And he said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Happiest Day of His Life (This has nothing to do with fishing....)



__________ INTRODUCTION __________

My Dad's 80th birthday is coming up.  And while anybody who survives on this world at least 80 years has quite a life story, my father has a story that is unique.  I had no idea just how unique, and how much it affected him, however, until I was married and with a child of my own.  He had never shared much of his experiences growing up....  

Susan and I lived in Richmond when we were first married, and in our first home when Parke was born.  My parents came down for a visit in February, and we decided to use that opportunity to go to Green Front, a well-known furniture store in Farmville -- about a 90 minute drive from our house.  My mother was delighted to babysit, while we had our first day out since the baby was born!  So early on a cold, rainy Saturday morning, after giving my mom all the instructions she would need, we headed out.  My dad decided to accompany us and sat in front with me, while Susan took the opportunity of the drive to lie down on the back seat, and catch up on some long-deprived sleep.

Wanting to keep noise to a minimum for Susan, I kept the radio off and just had a conversation with my father.  The thrill of having a child - a son! - was still new and exciting to me, and I recounted how happy I was to have a boy -- the first grandson on either side of our families.  His birth, along with my wedding day, were the two happiest days of my life I exclaimed.  So the natural question I then followed up with and asked my father was, "Dad, what was the happiest day of your life?"  I was not prepared for his answer....

He did not respond right away, but just stared into the distance... beyond the wet windshield in front of him with the intermittent wipers, beyond the horizon ahead -- even beyond the years.  A memory long suppressed was coming back to him, and he took his time as the highway rolled on by.  He gathered his thoughts, and then finally spoke.

"The happiest day of my life?"  He said, as the memory came back to him....  
"It was late fall of 1945.  The war had been over for quite a while.  I was in Moedling, the suburb south of Vienna, which was in the Russian Zone then."  He paused, and looked over at me.  

"One afternoon I was returning from school, and as I got near the house I was staying in, I saw an American Army Jeep parked out front."  He stopped again, collecting his emotions, looking out the windshield again.  
"And I knew at last it was over.  That I had finally been found."


I turned to look at him, and even Susan rose from the back.  His eyes were glistening now, as the memories filled him, and he just sat silently for a moment, getting himself back together.


"We have a long drive there and back, Dad,"  I said.  "I think it's finally time you shared your story."

This is it. 

__________ 1 __________

Born in Ithaca, NY, Peter was the third child and only son of an Austrian Professor of Entomology at Cornell University and his wife, whose mother was English.  Paul and Edith had moved from Austria shortly after he had received his Doctorate from the University of Vienna in 1924.  Cornell had contacted the University, informing them that they had an open position for someone with a Ph.D. in Entomology, and my grandfather jumped at the chance.  As they both knew English, they adapted well to their new surroundings, and fit right into the community.  Before long they had two daughters, Edie and Tilli, and then my father, Peter was born in early February of 1931.
Peter's older sisters, Tilli and Edie in Ithaca the summer before he was born.

The academic life as curator and professor suited Paul well.  He loved working at Cornell; he loved Ithaca, and he loved the United States.  But because of his Austrian pride and heritage, he would not surrender his citizenship to become a U.S. citizen when he was asked; knowing that to do so he may one day be called upon to bear arms against his homeland -- something he just could never imagine.

(My grandfather was a true hero to the Austrians, having earned two of their highest medals of bravery and honor for heroic deeds in the line of battle, early on in the "Great War" against the Russians.  He was wounded severely twice, and the second time taken prisoner.  He eventually survived six years in Siberia, before finally being permitted to return home to Vienna in 1921.  With the Tzar defeated and dead, and the Bolshevik Socialists now in power, he left a different country than the one that had taken him prisoner.  And with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he returned to Austria -- a different country also, than what he had left behind.  But it was still his home.  He loved his homeland, had sacrificed, and had almost died for it.  And now he would never abandon it.  His story is worth a book or movie, himself.  One day.)
Edie and Peter when he was about two years old

Edie, Tilli and Peter were raised in a bilingual home, being forced to learn and speak German around the dinner table so that they would be comfortable with the language.  But without question, the three children were all American -- and U.S. citizens by birth.  While Paul was proud of his Austrian heritage, he was also thrilled his children were Americans.

In March of 1938, due primarily to the Great Depression that had devastated Austria, the Austrian government agreed to the "Anschluss", the merger between Austria and Germany.  While it may not have been favored by all, it was thought to be the best way for the country to recover, since Germany had begun its aggressive rebound.  The truth be told, however, Austria really didn't have too much of a choice in the matter, even had they refused Germany's offer.  The German Army had come across the border the day prior to the Annexation.  But for the Austrian people, the reality was that in many ways, life didn't change at all.

That summer Paul took his family and traveled on vacation, back to Austria so that the children had the opportunity to meet their relatives back in the homeland.  It was a chance for the children to spend time with their grandmothers and other members of the family all around Vienna and the surrounding areas.  These family ties would prove to be instrumental in the coming years.  Long-standing friendships were established and re-established, too.

During this time, Paul was offered a position at the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, but he declined.  He loved what he was doing back at Cornell, he explained.  The Directors were gracious in his refusal, however, and told him they would keep the offer open, should he ever change his mind.
Peter and Tilli visiting with cousins in Bratislava during summer 1938.

After a wonderful holiday of family gatherings, touring, hiking and rest, the family traveled to England to visit with cousins from Edith's mother's side of the family.  In mid-September they began the long trek back home by ship, narrowly escaping the "Great Hurricane of 1938" in the Atlantic, which ultimately made landfall on Long Island, devastating it and much of New England.  But another greater storm was on the horizon, and the family wasn't going to avoid this one; in fact they were about to head straight into it....

Just six months after their return to Ithaca, in the Spring of '39, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia.  Britain and the U.S. were not pleased with this action, and Britain declared that it would defend Poland should Poland be attacked.   The build up continued, and several months later on September 1, Germany invaded Poland.  On September 3, Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand declared war on Germany.  The Second World War had begun.

While the U.S. was not involved and wouldn't be for over two years, it made Paul's situation very awkward at Cornell.  He was now considered a "German" citizen by everyone, and he eventually realized he must return home to Austria.  So he wrote a letter, accepting the Museum's still standing offer in early 1940, and turned in his letter of resignation from Cornell.  Not wanting to take any chances of being stopped by the British and accused of being a spy, he headed west on a Greyhound bus to San Fransisco.  He then took a ship to Vladivastok, and then a train through Siberia (again) to Eastern Europe. 

Back in Ithaca, Edith sold the house, packed the furniture and the children, and they also returned to Austria.  She and the children, however, just traveled by ship, via the Atlantic to Spain and then France.  When reunited, the family settled in the small town of Moedling, just south of Vienna. 

