ebner 
(apparently a nickname since his father was also named Samuel)

My grandfather, twenty-one when he came to America, missed fighting, and likely dying, in this awful war, as I wrote about in my last post, An odd fellow.

To read more about Sam and the memorial that stands in honor of him and his fellow soldiers from Grosspold, Romania, lost during that tragic war, see The Fallen-Part I, The Fallen-Part II, and The Fallen-Part III. Part III reprints the letter my grandmother kept, that reveals how she and my grandfather, 5000 miles distant from their homeland, helped make the memorial possible.

So today, I thank all of our men and women serving so far from home for their service, bravery, and commitment in our own tragic war. I wish them safely returned into their families' arms again.

Please, if you would like to use any of the photos on this 
blog, you must ask permission, credit the photographer, and provide a link back to the site. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An odd fellow-missing World War I

World War I trench warfare
photo credit: www.anunews.net/blog
Last week’s photos pictured Josef and Lisi Gartz, with their two young sons, Friedrich and Wilhelm happy and healthy in Chicago about early 1916 (see below) and again in the summer of 1918. (See Family and Dead Dog).

These family photos were taken at the same time that Europe was engulfed in the nightmare of World War I, and most young men of Josef's age (25 in 1914)  would have been covered in lice, crouching and rotting in some trench, being blown up or blowing up other young men. 

My grandmother’s brother, Samuel, was one of those young men (See The Fallen-Part I).
Gartz Family ~ 1915-1916
L-R Lisi, Will, Fred, Josef
Let’s jump back four-six years before these family photos were taken, 100 years ago, to the spring of 1912. Josef and Lisi had married five months earlier and were both working seven days a week, Josef for fourteen hours a day, Lisi for twelve hours a day. They were barely getting by, but they had jobs.

Military Draft Notice, Josef Gartz
Josef most certainly could have been among the dead had he stayed in Siebenbürgen (Transylvania). (See Drafted 100 Years Ago, where Josef's draft notice is translated to English).

But the first year after Lisi and Josef had married in Chicago, my grandmother’s former employer, Mrs. Jickeli, saw only youthful indiscretion in their decision to emigrate to America. Two months after Lisi and Josef married in Chicago on October 13, 1911, Mrs. Jickeli had written Lisi Ebner a letter expressing her dismay at Lisi's hasty departure to join her love, Josef Gärtz. She had chastised them both for their impetuous behavior and a host of issues, even declaring their marriage wouldn't be  considered valid in their homeland Siebenbürgen (because it hadn't been announced in the church).

She reiterated her concerns in a second letter, three months later, in what today we might say was “beating a dead horse," even if a stick of a slightly different length!

Merchant's wife, Berta Jickeli
born Henriette Albertine Krasser
March 15, 1912 

My Dear Lisi, 

Are you satisfied with your home (apartment)? Have you been employed long and how does Gärtz like the cooking spoon? [Josef was working in a restaurant when Lisi arrived]. That you live in peace makes me happy. I have certainly never doubted that Gärtz seems like a good man (Mensch). I have always considered him to be a good and respectable/honest/decent man, but a bit of an odd fellow.
But you also know that I am too old and have seen too much of life to scream “Hurrah!” A happy marriage is very rare in life and to be sure, even more rare because no one holds his fate strictly in one’s own hands and no one knows what tomorrow brings. Besides that, marriage seems different after 10-20 years than in the first year. That you will experience, just as everyone has. For you and Gärtz it’s just that you went into your marriage so fast and with such impatience. 
You will have to go through double the work and sacrifice and homesickness than you would have endured if you had waited one more year. Even our Lord God cannot reverse your fate. First Gärtz will have to comply with his military duty if nothing changes. Without you coming here, for the time, then the second thing that has to be is that your marriage must also be declared binding here. This is the only way a later happiness can bloom.

Mrs. Jickeli ends her letter with a few paragraphs of local news and heartfelt wishes, for after all, she was like a second mother to Lisi, and sincerely worried for her. 

And now, dear Lisi, I wish you both very well, and don't grow tired before you again have a strong foundation under your feet. We all greet you both from our hearts, and I remain for all time––Your old mother
Berta Jickeli

Berta Jickeli was right in one regard: people certainly don't have complete control over their fates, as all those who've been caught in war know so well. Yet Josef had influenced his fate, and the fate of his family, through his determination to get to America. The letters make it clear that friends and relatives back in Siebenbürgen/Transylvania expected he and Lisi would return. They didn't know Josef very well.

So when another serious problem emerged back in Transylvania after Josef left for America, his swift decision to leave his countryland again appeared to those back home to have been foolhardy. Apparently some local person had taken advantage of Josef’s departure, perhaps in cahoots with a local official, and co-opted from Josef his home and land. Both Lisi's father and Mrs. Jickeli weighed in on what had happened. Coming up next time at Family Archaeologist.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Family poses with baby on dead dog!

