“I was born in 1933 in Sudetenland on the northern Czechoslovakia border with Germany. Most of us were German and spoke German. We could walk to Germany. Hitler came to Sudetenland in 1939 because he felt we belonged to him. No shots were fired when the Nazis took us over and arrested the opposing party leadership—The Social Democratic Party. My grandfather and father were politically active, and my father was high in the ranks of the Social Democrats. The two parties existed as equals, then Hitler came and the Social Democrats became the enemy to get rid of.
At that time, our main meal was at noon, with a two-hour break for lunch so women could go home and cook. One day, my father came home for lunch; someone had stopped by to tell about a meeting at the city hall. I was only five or six years old and remember that day so clearly. My father took my hand and had me walk to city hall with him. As we walked up the ten steps to the entrance, the doors opened, and two SS men came out. My father knew something was wrong because we didn’t see SS men in our town. They wore black uniforms, shiny black boots, and black hats. My father told me to run home. That was the last time I saw him for two and a half years.
The mayor lived across the street. He was a Nazi, but his wife and my mother were good friends. Mother asked them what was happening. My father was one of about 15 men in our town who were arrested and taken as political prisoners. He was sent to the brand-new Dachau concentration camp from 1939-1941.
I was an only child, and my mother told me to never speak about what I heard at home. I still have the letters written from my father in Dachau. They were highly censored, but he started my letters ‘My dear daughter Anna.’
My father was a talented writer with beautiful handwriting. He wrote poems and entire stage plays, but there was no money to send him to college or additional training. He was known as a fair man of great character. He was also a heavy smoker. Mother sent him cigarettes even though smoking was forbidden in Dachau. He shared those cigarettes with the other prisoners. One day, a SS saw a prisoner smoking—he said he got the cigarette from my father. My father received 25 lashes on his back; they were administered by other prisoners while he was bent over a wooden block. He had those scars for the rest of his life.
One of my mother’s sisters was a prominent Nazi—the only one in our family. She was a field nurse caring for the injured on the front lines in Poland during World War l. After the war, she went to Vienna and was admired for her skill as a nurse. She later worked for the professor who discovered cataract eye surgery. She also became a Nazi. She and my mother stayed close, even if they were in different political parties. My aunt wrote Hitler a letter explaining that my father needed to be released to come home and help keep the family alive. It worked. My father was released but was home for less than a year. He was drafted and sent to Russia in a labor battalion that worked in front of the front lines building the bridges for the tanks to go over.
After the men were sent to war, the women worked in the textile mills. My mother worked in a factory making long, white women’s gloves. The mill later made shirts and gloves for the soldiers. I had to join the Hitler Youth. My mother told me to sing the songs, say ‘Heil Hitler,’ and do everything they asked me to do so I wouldn’t get attention. If I said something against Hitler, they would take me too. I was an only child and followed Mother’s rules.
My father was captured by the Russians and sent to Ukraine. The Russians didn’t have prisons for German prisoners, so he was assigned to a farm with a few cows, goats, and hens. The old couple treated him like a son, and he lived there until after the war.
Czechoslovakia deported all Germans after the war, but gave my mother a choice to stay because my father had been anti-Nazi. Our family had been German for generations, so we left with the Germans. We spent three months in a refugee camp outside of Munich. The cities were bombed into rubble, and the countryside was the only place to find an apartment or a place to live. My mother, grandmother, and I were assigned a room on a big farm.
Germans were scattered everywhere, but somehow, my father found us on that farm after he was released from war. We thought we were the luckiest people living on that farm with eggs and milk. They also baked their own bread and shared all of this with us. I grew up on that farm through all of my years in school. To this day, the farm family and my family are close. My children are going to Germany in a couple of weeks and will return to the farm. There will be 30 or 40 family members with cookouts, picnics, and music. We have become one family.
After school, I was hired as a junior bookkeeper at a department store. My neighbors worked at the American Air Force base for an American man. He was unmarried, and my neighbors asked me to be his date for Oktoberfest. I wasn’t interested in dating a man I didn’t know, but they insisted, so I made them go with us. By Christmas, I had a beautiful engagement ring.
The Americans were careful who they accepted as immigrants into this country, and they let me in. We married, and I started my career with the government. The Air Force purchased IBM 7080 computers for their logistics requirements, but there were no programmers. I was the only woman to take the training, and talking to a machine in code was my cup of tea. I became a computer programmer systems analyst and worked my way up to a branch chief with Air Force logistics. I worked with computers for 32 years and loved every moment of it.
I moved to the Mobile area a year ago. One of my sons lives in Dayton, and the other one lives in Fairhope. I grew up in very cold weather, but chose the warmer climate. The people are quite friendly, and I am satisfied living this far south.”