For the next year or so, Paul and his family were all together in Moedling.  They lived with Paul's mother, "Grossi", while they searched for a house of their own.  Paul worked in the museum, while the children all attended school.  There was some initial teasing of the "American Boy", but Peter had learned to defend himself -- physically if necessary -- and eventually he became friends with the other boys around town.  It's funny how a bloody nose or two helps 10 year olds become friends. 

Futball (soccer) was the sport of choice for all the boys, and Peter soon caught on to the game.  Being left-footed, he was a natural left forward.  And before long, Peter was just as good with both his feet.  His attempts at teaching the other boys American football, however, never succeeded, as the rules were far too difficult for everyone to understand.

Peter's German was not up to par with the rest of the 5th graders, however, so he spent several weeks in each class below, working his way up in language and writing, before joining his peers.  Eventually he fit right in, looking and acting like all the rest, even if he was called "the American."

__________ 2 __________


As the war intensified, the family had to learn to live with "food tickets", rationing and other limitations, but still, they were together.  That changed shortly after they moved into their own house, in early 1942 when Paul was drafted into the service.  He was to be an officer -- not to fight, but more specifically, for his entomological background.  His orders stated that he was to be sent to Sardinia, where his knowledge and expertise would be useful to help men from contracting malaria.  He never shot another weapon, and stayed behind the lines doing his work and research to save lives, not take them.  (It should be noted that he -- like many Austrians -- supported his country, NOT the cause of the Nazis.)

Shortly after Paul had been called up to the Army, Edith received word that her mother, who lived in nearby Bratislava, had passed away. With the war now raging, getting her mother's belongings across the Czech border and to Moedling was not as easy as they had hoped.  But when the loaded truck finally did arrive, Edith was grateful to have the furniture that reminded her of her mother and family.  It was all stored in a separate apartment owned by the family.

One clear night, Peter was awakened by a piercing sound coming from the apartment building's roof above.  It was an air raid siren.  The next day they found out it went off because a British reconnaissance plane had flown above Moedling.  The war was coming even closer to home, the people realized.  And from that point forward, when the air raid siren blew, a man-made fog was released from canisters strategically placed around town, to make targets on the ground less visible to bombers above.  Unfortunately for Peter and those in town, it was also quite irritating to the throat.

In 1943, after the German Army had failed on the Eastern Front and surrendered at Stalingrad, citizens were asked if they were ready for "total war against their enemies!", by the Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels.  Peter thought this statement was both comical and ironic -- especially since he and his sisters were American, living right next door to an Austrian man who had married a Russian lady.  Meanwhile, on the other side of their home lived a German family.  All these neighbors got along wonderfully, looking out for each other, and helping each other where they could!

Even in Paul's absence, however, life went on.  Edie and Tilli attended a girls' school, (Edie was almost graduated) while Peter continued to go to a boys' school.  They had each adapted well, and they all had friends, good friends that they cared for deeply.  And that cared for them.  Still, the war continued creeping closer to home.

In the beginning of 1944, an early warning system was initiated on the local radio station, so the family learned to keep the radio on constantly.  Now they were initially alerted to bombing runs by a "cuckoo" sound during the programming.  Then, as the bombers got closer, the sirens would sound as before.  But with a few more minutes warning to prepare, the people were no longer caught as unaware.  When during these most recent raids, Moedling started to get struck by stray bombs, everyone realized the war was finally coming upon them.  The mood of the town, already concerned, became depressed.

Finally, the people realized they could no longer count on their schools being safe places for the children in town.  So they gathered the boys together, and sent them by train about 200 miles to the east, away to Stola, a small village in the Tatra Mountains in Eastern Slovakia.  The girls, including Tilli, were sent to a village near Stola , about 10 miles away, called Tatra Lomnitz.  Edie had graduated, and stayed behind with their mother.

Peter was escorted to the train station by his mother and Edie.  He gave them a hug, and then loaded his baggage on to the train with the other boys.  He wondered when he may see them again.  The train went about half the way to Stola, before it stopped and the boys were told to disembark.  They spent the night in a hotel, and early the next morning, they were back on a train completing the rest of the journey.

__________ 3 __________

Once they had arrived in Stola, Peter and the boys were led to a large, two-story log cabin facility on the hillside nearby.  This building became their home for more than the next six months.  But away from the bombing did not necessarily mean that they were safe and sound....
The large log facility in Stola that was home for more than six months in 1944.

Supervision at the school camp was poor; and when one of Peter's good friends, Sperl, developed appendicitis within just weeks of their arrival, he wasn't treated properly or in a timely manner.  When Sperl died, the boys were shocked and saddened.  Peter was asked to be one of the boys who carried their friend's coffin back to the train station and to the freight car where the body was then returned to his mother.  Edith greeted the train with the boy's grieving mother, and later attended his funeral, comforting her the whole time.

Never one to take any situation calmly without a fight, concern rose from Edith and the other parents.  The nurse at the school was replaced for her failure to properly diagnose and treat Sperl in a timely manner   But no other improvements were seen.  Contaminated water, spoiled meat, and unsanitary conditions led to more than a dozen of the boys, including Peter, contracting hepatitis.  Peter and the others spent three weeks in the school's "sick bay", recovering slowly.  Yet little was done to improve conditions, and there was not much his mother or the parents could do about it anymore.

After he had recovered, the food situation at the school continued to worsen.  In fact one day, the cook tried to get away with serving the boys "soup" for dinner.  The problem was the warm broth was pink and sweet.  They surmised that the cook had tried to get away with heating up pudding and trying to pass it off as a meal.  The boys didn't eat it, and went hungry that night.  There wasn't much at all about the food to be pleased excited about.

So Peter was surprised one day to see several of his friends with mischievous smiles after a day spent in the surrounding area.  He asked what was going on, and they took him outside.  They had stolen a goose from a nearby farmer, killed and plucked it, and roasted it on a fire deep in the woods.  The boys were learning to look out and fend for themselves now.

As Peter got more familiar with the area, he decided to visit his sister.  Even though the woods surrounding the road between the towns were dangerous and reportedly filled with "Slovak Partisans", guerrillas fighting against the Germans, Peter decided to risk it, and early one Sunday morning he hiked the road to visit Tilli.  She was surprised and delighted to see him, and they spent the afternoon together, before Peter hiked the 10 miles back to Stola.  Peter resolved to do that at least once a month, on Sundays, which seemed to be more quiet, to keep at least some contact with family.  Fortunately he was never threatened by the local guerrillas as he made his trek over the next several months.

