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 28, 2012

Atlantic Crossing in Winter

Friedrich der Grosse. from www.norwayheritage.com

This post was originally published on Jan. 5, 2011.
Crossing the North Atlantic in the heart of winter was a grueling experience, as Josef reports in his diary.

The first and second days were fine, but the other ten days we had very stormy weather so that not a single person remained healthy or found any joy or pleasure on the ship. The ship flew up, then down, and made us completely dizzy. I was only sick the first two days, [perhaps he means the first two days of stormy weather], and then I got used to the ship’s movements. Still, to travel over the water in winter is gruesome. The weather was so stormy that we could only see 80, 100 meters at the most, and the water flew about.

Besides the weather, other unpleasantries accompanied Josef's journey:

Another problem on the ship was eating. As long as I had mother’s bread and wurst, it was ok, but when I had eaten all that, I just stood there and didn’t know how to get something to eat because the cost [of food] is miserable on the ship.

It’s quite possible Josef ate sparsely for the entire trip as he had very little money. We heard that when he first arrived in America, he would buy a loaf of bread and a salami, and portion it out over a week. No wonder he was so skinny.

This is the last that Josef writes in his diary about his journey. I feel a little cheated, but don't want to be greedy either. I would like to have learned more about how he felt seeing the Statue of Liberty, pulling into the port of New York, and enduring more health inspections at Ellis Island. But then I'm grateful to have the records he did make --and that have been amazingly preserved for this past century. It is so much more than I even imagined existed. I hope you readers have felt a kinship with the efforts your ancestors made through Josef's trials and exhilarations as he made his way first across Europe -- and then across the Atlantic.

According to the Ellis Island Ship’s list, Friedrich der Grosse arrived on January 11, 1911. Thanks to Monika Ferrier, I was able to find Josef's name, name and age mis-transcribed, on the ship's manifest.

While Josef continues his journey, the next few posts will share more finds that shed light onto the process of my "archaeological" dig, along with a bit of history thrown in for good measure.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Out to Sea

12/30/1910 First page of letter 
from Josef to Lisi on  F. Missler stationery
This post was originally published on Dec. 31, 2010, 100 years to the date that Josef Gärtz boarded the ship for America.

Once Josef arrived in Bremen, and his path to America seemed clear, he wrote to Lisi. Not only had Friedrich Missler,  probably Bremen's most successful ticket agent, given thousands of passengers a brown, canvas wallet like the one in which I found Josef’s diary, he also provided stationery emblazoned with “F. Missler” and the agency's address at 30 Bahnhof Strasse [literally: Train Station Street], proving Missler was a marketing wizard of his day. Many descendants who have these wallets have mistakenly thought "Missler" was the name of the ship pictured and researched in vain to find it.

Here’s the first page of Josef’s letter to Lisi, written on Missler stationery. If you look closely, you can see the date at the start of the letter (the date is first and the month follows in Roman Numerals).
30/XII 1910
December 30, 1910

Dear Lisi,

I want to tell you that I have arrived in Bremen happy and healthy. Now I want to tell you about my nightmare trip.

At this point Josef describes his misadventures and narrow escapes, which have already been shared in previous posts, so I’ll skip over that part and start with Bremen: [If you missed those narrow escapes, see Terror Atop the Train and Threats to the Dream.]

Thank God I am here, and I thank our Lord God again many times for the good thoughts he gave me. But such a trip! I thought it would undo me!

Missler Emigrant Hall, Bremen, 1907
Perhaps this is where Josef sat with his new-found friends
We’re sitting here at F. Missler, and already it’s going a bit easier because each person [fellow travelers he’s met] makes the other happy, and so we are getting along fine.

Tomorrow, December 31, 1910, we’re going to board the ship, as long as we remain healthy. Every day we are checked by a doctor, and up to now, I am completely healthy. Many people, who got sick on the trip, have already been here in Bremen for eight weeks. One woman, who had eye inflammation [probably trachoma--pink eye] has already been waiting here four weeks. She’s finally received authorization to depart for America.

With heartfelt greetings, I end my letter. Please, dear Lisi, tell me in your first letter what you have heard of my colleagues. [To read my recent discovery of what happened to the two friends with whom Josef started his trip, see the end of this post: Threats to the Dream]

With greetings to all, 
Gärtz, Josef, Bremen

We must look to his diary now, to see into the heart and mind of a young man, his written emotions  a reflection of what thousands of others must have felt at this point in their journeys, as he travels the final leg that will transport him to an unknown land and future.

