As we saw in my last post, Mom worked very hard providing for and protecting her family during the trying days of World War II as she constantly wondered where her husband, Gustav, was and whether he was safe. She held out hope against hope they would be reunited.
Meanwhile in 1945, Gustav Maroscher was handed a draft notice that he was to join the German Waffen-SS. It was an order and could not be refused. He fought at the terrible Battle of Budapest where he contracted hepatitis and was hospitalized. Later he was in Czechoslovakia where he, along with other officers, surrendered to the Americans. They knew this was far better than surrendering to the Russians. But dark discouragement came when the Americans turned them over to the Russians.
The Russians hated the Germans and it was reflected in the cruelty of the POW camp. A month long forced march to Foscani, Romania, horrendous treatment, suffering still from hepatitis and dysentery and only a handful of corn kernels to eat each day, dad was on the verge of starvation when released in August of 1945 because of his sad health condition.
These were confusing and uncertain days, not knowing where his family was, yet determined to survive and locate them, he would live with his grandmother, hide from the authorities in her hay loft and finally work some odd jobs to continue his existence. Our heroine, Gerhard’s Mom, had taken another risk and sent a small note in a cigarette paper that Gustav finally found. This is truly a miraculous story and the beginning of their reunion. They were able to communicate through letters and dad made his decision to head west to freedom.
Gustav “fled with two suitcases, a sack of potatoes and several kilograms of salt. Salt at the time was scarce and very expensive in Romania.” He was determined to get to Vienna, Austria. This meant a trip across the border to Hungary, travel across Hungary and crossing the border into Austria. At times he would ride on the top of cargo train cars at night.
He and his wife would communicate through letters from there. Their letters set the rendezvous point as West Germany. Dad received permission to travel there and mom made the decision to attempt the perilous escape across the border. The story of their brave escape is classic. She had to trust strangers and pay some with the cigarettes she had saved.
Mom remembered, “I had saved 200 cigarettes. At that time that was a fortune. With those cigarettes I made it to the West. I paid people to help me and to take the train to the West.” She also used a half pound of butter and a loaf of bread to get help from three young German soldiers to get past the Russian guards at the border. Finally in West Germany, they were initially cared for by the Red Cross.
Chapter 9 of Gerhard’s book is very special and should be read by every person living in free societies. It is a report from two cousins of the Maroscher’s. Diethard Knopp and Hanna Rothmann both remained in Romania after the Russians came into control and in this chapter their personal testimonies of life under communism is told.
Diethard reports: “Communism descends on us…In Romania the regime of terror installed by the communists unfolded…the country was submitted directly to Moscow…Other ‘glorious deeds’ of this period were the 1948 government nationalization, the forcing of our farmers into collective farms, flouting the most elementary human rights, factory owners were robbed of their factories, farmers of their soil, cattle and machinery and the whole German population of their church-owned schools. Total control of the citizens is what the communist government’s goal was.”
Hanna’s experience was that of a slave laborer: ”Our families lost their civil rights and property, suffered under discrimination and were arrested.”
21 year old Hanna was arrested in the middle of the night and taken from her home. She was whisked away to a cargo train, crammed into a rail car along with 105 others. The trip took 14 days in frigid temperatures to Konstinanovka, Russia, a slave labor camp beside a bombed out factory. Barracks life was unheated, harsh and cruel. Three women slept in each bed.
Hanna’s report: “It is terribly cold. The rags we wrapped around our mouth and nose to ward off the cold are frozen stiff from our breath, frozen on our cheeks. We are outside all day in the extreme cold, carrying loads of heavy stones in our handbarrows…The extreme cold takes possession of our entire bodies. We must move, move – hour after hour – back and forth. Our feet seem like blocks of ice…How long can a person endure such inhumanity? As we finally return to the compound we heard today that is was -32°F and we were outside all day.”