Back in Stola on a late July afternoon, he was hanging out with his professors in the dining area.  Not that he was there to learn, but they ate better food and often gave their leftovers to the boys.  Listening to their animated discourse, Peter overheard a new word he did not understand:  "Attentat."  He asked what it meant, and they informed him that there had been an "Assassination" attempt on Hitler.  The professors were all sitting around discussing the audacity of anyone who would dare try such a feat against "der Fuehrer."   It wasn't clear whether any of them were for it or against it, because one still had to be quite careful about what one said in public.  One never knew what another may report to the authorities.

The Eastern Front continued to get closer as the German ranks retreated and the Russians advanced.  One Autumn morning word got back to the boys that during the previous night several German officials had been killed by Slovak partisans in a hotel between Stola and Vienna.  Peter realized that they were now in the middle of the war zone.  So did the administrators, and the boys were all loaded back onto a freight train and sent back to Vienna.  This time the boys stayed on the train all the way, without an overnight  stay at a hotel....

Upon arriving in Vienna, they got to spend two weeks in Moedling before being sent to their next destination -- the resort town less than 50 miles south of Moedling, known as Semmering.  Peter was excited when he heard the news, as he had spent time there with his family several years earlier, and had loved it.  It was beautiful!  The day came, and 25 boys, including Peter, were loaded onto a bus and taken to a large villa just outside of Semmering in the mountains.  Two older teachers were assigned to them, and also stayed in what was formerly a private villa known as Katrinenhof, now confiscated by the government for its official use as a boarding school.

__________ 4 __________

The villa in Semmering where Peter and the boys spent late 1944 into Spring 1945

The boys spent the winter in the mountains of Semmering, but were once again given freedom to roam the area.  On one afternoon's excursion in the mountains, Peter was with three other classmates, when they heard the "buzz" of oncoming fighter planes echoing in the valley.  They turned to look in the direction of the noise, and saw in the valley approaching them at their same altitude level, were two American fighter planes.  Not knowing the pilots' intentions, the boys threw themselves into a ditch as the planes came towards them, in case the pilots decided to strafe them with machine gun fire.  They didn't, and as the planes flew by, they flew so close Peter could make out the sunglasses each of the pilots wore.  The boys got up after they passed, and continued their walk.

A little farther down, they came across a German Anti-Aircraft machine gun post manned by two soldiers.  As they exchanged comments about the experience, the soldiers said the planes were in their sites the whole time, but their orders were to shoot them down only if the Americans shot first, or attacked any of the industrial sites below in the valley.  Peter joked about how the Americans were probably just enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery of the region, and they all laughed.

In early '45, the war intensified more, and massive skeins of American B-24 bombers based in Italy regularly flew overhead on their bombing runs to Vienna.  Their high altitude condensation stripes stretched in irregular patterns, so that flak and Anti-Aircraft fire couldn't anticipate and target them, and their final precise destination remained a surprise until the last moment when they released their loads.  All the windows would rattle, and the air hummed as hundreds of planes flew high above.  Then the inevitable rumble of the carpet bombing would be heard in the distance, as railroads yards, factories, and -- unfortunately, whole neighborhoods were wiped out.
A photo of the B-24 "Liberators" flying over Austria in 1944


(I once asked my father what it was like to be an American citizen living in Austria, watching your native country's bombers destroying the homeland of your father.  He replied, that it was difficult, and he was emotionally torn:  like a child watching his parents having an terrible argument!  I thought that was a very revealing, personal insight.)

One cloudy day Peter heard a plane much closer than the bombers flew, and he ran to the window to watch from his window as a low flying twin-tailed P-38 Lightning flew over their villa, and dropped its single bomb into the valley nearby, attempting to hit a bridge.  It missed, and Peter guessed the pilot was just looking to unload his bomb on anything.  At least it didn't hit a house, he thought.  The plane flew away over the mountains back to its base.

Among Peter's friends at the villa was one boy, Dieter, who was not from Moedling.  He wasn't even Austrian, but German.  Dieter spoke with a northern German accent, and spoke of how his father was a rocket engineer with the Germans (perhaps working on the V-2 project).  How he came to be among the southern Austrian boys, nobody knew; but he was accepted as one of them, none-the-less.  Dieter had a radio, and late at night when there was no supervision, the boys would all gather around and listen to BBC broadcasts.  This simple act was strictly forbidden and illegal, and had they been found out, their teachers would have been arrested.  But they kept the radio hidden, were careful about their listening habits, and were never caught.  After all, these boys had learned almost a year ago how important it was to be careful -- and independent.  They were still fending for themselves.

Peter interpreted what the broadcasters said for his friends, and they realized that the truth of what was being said on the radio, was far different than what they had been told by German officials.  German propaganda and newspapers would still have them believe the Germans were winning.  The boys knew the truth, and wondered how anybody, anymore could believe the German lies.  All one needed was eyes that were open, and ears that could hear....
Peter (bottom row, 2nd from right) and many of the boys from school.

__________ 5 __________

March of 1945 brought the war closer still.  Artillery was now on the Hungarian plains to the east, and the two elderly professors realized they could no longer guarantee the boys' safety.  Per sealed instructions they had received earlier, they told the boys to each pack one suitcase (leaving most of their belongings behind) and loaded them up on the back of a truck to the train station in the valley.  As they reached the station, however, German troops occupied it and told them the trains were no longer running.  The Russians now had control of the northern tracks from Vienna, and had stopped all trains heading out from the city.  The boys were returned to the villa, and told to repack just their essential belongings into a rucksack that they could carry.  Peter spent much of the evening trying to decide just which of his goods were "essential."  The next morning, they were told that since the Russians had already taken over the areas to the north, all the boys were to begin their walk to the west.  Moedling was north.

Peter and his classmates walked down from the villa to the main road, where they joined thousands of other refugees from Hungary and points east, all heading west.  Everyone was attempting to escape the advancing Russian troops and tanks.  Families with horse-driven carts, soldiers in Hungarian uniforms, villagers and farmers made up the mass of humanity heading to safety -- heading, hopefully, to the Americans.  They all wanted to avoid the Russians.

After hiking well over 20 miles, the boys were surprised to see a lumber truck fighting the massive flow of refugees, heading the other way.  How stupid, they thought.  Didn't the driver know what was behind them?  As the truck slowly reached them, one of the boys, Johnnie, recognized that it was his uncle driving the truck.  He shouted and stopped the truck.  After greeting Johnnie and the boys, the driver told them he had been ordered to pick up a load of lumber in the next town; his boss back in Moedling had no idea of the chaos he was facing.  Johnnie's uncle asked if the boys would like a ride back when he returned.  If so, they were to meet him in the next village at 6:00 p.m.