Growing Family: Lisi and Josef Gartz with sons,
Wilhelm, standing; Friedrich on dad's knee.Late 1915 or early 1916. 
Last week I posted photos of my mother taken in 1918, showing the dual sides of her personality. . On this page are are family photos of the Gartz family, the one below taken about the same time as my Mom's photos. Lisi, my paternal grandmother made sure the family had regular formal portraits taken, sending copies back home to both her and Josef's families in Romania. I have many letters thanking her for the pictures.

If you've been following along, you know this blog started with the postcards and love letters from Josef Gärtz to his sweetheart, Lisi Ebner (see Can Love Last 100 Years?), many of which were written as he made way toward America from Transylvania. You can read more of  Josef's diary recounting that harrowing trip, including Terror Atop the Train, if you scroll down on the right side of this page, to "Blog Archives," and click on "December, 2010."

In the photo above, my dad (I'd say he's about 12-14 months old)  is standing on his father's knee. 
Below is a photograph that hadn't been part of any family album, and I only recently discovered it.  Maybe the full content explains why. 

My grandparents, Josef and Lisi, are on the left, and their sons, Wilhelm (nicknamed "Helmie" as a little boy) and my dad, Fred (left) are seated. I don't know the other two adults on the right, but the baby must be theirs. 

They're all posing in front of a typical West Side Chicago back porch. It seems to be a special occasion based on the clothing. Perhaps it's the Christening of the baby, center. But what's with posing the baby on a stuffed dead dog! 

I'd love to crop the photo to see just my Dad and Uncle Will, but scroll down to the bottom to see what I'd get! The dog's very dead head comes with the close-up. What would you do? 
Josef and Lisi Gartz, Left; Fred and Will Gartz seated. About 1918
Friedrich Samuel (called "Sam" by his family), left  and Wilhelm
("Helmie" or "Will"), right. Dog's name unknown!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cute, coy, fierce, and strong

Lillian Gartz, nee Koroschetz, 1918
About a year and a half after John and Louise Koroschetz married, their first and only child was born, Lillian––my mom. To get a tiny bit of insight into my mother's personality, just take a look at these two baby pictures. She seems to be about the same age in each––I'd say about six months. Now we all know that baby pictures can be pretty hilarious in the goofy expressions the camera can capture of these unknowing little souls, and those photos don't necessarily reveal the true personality of the subject.

But in this case, I find these two photos prescient of my mother's dual nature.
Lillian and her Mom. Is the empty bottle
causing that expression?
Picture 1 above:
Little Lillian is lying on a bed, energetically pushing herself upward. She's adorable! Her eyes sparkle. She looks at the camera with a combination of enthusiasm and coy delight. She's cute, confident, bubbling with happiness and confidence. This is a girl who seems to say, "World, here I come." 

Picture 2:
Lillian is glaring at the camera with a fierceness that would make a marine back off. I mean, that's a take-no-prisoners expression. Here Lillian looks like she's about to take charge, dress down a miscreant, tell you exactly what she thinks, and if you're in her sights at this moment, you don't want to hear it! 

Mom would evolve through girlhood and into an adult with both these traits, although the first one was more prevalent in her youth. She had immense self-confidence, a strong moral sense, and clear expectations of how people should behave, but she wasn't a prig. It was virtually impossible to sway her from her beliefs. Sometimes that's a wonderful feature. Other times...not so great. But that's who she was, and once she started writing regularly in a diary---at the age of ten---her go-getter personality came ever-more into focus.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A May Wedding, 1916

Wedding--May 16, 1916
Louise and John Koroschetz- Chicago, IL
Did they meet at one of the German concerts Louise Woschkeruscha was fond of attending on her weekends off  from the dressmaking shop that created Parisian fashions right here in Chicago? Perhaps through mutual friends at the German cinema?

Louise was self-conscious about her appearance because of the pox scars that pitted her face after she contracted smallpox as a little girl. The disease had killed her sister. Somehow, somewhere in Chicago, she met John Koroschetz, an intelligent, talented machinist, carpenter, and tool and die maker, who had his own disfiguration: two fingers on his left hand had been lost in a machine shop accident when he was twenty-two.

Perhaps his truncated fingers had given my grandmother confidence that this was a man who could understand physical disfigurement and would love and accept her despite the scars she bore; that she could trust his love. They married on May 6, 1916, almost 96 years ago.

Two photos memorialized the event. No fancy wedding or wedding dress for Louise, just an elegant outfit she undoubtedly had designed and created herself. A black hat with white feathers crowned her head. John wore a dark, brimmed hat, a light coat, gloves, and tie knotted neatly into a high collared shirt, stylish at the time.  
If you look closely at the photo below, in which John and Louise have removed their outer garments, both regard the camera with confidence. John rests his left hand on his thigh, unself-conscious of his two damaged fingers, visible for all posterity. About a year and a half after their wedding, their first and only child, my mother, Lillian, would be born. She was a go-getter from the start. 

I'll introduce you to her through two baby pictures that capture Lillian's dual, complex nature.
Wedding––Louise and John Koroschetz,
my maternal grandparents - May 16, 1916.