They settled in Perkasie, Pennsylvania, where Paul and Erna lived for the remainder of their lives. Paul was 54 years old when he died in 1963 from lung cancer attributed to working in the labor camps where he mined uranium for seven years. Erna worked in a factory sewing buttons on clothing. She died peacefully in her sleep at age 90. Regretfully I only met her twice in my life. One of those times
was for a summer I spent at her house in 1973. We planted flowers and walked in her beautiful yard where mint leaves grew wild. And each year at Christmastime my sister and I could count on her to send us a package of marzipan candy in various fruit shapes. No one actually ever called her Erna; we all called her “Muttie.”
When Margit arrived in the United States she wasn’t licensed to be a pharmacist in America without taking rigorous tests. Instead of taking the tests, she worked as a waitress and became the mother of three beautiful and healthy children. She lives in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and sadly suffers from dimentia, so I’m unable to ask her questions about her memories in Germany.
My mother, who was only fifteen when she came to America, went to high school. Even though she had taken English for three years in Germany, she couldn’t understand a word anyone said. But she learned about the horrors that went on in the concentration camps in school from footage they watched in history class. She was devastated. Then had to bear the teasing of schoolmates who called her “Nazi,” which began a lifelong embarrassment for being a German. She was never a Nazi. A lot of people in Germany were never Nazis. But how does one explain? The horrors of the concentration camps and the violence against the Jewish people create a mental block – you’re stunned and inarticulate. The stigma of Germany will probably never go away. My mother never spoke the language with me, in fact I hardly registered that she spoke German until I was in my teens.
After she graduated from high school in Pennsylvania, she visited Berlin. Nothing had changed there in the three years she was gone. The buildings still looked as they had after the war. She came home to Pennsylvania where one year later in 1959, when she was 19 years old, she and a friend took a train to California. She made friends and met my father in 1961. She became an artist. Today she is healthy and happy – going strong at age 73. She lives in Hawaii.