The boys thought about their options, and readily agreed to return back home.  They made their way to the meeting point and waited.  They were even more thrilled when he showed up earlier than expected with an empty truck bed, having realized the futility of trying to pick up lumber during all this mayhem.  Tired, and with sore feet, the boys gratefully climbed aboard.  As it was now night time, the driver had to be careful on the roads.  There was no traffic, and he drove without headlights on the back roads north to Moedling, going between Russian held and German held borders.  As they drove, they passed a huge burning building in the distance, that lit up the night sky, with a fire so intense Peter wondered if it was the nearby paint factory he had heard about.  Its smokestack glowed bright orange like a giant candle in the night, he thought.

Suddenly the truck hit something on the road, and coasted to a stop.  Johnnie's uncle got out and inspected the truck.  Whatever they hit had damaged the oil line and the truck was dying fast, as the oil leaked out.  The uncle got back in, drove a bit more -- as far as he could -- and then pulled over to a parking lot in the small wine-producing mountain village of Gumpoldskirchen.  There he told the boys they would have to walk the rest of the way.  They thanked him, and continued for the last bit of their hike.  They knew they had less than five miles to go.

As they hiked down the hill to the valley, the sun was just rising over the horizon to the east.  Reaching the bottom, they approached a large building used by the local train officials.  They all approached the guard house, and one of the boys, Huss, entered it.  His father was the commanding officer of the facility, so after he identified himself, they were all permitted to enter.  During their brief rest there, Peter asked one of the guards what he expected everyone to be doing that day.  What did he think would happen that day?  His answer surprised him.

"The people will get up in the morning -- like they always do, and go to their jobs -- like they always do!"

Peter and the boys walked away, realizing that the men there had no idea what had been happening, and how close the end of the war was.  They would realize soon enough, he thought,... soon enough.

__________ 6 __________

They were almost home now, and Peter hurried the last several blocks to his house.  He slowed down as he approached the closed gate, and saw that the windows were all open.  This had been done, he realized, to prevent breakage from the shockwaves of bursting bombs nearby.  He rang the bell at the gate and waited.

The elderly caretaker of their house approached with her daughter.  "It's Peter," she cried out, and greeted him warmly.

"Please, come to my apartment.  Your house is empty.  Tilli arrived several days ago, and your mother and sisters left soon afterwards. To go west, to escape the Russians.  You will stay here and rest until later in the morning.  Then you can go to your grandmother's house and learn the particulars from her."

Exhausted, both emotionally and physically, Peter gladly took her advice.  Several hours later, Peter was sitting with his grandmother, hearing how Edith, Edie and Tilli all had packed up and left Moedling, knowing fully well how the Russians would treat young and even middle-aged women.  His grandmother would stay here, but Peter had to decide what his next move was going to be....  How was he going to get back to his family....

Public transportation and local trains were dangerous, he knew, as low-flying fighter planes were regularly strafing railroads and buses, killing and wounding hundreds around the area, in the Allies' attempt to immobilize all traffic.  Peter did, however, have an old bicycle that had been given to him by his cousin years ago, after he had outgrown it.  He decided he would stay with his grandmother for a couple of days and rest, and then get on his bike and head west. 

The next day Russian shells started whining overhead, towards Vienna, and word spread that Russian troops now completely surrounded the city.  Leaving was no longer an option, and Peter realized he had been fortunate that he hadn't tried to leave the previous day.

As he walked back to his grandmother's house, a few German vehicles drove past him with dead and wounded soldiers being carried away from the lines.  He was amazed at how quickly circumstances had deteriorated around him.

The following day, many of Peter's friends who were a just year or two older, were organized into a defense force, and marched down the street with bazookas, hand grenades and whatever small arms they could find.  They sang German marching songs as they marched towards combat, and Peter wondered what they honestly thought they could accomplish.  Fools, he thought.

(Years later, he would learn that most of these young recruits had gone AWOL the second night, but a few were taken prisoner, never to be seen again.)

The artillery and bombing became worse, and Peter decided to head to the town's air raid shelter -- a hollowed out mountain cave just outside of town.  "Grossi" declared that she would stay in her apartment, whatever the consequences.  She was too old to go live in a mountain!  She was 81 and deaf, anyway, so she couldn't hear the bombs.  She only felt the vibrations and shock waves.  She encouraged him to leave though, so Peter reluctantly went to the mountain without her.  Once he reached the cave filled with refugees, however, he felt quite alone.

Leaning against the stone wall of the shelter, waiting with all the other people, Peter was thrilled when Tilli's best friend Gerti recognized him and came over to talk.  They spoke for a few minutes, and she invited him to sit down with her and her parents.  He happily accepted.  Gerti was 16 or 17, a very pretty girl, with blond, curly hair and blue eyes.  Her father was a silent man who Peter noticed treated his wife bitterly for some reason, but her mother was portly and friendly.  They both happily accepted Peter to be with them.

They had spent two days and nights in the shelter, before someone came running in and told everyone that the Russians had captured Moedling.  The people in there were told that they may not leave until the Russian commander, a major, had walked through the facility to assure himself that there were no German soldiers hiding among the people.  When at last he arrived, he slowly made his way through the crowd, inspecting them one and all.  There were no Germans there, he saw, so he gave word, and they were finally told they could all return to their homes.  The war was now over for them....

But their troubles were not.

__________ 7 __________

As the Russian troops advanced, they pillaged and plundered all the areas around them.  They stole and drank the wine in Gumpoldskirchen and the other wine regions, and no house or building was safe from their rampages.  The Russian soldiers seemed intent on collecting watches, among other baubles and jewelry, and it was nothing to see one walk by with numerous watches up and down his wrists and arms.  The wealth of Austria was theirs for the taking, and the Russians took advantage of their victory.  Down to the fact that many of the soldiers had never seen a toilet seat before.  Consequently, not sure where they may have to "go" the next time, it was not uncommon to see soldiers walking around town with a toilet seat around their necks, to use where ever they may be the next time nature called.

And women, all women, were in danger of being raped -- especially if the soldiers had been drinking. 

One of Gerti's neighbors, the Freunschlags, had a four story apartment and invited several families to stay with them on the fourth floor, knowing that drunk soldiers would be lazy and not want to hike up four flights of stairs in search of women.  Gerti's family, with Peter, were among those that gladly took them up on the offer.

Days went by, and food became more and more scarce.  Looting and raiding became commonplace.  The small local grocery store that was owned by one of Peter's friend's family was among those first pillaged.  Peter was grateful when he was later able to scavenge a large 10- liter container of apricot jam from the store.  It was his contribution to the population in the large apartment.