Friedrich der Grosse, ship that brought Josef Gärtz
to America. Thanks to Norway Heritage for image
December 31, 1910 

Early Saturday morning at 4 am, we saw a doctor who looked us in the eyes and inoculated the left hand with four shots. At 7a.m. we took a two-hour train to the ship. We boarded the ship at 10:30 a.m., and at 11:30, it departed directly for America.

Throngs at the Port of Bremen. Not the era of Josef's
departure, but gives a sense of the kind of crowd
 he describes. 
(From the collection of Maggie Land Blanck)
I was moved by sadness, joy, and fear as the mighty colossus pulled us far out over the waves of the great sea. Everyone on land waved after us with their handkerchiefs as they wanted to share with us a last and friendly farewell. They know such a trip deals with life and death, and we’re never certain if we’ll see each other again.

Josef truly rang out the old on New Year’s Eve, 1910, departing from everything familiar -- and hoped to ring in 1911 with a new life in America. But first he had to endure the harsh winter crossing over the frigid, stormy Atlantic seas.

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.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Terror atop the train!

This post was originally published on Christmas Eve, 2010, on the centennial of my grandfather's departure for America, and his diary record of his harrowing journey.
Josef Gärtz, 1909 or 1910, age 20 or 21

I'd always known my grandfather was often impatient, and apparently was so as a young man. I learned from my cousin's family (also from Neppendorf, the same Transylvanian town as Josef) that Josef didn't want to wait for the long visa process, so he just took off for America before his exit papers were in order. As we'll see from his diary entries, he almost didn't make it. 

Here is a map of the route he planned to take, starting in Hermannstadt (Sibiu-hard to see on the map), traveling north to Klein Kopisch (Copsa Mica), and then west toward Budapest, through Bratislava, (a border stop), and on to Vienna. (Note: This is a modern-day map, but the cities have stayed in the same relative places.) 

Christ Saturday (Christmas Eve), December 24, 1910
“I left from Hermannstadt [Sibiu] with Lichtneker [a friend] for America.”
Josef’s plan was to hook up with a third friend, Rastel, in a town called Klein Kopisch, and the three would travel together from there. The first snafu occurred almost immediately. When Josef and Lichtneker arrived in Klein Kopisch, they went to get coffee. Sure enough, as soon as they left the tracks, Rastel’s train pulled in! They jumped up, but by the time they found their friend and gathered their luggage, “the train slipped out right from under our noses, and we had to wait twelve hours for the next one.”

Sunday, Christmas Day, December 25, 1910
The three friends boarded the noon train to Budapest, about 270 miles away and, based on notes he made on a previous trip, a nineteen hour train ride. When they arrived in Budapest, on December 26th, he sent another postcard to Lisi Ebner (my future grandmother), this one much more upbeat than the one in the last post, and signed by all his companions as well:

Budapest, December 26, 1910
Dear Lisi,
I’m sharing with you that we have happily arrived in Budapest and today, on the 2nd Christmas Day, we will travel onward with the fast train, God willing. With greetings I wish you a Happy New Year [and] from all my colleagues.

Each signed in his own handwriting, thereby corroborating the friends’ names he had recorded in his diary.

Gärtz Josef
Also from me: Johann Rastel
Also from me Andreas Lichtneker
Bye and Adieu

It would be the last time the three young men would be together, for things went downhill before they ever got to Vienna.

In Budapest, they switched to a fast train to Vienna. In those days fifteen to twenty miles per hour was “fast.” Josef urged his friends not to sit together “in case they had to get away quickly, but they didn’t listen,” leading me to believe none of the three had proper papers. Josef followed his own advice and sat in a separate compartment with “two colonels." He fell asleep on the long train ride, which stopped in Bratislava, on the Austrian border. Josef was shaken awake by a border agent. “I threw him a frightened look, but he asked me in a friendly manner where I was traveling to."

“And what do you do in Vienna?”
The agent ordered Josef off the train. “I knew what that meant,” he wrote. Thinking fast, he concocted a daring solution. “Sure. No Problem. I just have to fetch my things,” he told the officer.

“I left my luggage behind, went out the door, climbed up the ladder, and lay down on top of the car. I cannot thank God enough for sending me this thought. But when the horrid train started to move, the sharp air cut through me so that I thought I would fly away like a piece of paper.”

Now picture this: it was December. At best, maybe 25-30 degrees. He would have been battered and buffeted by a frigid windchill for the 37 miles from Bratislava to Vienna. Based on the travel times he had recorded for previous trips, and the train moving at about fifteen miles per hour, that’s two hours he’d have to endure the terror of literally hanging on for dear life, wondering if he’d live to see Vienna, much less America.

In  the next post,  we'll find out what happened.