Chapter 10 brings us to the not-so-grand reunion of Gustav and his family. The “gaunt, shabby man with a mustache came walking through the gate towards us.” Mom did not recognize him. But Gunther, the oldest did. “That is daddy!” There were hugs all around, except for Gerhard, the youngest. Instead he kicked his dad in the shin! The lad was jealous of anyone kissing his mom!
But Dad was not the same man that had been torn from his family two years previous. “As husbands, wives and families impacted by the separation, danger, fear and deprivation of war have found out, war changes people…Mom was no longer the shy young wife…She had grown into an independent fierce lioness who had endured and overcome many adversities…Dad was also not the man she had married. Combat changes people…He felt the man was the ruler of the family and wives were to be subservient…They had many serious conflicts and arguments after reuniting.” But they were committed to their marriage and refused to divorce. (The pictures are before and after the war)
There was post war hopelessness in West Germany because of Allied plans initiated out of hatred for the German people. Chapter 12 explains why the German people were starving after the war. Life continued to be difficult for the Maroschers.
Gustav Maroscher was “the born teacher, driven. His efforts had a significant positive impact on the education of the Ohrenbach youth. He started a youth group, a brass band, an orchestra, drama club and a sports club.” (The picture shows Dad leading the school brass band with the bombed out buildings as a backdrop)
Dad’s plans to immigrate to America began in 1946. He read the Constitution of the United States and learned as much as he could about America’s way of life. “He hoped for a better life for his family in the USA,” Gerhard says.
Dad’s request to immigrate was rejected at first because of his background as serving in the Waffen-SS. But the rules were changed and his request was granted. Now they were able to be moved to the various out-processing camps as they moved closer to the land of their dreams.
During the long process serious vetting of the immigrants was constant. Just because they were accepted did not mean that they couldn’t be rejected at any place during the process. Even a small lie found out would send one back to where they came from. Gerhard and his dad witnessed a poor family experience this and Dad told him to always tell the truth.
March 31, 1952 was a happy day indeed. This was the day they would sail to the Land of the Free. Dad had come into the barracks room at Camp Grohn with papers that said they were to relocate to Columbus, Ohio and their sponsor was the Christ Lutheran Church in Bexley, Ohio. Their residence and jobs for mom and dad were secured.
The crossing was a ten day ordeal with high seas and sea sickness among all 1000+ immigrants on board. Then, the first glimpse of their new home. “As always, Mom and I were on deck at first light. In the dawn’s early light we saw the Statue of Liberty. I had no idea what it was but thought is was really cool. We had made it to America.”
Dad’s first job was as a janitor/maintenance man for .92/hr at Capital University. Mom worked as a house mother for eighteen coeds, living in the house with the family. Gerhard says, “I was too young to appreciate living with eighteen coeds.”
Gerhard’s first memories of America are how their “immediate and mind-boggling increase” in their standard of living and how much food there was. “Food and more food. For the first time in my memory, I had enough to eat.”
The friendliness of Americans was a shock to them. Germans were not this way toward strangers, but a simple greeting of “Hi” was at first misunderstood by Mom. She thought they were mocking her by saying “Heil.”
Gerhard understands the American dream. He says it is “succeeding and attaining goals through hard work without hindrance from a government, from institutions, or pre-judgement due to race, ethnicity, background or religion…Of course, America is not perfect, but neither is life. In America, one’s own hard work, ability and perseverance can overcome anything that might stand in the way of success.”
Mom and Dad believed that statement to be true and began their new lives working hard and being rewarded by improving their lives and their family’s lives. Dad worked his way, with many different jobs, to the manufacturing industry and within ten years of arriving in America, and not speaking English, became a lead design engineer, with secret clearance, at North American Aviation.
Gustav served in three different Axis armies in World War II. Gerhard remembers, “His comment to me, ‘Only in America.’”
This is a tremendous success story of a family that never gave up and found the blessed freedoms of America. We must never lose these precious freedoms and opportunities to succeed. God Bless America!
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