A couple of days after that, Peter looked out the apartment window and recognized his elderly Aunt Berti walking down the street.  Her stiff-legged gait, seemed more exaggerated than normal.  He rushed down the flights of stairs and out to greet her, giving her a long hug.  She broke down in tears after they embraced, and she told him that she had been raped by three Russian officers earlier.  He comforted her as best he could, and after several minutes of talking together they parted, and she continued on her way back home.

While Peter, Gerti's family, and the others all lived on the fourth floor apartment, the Russians became bolder with their exploits, invading occupied homes now, looking for any items of value.  The Freunschlags were no exception.  One afternoon several Russians came to their home and started tearing things apart as the Freunschlags could do nothing but watch.  The soldiers went out back and discovered a small 4-door 1938 Ford that the Freunschlags had kept hidden under a pile of junk throughout the entire course of the war.  Now it was being taken away from them, and Mrs. Freunschlag began to cry.  The Russians, however, were very pleased with their find, and left the house without looking any further for anything -- or anyone.

Finally, after more than a week there, Gerti's father decided that it was time to move back to their own home a block and a half away.  They invited Peter to come live with them, however, because they realized he could be quite useful.  During the next few weeks, there were many nights when the Russians knocked on the door demanding entry.  They were drunk, and the family knew what they were after.  Upstairs, Peter would quickly climb into Gerti's bed, as she crawled out onto the back roof.  When they came to the bedroom, he would then claim to be their child, feigning that he was just waking up.  As the soldiers inquired and looked around, they saw that there were no more unoccupied beds in the home, so they never suspected any differently than that Peter was their son.  And Gerti remained pure, much to everyone's relief.

One morning Peter was sitting by the bedroom window, and saw a soldier walk by on the street.  But not just any soldier, this one had an American flag on his shoulder.  He rushed out the door and ran to greet him.  Shocked to hear another American voice, the soldier and he exchanged stories.  He was a pilot from Marshall, Texas who had been shot down over Romania.  He had hidden from the Germans in the woods for several days before the Russians eventually overran the area.  They told him to follow them until his transportation to the American side could be arranged.  But they kept delaying his deportation, however, as they continuously sought his expertise with captured German aircraft that they were not familiar with.  After a long and welcome chat with another American, they shook hands, embraced, and the pilot continued on his walk.  Peter returned to the house and informed Gerti and her parents that it was time for him to leave.  He must return to his Grandmother's and see if he could find out how his family was.

__________ 8 __________

Upon his return to Grossi's apartment, Peter was surprised to see that part of it was now occupied by Russian officers.  Grossi was fine, having survived both the shelling and the aftermath, and they hugged each other tightly.  She had been worried to death about him.
Peter with his "Grossi"

The Russian officers sharing her apartment were more civil than the others, such as the ones his aunt had encountered, and Peter and his grandmother were grateful for that.  The officers even shared meat and vegetables they had, in exchange for the use of Grossi's kitchen.  That was greatly appreciated during this time.  The one thing he noticed, however, was that his bicycle was now missing.

On May 1, a traditional Labor holiday in Europe, the Russians planned a special ceremony in front of Moedling's City Hall to commemorate the "Liberation of the People by the Proletariat".  Peter decided to attend the ceremony to see what it was all about.

While standing among the crowd, a young woman approached him.  He recognized her as she had been the maid of one of Peter's earliest close friends, Gerhardt Stoehr.  She asked if he had heard what had happened to his family.  He shook his head, no.

Gerhardt's father was the chief of staff at the hospital in Moedling, similar to Peter's grandfather years before him.  Dr. Stoehr had ordered his staff to remove all the pictures of Hitler from the hospital walls two days earlier.  The Gestapo caught wind of his action, however, and he was ordered to report to their headquarters the next day.  He returned home instead, and tragically decided to take the lives of his family and himself with his own hand, rather than face a certain and horrible death at the hands of the Gestapo.  Ironically, though the family couldn't have known it yet, April 30 was when Hitler had taken his own life in Berlin....  Both Peter and the young maid shook their heads in disbelief and horror.  What an awful tragedy.  What a loss.

The next day while walking by their house, he noticed that the doors were open.  He walked inside, and saw that it had already been ransacked.  Among the items on the floor, was an undeveloped roll of film.  Peter picked it up, to have it developed later... a sad remembrance of his good friend and his family's tragic fate.

Life continued for those that remained, but times were not easy.  When Paul's sister, Mitz showed up at Grossi's one day, she told them how she had left Czechoslovakia to escape the Russians.  She made it to Moedling, and they were happy to have her stay with them.  She quickly made herself useful and went to work, cooking for the family, and doing laundry for the Russians.  This allowed Grossi to finally have some rest.

A couple weeks later Peter walked by what had been his house and saw that it, too, had been looted.  He went inside and hid the photos of himself so that any other looters wouldn't recognize him and ask where any secret supplies were.  He then went down into the basement and walked to the back near the furnace.  There, under their pile of coal reserves, the family had kept a metal foot locker filled with canned goods and food stuffs.  It was still there.  

He left the home, and went back to Grossi's.  When the sun had set, he returned to his family's house with a wooden wheel barrow.  Under cover of darkness, he got the foot locker, opened it, and sneaked the food back to his Grandmother and Aunt Mitz.  Coffee, Crisco shortening, sugar, flour and other dried foods were a welcome sight by all, and they appreciated his effort -- and the fact that he had remembered the food!

Days later, while wandering around town one day, Peter saw a young boy riding his bicycle.  He confronted him, asking where he had gotten the bike.  "A Russian gave it to me," the boy said.  When Peter explained what had happened and how that was his bicycle, the boy returned it to him, and Peter rode it back to Grossi's.  But later that same afternoon, there was a knock at the door.  The boy's father had shown up demanding the return of the bike to his son.  The Russians had "liberated" the bike, he claimed, and given it to his son; so therefore, it was rightfully his!  Rather than put up an argument, Peter let them take the bike.  He never saw the boy, or his bike, around town again.  Oh well, he thought.  Perhaps he had outgrown it, too, like his cousin before him.


__________ 9 __________

The rest of the summer was spent with Aunt Mitz scavenging and bartering for food.  They hiked outside of town and would trade silver, clothing or shoes with the farmers for fresh fruits and vegetables.  Sometimes, the farmers' wives would take pity on them, and offer them some food for free.  They gladly accepted what they could get, as many people who lived in the city now were literally starving.  There were no more shipments of food coming into town regularly, as there were no businesses currently operating since the end of the war.  And there was no organized government anymore, either.  Everyone had to fend for themselves.

Like Germany and Berlin, Austria and Vienna were eventually formally divided into four different occupied zones -- British, French, American, and Russian -- and Moedling was in the Russian zone.  Gates and guards were set up, and it became illegal to cross one sector to another without proper authorization.  People were stuck where they were, and travel beyond the regions was not permitted.  Everyone was a prisoner of whichever zone they were in -- especially those within the Russian borders.
Austria, as it was subdivided into zones following the war.  Vienna is the grey circle in the middle of the Russian Zone.
Surrounded by the Russian Zone, Vienna was itself then subdivided into four zones.  Moedling was in the Zone to the south of the city.

Summer turned to fall, and one day in the early fall, Peter was walking on the outskirts of town on one of his scavenging jaunts.  Suddenly, from behind him came a dark green U.S. Army staff car.  There were two Army lieutenants inside, and when they saw a local teenager in lederhosen in front of them, they stopped to ask him for directions.  In very broken, and awkward German, they asked Peter if they were on the correct road to Gumpoldskirchen.  They were the managers of the Officers' Hotel in downtown Vienna, they explained, and they were searching for some wine to take back to the hotel.  Imagine their surprise, when Peter started speaking to them in their own language!

Peter told them that the Russians had wiped out Gumpoldskirchen and most of the other regions of any wine, and that their search was probably fruitless.  While disheartened with that report, the lieutenants laughed at the coincidence of them stopping and asking directions from the one American anywhere around.  After a long talk, they thanked him, wished him well, turned around and went back on their way. 

With the guns of war now silent, eventually one food item that had been warehoused was released to the population -- dried peas.  Unfortunately, they had been stored improperly, and each pea was infested by a bug or worm.  None-the-less, everyone was thankful to receive the peas, as there were simply no other stored foods to be had.  The peas would be soaked in water for a day, and then each pea was opened by hand, so that the dead bug could be removed.  Then the family could make what Peter thought was a wonderful pea soup for dinner.  Many times, Peter went to bed still hungry, only to sneak down to the kitchen and steal a spoonful or two more of soup that had been left over for the next day.

One day, a dear old family friend, Mr. Bergler, stopped by Grossi's for a visit.  While there, he made a point of asking Peter to come to their house later in the day, as soon as possible.  Peter obeyed, and followed him home.  Upon arriving at the Bergler home, Peter was taken to a back room where he was greeted by a young man named "Buby" Deveret.

A soldier in the German Army, Deveret had successfully sneaked across the Line of Demarcation, between the Russian and American zones, to check in on his own parents in Moedling.  He greeted Peter with a wide grin, and told him some welcome news.

He had happened to meet Peter's mother and sisters, who were safely in the American Zone to the west.  They had been constantly inquiring about his whereabouts, as well as his entire class of boys, and yet they hadn't heard anything now for over six months.  They were worried to death, having been told only that "the boys had been evacuated towards the west" from Semmering.  But they had obviously never arrived.

Deveret said  he would be happy to report back to them that he was okay, once he sneaked back across the line to the American side again.  In the meantime, Peter could not mention his visit to anybody, lest he get caught!  If confronted by any officials, he had no proper identification or papers authorizing his visit there.  Peter understood the serious nature of the situation, and didn't tell anyone about the visit.  But he was very thankful for the daring young soldier, and his mission across the line. 

After the visit, Peter never saw Buby again.  But he thought about him often, and could only hope for the best.

__________ 10 __________

As some semblance of Government took over again, in September the schools were re-opened.  Peter, along with many of his friends, returned to the school they had attended before the war had sent them out of town.  But things were very different than before.  And it wasn't just that Peter was older, or no longer with his immediate family.  Still, going back to school was at least a return to something normal again.

When one afternoon Peter heard that several American trucks were in town, he rushed to where they were.  In the heart of the small downtown, he saw a dozen or more 2 1/2 ton trucks, with African American drivers and guards surrounding them, awaiting further instructions.  Peter approached one and asked what was in the trucks.  The soldier looked at Peter, surprised and amused at his American accent.  He smiled and told him he couldn't say anything more than it was a valuable load that anyone would like to have.  When a new currency was introduced a few days later, Peter surmised that the trucks had been full of the "Austrian Schillings" that now replaced the Marks, that had been the currency of the people.

Shortly after the Schilling made its debut, Peter encountered a Russian Officer who was obviously very drunk.  He stopped Peter, and in broken, slurred German, asked him where he might be able to find a "pretty girl".  Just at that moment, a young mother rounded the corner with her baby in a stroller.  The officer stopped her, and admired the child for a moment. Peter took that moment to tell her in Austrian "street slang" that he knew the Russian couldn't understand, to leave as quickly as possible, as the Russian's intentions were anything but pure!  She didn't say a word but obeyed him immediately.  As she was hurrying away, the Russian took out a stack of the new 50 Schilling notes, and told Peter he was willing to part with some of them, if he knew where he could have a "good time!"  Peter refused, playing dumb, and walked away.  The Russian went on his way, still drunk, frustrated, and still alone.

One morning when there was no school, Peter was walking down one of the main streets of town when a Russian truck that was driving by, stopped suddenly and several armed Russian soldiers got out.  They captured Peter and about 10 other people, forced them into the back of the truck, and then quickly drove off.  Peter and the others were all scared to death, as the truck rumbled down the street, heading out of town.  They had heard many horror stories about people disappearing, never to be seen or heard from again.  The Russians had frequently kidnapped people, transported them back to the U.S.S.R., to help with the dismantling of equipment and industrial machinery no longer needed.  They were easy slave labor, in essence.  And they may or may not return....

The truck drove to the outskirts of Moedling and stopped in front of a large house.  The captives were forced off the truck, and instructed to enter the house.  They all complied quietly, too scared to hesitate, yet unsure what their purpose was.

Once inside, the Russians told them that they wanted them to move furniture from this house.  For the next several hours, Peter and the rest of the crew tirelessly carried furniture from the house, and out to the truck.  When all the desired furniture was loaded into the back of the truck, they were instructed to get back in the truck, where they proceeded to drive to a house occupied by Russian officers.  After moving the furniture off of the truck and into the new location, the crew waited to be released.  But they were not.  They sat around and waited for a long time more, wondering again what their fate may be.  Finally a messenger arrived, who instructed the Russians to load up the crew and deliver them back in town, exactly where they had been picked up.  Never was such news greeted with more joy, and when Peter hopped off the truck back in town, he ran back to Grossi's again, relieved and exhausted.

Autumn was now in full swing, the leaves had turned and dropped, and the weather grew colder.  It would not be long before they could have the first snow of the season, people were starting to say.  What would that mean to everyone?  Food was still difficult to come by, and the winter would only make things worse.  It did not make Peter feel any better about his situation.  He missed his family more than ever....

While grateful to be living with Grossi and Mitz, he had had no direct contact of any kind with his immediate family for well over six months now.  He had not seen his mother and Edie since that day at the train station almost 18 months earlier.  And it had been three years since he had seen his father.  Was he even still  alive?  He knew that his mother and sisters were alive, if what Buby had told him was true.  But had Buby made it safely back across the Line to the American side?  And even if he did, was he able to follow through and let his mother know that he was okay?  Peter wondered each of these fates.  And yet he continued on, day to day, taking each day as it came, with whatever circumstances it may bring.  His attitude was to take one day at a time, and not think too much about the future.  It could drive you crazy, he realized.  He knew it would end....  One day, it had to end.  The question was when.

So one cool afternoon, as he headed back to Grossi's after school, he rounded the corner to her street.  His eyes were down on the road, as he had his collar up against the cold.  When he glanced up he saw the most wonderful thing in the world.

__________ 11 __________

Parked directly in front of Grossi's apartment was a U.S. Army Jeep.  Peter knew that it must mean good news, and he ran the last bit, through the gate and up the steps to her apartment home.  He was out of breath by the time he ran inside and found her.  Sure enough, sitting with Grossi was an American Army Major, by the name of V.O. Robertson.

The Major stood up and greeted Peter warmly as he walked in, and after exchanging pleasantries, he told him that he had two sons of his own, about Peter's age.  The Major then went on to say how he worried about them back in Columbus, Ohio -- and they weren't even in a war zone.  So he could only imagine how much Peter's own family must be worried about him.

He explained to Peter and Grossi that he had been stationed in the U.S. Claims Office back in Salzburg earlier.  He had been assigned an Austrian woman with two daughters who had traveled to the American Zone from Tyrol (which was within the French Zone) to help with the interpretation of various documents.  They were all fluent in both German and English, and quite useful to the American office.  When the mother explained to him that she had a son that was missing in Moedling, he told her that he would find the boy and get him back to her, no matter what he had to do.  Now that he had been transferred to Vienna, he took it upon himself to follow up on his word and find Peter.  After doing some homework, following up on names and finding addresses, he had driven from Vienna that afternoon, and so here he sat.

An attorney back in the States, Major Robertson explained that it would probably take until Christmas to get all the proper paperwork in good order and processed, which would allow Peter to then transfer across the border safely and legally, back to his family.  In the mean time while they waited, he instructed Peter to come and have dinner with him every week at his hotel in downtown Vienna, where he was now staying.  It was with great happiness and relief that both Peter and Grossi said goodbye, when the Major's welcome visit was over.  There was finally a light at the end of the tunnel.

And to make things even better, just a couple days later Grossi received a postcard from Paul, who was in an American Detention Camp.  He expected to be processed and released shortly, he hoped, within a few months.  As Grossi finished reading the postcard, she realized that he, too, was in Salzburg!  Yet neither he nor Edith and the girls realized how close they were to each other.  This had been a very good week, indeed!


Paul had been in southern Germany when the War had ended.  Because of his knowledge of English, Paul was asked to be the officer in charge of contacting the Americans for the German surrender in the area.  When he had telephoned the Americans to work out the details, one of them asked Paul where he learned to speak English so well - and with an American accent.  He told him about his time in the Entomology Department at Cornell, and one can only imagine Paul's surprise, when the officer on the other end of the line told another officer standing next to him, only to hear him say, "Yes, I knew Dr. Babiy at Cornell!"  The transfer of command for the region went off without a hitch.


__________ 12 __________


Over the next few weeks Peter looked forward to his visits with Major Robertson in Vienna.  During one visit with him, Peter was with his cousin Dorli, who had been widowed during the war.  Dorli lived in Vienna, and took delight in showing the Major the sites of her beautiful city, and the two struck up a pleasant friendship.

But no visit was greater than the one when Major Robertson told Peter that he had received all of the paperwork, and it was in order:  Peter was now free to cross the border.  Now Robertson just needed to arrange the transportation.


Shortly after that, Robertson told Peter that he had arranged for Peter to have a ticket to ride the "Mozart Express" - a U.S. Military train that went between Vienna and Salzburg.  He would leave that night.  Peter smiled when he realized it was almost Christmas Eve.


Peter packed his meager belongings at Grossi's and gave her and Mitz a warm, long embrace.  They had been through so much together these last several months.  And he would never forget the love and support they had shown him.

Indeed, he realized, family had meant so much through all of this experience -- whether it was the "family" of boys that had embraced him, and that had all grown close together at school in Moedling -- and then off in Stola -- and then finally in Semmering.

Or whether it was Gerti's family, who had embraced him as their own son for several weeks upon his return to Moedling at the end of the war.

Or his own extended family of Grossi, and Mitz and Berti and Dorli, who had all shown love and acceptance and endurance during the toughest of times.  These were times and people he would never forget.

That evening Major Robertson escorted him to the train station in Vienna, and made sure he got on the restricted train car without any problems.  Peter was an unusual passenger on this train full of military personnel, and he was told to lower his black window shade once the train left the station until they were out of the Russian Zone.  Only once they were beyond Linz could he raise the blind again.  Peter and the Major shook hands, and the Major wished him well.  Peter thanked him for everything, and as the trained rolled out of the station that night, he watched him standing on the side, with a salute.

There had never been a longer train ride in the world, Peter thought.  Too excited to even think about sleeping, he finally raised his blind when he could, and watched the lights and the landscape go by in the dark.  Even the monotonous clicking of the wheels on the track didn't make him sleepy....

Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, just before sunrise, the train slowed down as it pulled into the station of Salzburg.  The wheels screeched as the train finally came to a slow, jolting stop.

Peter gathered his bag, and silently made his way to the door, in line, among the other passengers.  He wondered who might be waiting for him at this early hour.  As he slowly descended down the steps and onto the platform, he glanced down the way towards the terminal, and for the first time in a year and a half, he saw his mother.  He smiled.  The last time he had seen her had also been at a railroad station.

She rushed over to greet him, tears filling her eyes, as she embraced him with all the strength her small body could muster!  It was the happiest day of her life, since the day he had been born, she said!  And now, he had grown so much!

She wouldn't let go of him for a long, long time.  And then, still holding him close, she led him back to their apartment where Tillie and Edie were waiting.

It was a wonderful Christmas -- the best in several years, but the family was still not quite complete.

One day a couple of months later, shortly after Peter's 15th birthday, a U.S. Army Jeep pulled up to the family's apartment.  They saw that it had a steel helmeted driver, a passenger, and a steel helmeted guard in the back with a rifle pointed up into the air.  It was obvious whoever the passenger was, the guards had been instructed to not let this "prisoner" get away.  The family walked outside, to see who it was, only to see their father!  They couldn't believe it!  He exited the Jeep and was surrounded by his joyful family.  Somehow he had managed to arrange a visit, even though he was still being "detained".  The family went into the apartment, where one of the G.I.s then stood guard at the door.  But all that did is assure the family some privacy, for which they were very grateful.

Over the next hour or so the family had private time all together, for the first time in over four years.  When the time was up, Paul walked back to the Jeep, where the soldiers escorted him back to his camp.  He was later released, once and for all, about two months after that visit, in the Spring of 1946.  While the repercussions of the war would last for years, at least the family was together, again, safe and sound.... 

__________ EPILOGUE __________

Edith and Paul ended up settling in Salzburg, where they would spend the rest of their long and healthy lives.  Edie was the first of the children to return back to the States, followed by Tilli, and then several years later Peter returned home, as well.  He returned to Ithaca and put himself through Cornell, driving an ambulance at night and on weekends.  He also joined the U.S. Air Force R.O.T.C. program, and served his country four years after college, before accepting a position with a Fortune 500 company in the civilian world. 

Each child married and had families of their own, Edie in Florida, Tilli in Missouri and then Tennessee, and Peter who moved around the most -- including back to Europe for five years --, but ultimately settled in Delaware for most of his career.


He is now retired and living in Sarasota, Florida.  With my mother, to whom he has been married for 55 years.  Once a year, they are still able to travel back to Austria, to spend time with family and friends.  And every year, Peter and the "boys from school" still have a reunion in their favorite restaurant, where they gather together to laugh, to talk, and to share all that has happened.
Peter & my mother (upper left) with the "boys" and families, at one of their recent reunions.


While I was growing up, I never knew any of the details of my father's own childhood.  He never really shared too much, and truth be told, I (being a kid) didn't ask.  But when I was in college, I had a semester in Vienna, and I often went to visit these family friends in Vienna, Moedling and the surrounding areas.  The love and the acceptance with which these people greeted me, though they had never met me, amazed me.  Now that I understand what they and my father shared and went through during the war, it makes sense to me.  Family meant everything.  Family means everything.

I also spent several weekends, taking the modern "Mozart Express" public train to Salzburg to visit my grandfather.  (My grandmother had passed away about seven years earlier).  When other college kids were out partying and enjoying the wonderful beers and wines of Austria, I would sit with him in his small apartment, engrossed in the stories of his youth, and each of the World Wars.  He was a true hero, yet I've never met a more humble, soft spoken man.  I was very pleased when a couple years later, I was able to introduce him to the woman who would be my wife.  We got to visit him together, a few times....  He lived to be almost 96 years old, and was given a War Hero's funeral.

A few years after my grandfather's death in 1989, is when I finally got the chance to hear my father's own story of growing up during the war; and I realized that it, too, was too important to be lost in history without being recorded.  

I hope you think so as well.  

Happy Birthday, Dad!  
I love you.  I admire you.  I respect you.  And I thank you for all that you have ever done for me, and for all of your family!
Mom and Dad on their 50th Anniversary... the last time we were all together as a family.
(And perhaps I also understand some of your quirkiness a little better, too....  Ha ha.) 
Celebrating my Dad's 80th birthday all together as a family....  A complete shock and surprise to him as my brother and his wife came down from Philadelphia, my sister from outside Boston, and me from Virginia.
Some of the extended family that was at my dad's surprised 80th birthday party.  His sister Edie is next to him, 3rd from the right.  Tilli will be coming for a visit later this month.

POSTSCRIPT:

In October of 2012, I was blessed to be able to take my older son and daughter to Austria for 9 days, while my parents were also there -- for what we knew was probably my father's last trip back.  It was the first time that I had been back to Austria since I had learned my father's story, and the thrill of having my children there, was a once-in-a-lifetime joy.  We stayed in the little village of Gumpoldskirchen, and traveled around from there.   We toured Vienna, for several days, and ended up in Salzburg for a few days, before heading back to Vienna.
My dad greeting me, upon our arrival in Gumpoldskirchen.  It was a trip I'll never forget.
Enjoying "Gemutlichkeit" at a Heuriger in Gumpoldskirchen, with family and friends one evening.  Great food and wine -- something the Americans after the War, weren't able to enjoy, as the Russians had drunk it all....

We saw the cave in the mountain side of Modling, where my father stayed for those few days at the end of the war.  It is now a theater, believe it or not.  We toured the water-filled caverns of the Seegrotte, under the Hinterbruhl mountain nearby, by boat and learned that a secret jet airplane plant was being built there toward the end of the war.
Touring the Seegrotte, under the mountain, with my father and mother.

We met his friends, with whom he still has contact, and had a wonderful lunch with them.
My father with three of his closest remaining friends, from school in Austria, at lunch in Modling.  The other three still meet regularly, and were always thrilled when my father was in Austria to join them.  It was a true joy to meet them, knowing the bond that held them all together.
We walked the streets he walked every day, and when we rounded the corner and walked up the street (Parkstrasse) to where he saw Major Robertson's jeep in front of the apartment building where he was living, it was quite a unique moment.  For there, parked on the street, was a Jeep Wrangler... right in front of the apartment building.  As American-made vehicles are not that common in Europe, it was quite a coincidence, I thought.

And of course, we couldn't walk that street without running into one of the residents, whom my father still knows.
The love shared by my father, and those that know him, crosses oceans, language boundaries, and time.
The apartment building my father lived in with his grandmother "Grossi", after the War.

My father describing the events in Modling, as they happened, to my children.  It was a joy and a privilege to witness.
October 26 is remembered in Austria, as its Independence Day.  But it wasn't 1945, it was 1955 before the last of the Russians left.  And similar to ours, it is a day that is celebrated.  We were there for the party.
Fireworks outside Salzburg, celebrating Austrian Independence on October 26.

To be able to see the places where my father was during and after the war, and have him there to describe the times in intimate detail, was a blessing none of us will ever forget.  And to know that this version of my father's story is being translated into German by our dear friends, the Hasslingers, to be shared with family and friends over there, blessed me.  My father's story is sure to be remembered by many, for generations to come.
Parke & Sheldon helped restore my Great Grandfather's simple cross in the cemetery in Modling, so that it would survive generations more....  A feat that was greatly appreciated by my father and me.
Some of the family on Thanksgiving 2013.  we really do have much to be thankful for....
For health reasons, my parents have moved back to Pennsylvania, to be near friends and family, and we are thrilled they're a little closer again.  He is a remarkable man, with a remarkable story, who is loved by many around the world.  I'm blessed to have him as my father.


1 comment:

  1. Dan,
    This is a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it for all to know. My wife, Audrey, and I visited with your dad and mom (also Rosemary) for lunch yesterday and they told us about your blog. We are winter residence of Naples, FL. I look forward to reading more of you blogs.
    Jim Bennett (retired pastor of WPC in Wilm, DE)

    ReplyDelete