One day an order came for all persons who had been members of the Gestapo to come to Hameln to be registered and questioned. Father went, expecting to be back in a couple of hours, but he did not return.
All through that December day the family waited for him. Then someone came to report that he had been detained by the occupation authorities.
"But why would they arrest Father? He never took Hitler's side." Eric watched Mother put on her warm things.
"Remember, the Nazis made your father become a member of the secret police, and three months passed before he could get away and come home again."
"I suppose they've found records."
"Of course, records were kept, you know." Mother started for Hameln to find out about Father.
When Mother came back, she told the family that Father had been imprisoned in the Mittelschule in Hameln, the same school Eric had attended. Now it had been made into a prison with barbed wire around it and guards on duty.
The next day Eric went with Mother to see Father. They were not allowed to enter the building. Father spoke to them from a third-floor window. He spoke cheerfully. "I have done nothing wrong. I'm sure I shall be out for Christmas. Tell Irmgard."
Eight days passed, but Father didn't come home.
All through the war Father had always cut the Christmas tree and decorated it for the children. He and Mother had never failed to make an enchanting surprise out of the holiday. Now the war had ended, and the most gloomy Christmas the children had ever known loomed ahead.
The days of Christmas week passed, one by one. Christmas Eve came and went, and still Father did not come. Then Mother found that Father had been transferred on Christmas Eve to a big camp near the Ostsee, northeast of Hamburg.
"What will they do with Father?" Eric couldn't help worrying.
"We can only wait and see. Your father is a good man, and he has done nothing wrong. We must hope and pray."
Irmgard missed Father so much that even the disappointment of Christmas did not seem to bother her. She asked all the time, "When will Father come?"
Eric found the wintertime chores heavy. Neither Ludwig nor Ursula worked on the Kreye farm anymore. Father had apprenticed Hans to a pharmacist in Bad Pyrmont, so he wasn't around to help either.
Then one day Father opened the Gasthaus door and walked in. He stood smiling at his family, and they rushed into his arms. Eric knew that nothing else mattered since Father had come home safe and well.
"Sorry I couldn't get here for Christmas," Father said.
"Oh, Father, having you home again is better than all the Christmases in the world." Irmgard snuggled into Father's arms although she had grown to be a big girl--ten years old already.
Then Father told them about the pitiful condition of the soldiers in the prison camp. "I thought it must be run by the Russians. I asked to see the camp director at once, and within an hour I stood before him telling my story."
"What did you tell him?" Mother asked.
"I told him that because I spoke English, I had been drafted into the Gestapo; but I had stayed only three months, and then I had been released and sent back to my farm."
With Father home everything improved. Both Hans and Eric had applied for United States passports and planned to find their future in America. Hans had already entered his apprenticeship a few months before, but Eric still stayed on the farm and helped Father.
Eric had heard about the free and pleasant life in United States, the pleasure parties, the fairs and carnivals. He decided that if he expected to fit into the social activities of his new adventure he must learn to dance. He began to take lessons in Höfingen. He rode his bicycle to the dancing school which was conducted once a week. About twenty-five couples danced to Strauss waltzes and other lively music.
Spring came, and Eric and Father finished the plowing and planting. Still the boys had not completed arrangements for their passage to America. They made a trip to Hamburg, but not until late in the fall could everything be cleared for their journey.
The last day at home finally came. Hans and Eric's trunk was finally packed, and everything was ready for the trip the next day. The boys planned to go to Hamburg first and pay a farewell visit to the relatives there and then go on to Bremen.
A farewell party had been arranged by Hans's friends at a local restaurant where dances and parties were often held. The party proved a great success, and Eric danced until after midnight. He had become quite clever at managing his feet; and he felt so confident, as a young man on his way to social success, that he took a drink of homemade Schnapps [gin] which burned the whole length of his throat and made him cough and sputter in a somewhat undignified manner.
The following day Father and Mother stood on the station platform in Hameln waiting for the train that would carry the boys far away on a new venture into a new life in a far-off land.
"Remember, boys," Father said in a cheerful voice. "You will find a lot of Germany in the United States."
The train came. The boys said good-bye. Father and Mother seemed almost glad for them to go. Could it be because Germany was a destroyed country, while the United States had not been damaged?
The boys reached Hamburg late that afternoon and spent some time with their relatives. The destruction in the city seemed much worse than it had to Eric on his previous visit.
Two days later when the travelers arrived in Bremen, Eric could hardly believe what his eyes saw. Many square miles of the city lay in ruins--a tangle of twisted wire, crushed brick, cracked concrete, and broken glass. They must stay in a camp out in the city suburbs to wait for their vessel to sail. The long ride out to the camp depressed Eric. The streetcar ran between acres of rubble on either side. This great seaport had suffered massive destruction from the Allied bombing.
For two weeks they waited at the camp, and then came the day when they could board their ship, the S.S.Ernie Pyle, a converted troop transport. As they stood with their trunk waiting for it to be carried aboard, a friendly gentleman approached them. "Are you boys going to New York?"
"Yes, we are," Hans answered.
"You have only one trunk. I wonder if you would be willing to take a couple of my suitcases on your tickets."
Hans and Eric looked at each other. "I think we could do that, sir," Hans said.
The man brought two large suitcases and changed the tags on them so they could go with Hans and Eric's luggage. They saw the things safely stored in the hold and found their assigned bunks. Then they went on deck to see the ship slip its cables. As the distance widened between the Ernie Pyle and the shore, Eric suddenly realized how great a distance he was putting between himself and his home, Father, Mother, Irmgard, and the green valley of his childhood.
Then another thought swept through his mind; he knew that this ship would carry him far from the land ruined, devastated, scourged by six years of Adolf Hitler's mad thrust for power. The date on the calendar was Tuesday, November 18, 1947.
Eleven days after leaving Bremen the Ernie Pyle steamed into calm waters. The rolling, pitching motions quieted. Flocks of sea-gulls flew over the ship. "We shall set our feet on land tomorrow," one of the passengers said.
The man's words struck Eric with a strange sensation. Tomorrow he would stand on the soil of his own country--the land of his birth. Yet, to him, the United States seemed a vast foreign nation. He knew that if people could look into his heart and mind they would find the name of Germany written there, although his passport carried the official seal of the United States of America.
Then he remembered Father's parting words, "You will find much of Germany in the United States." He wondered now if he had understood what Father meant.
"All luggage must be on deck by seven o'clock tomorrow morning," one of the ship's officers announced through a loudspeaker.
Hans and Eric packed all their things that evening and then went on deck to see how New York harbor looked at night. Moonlight glistened on the water, and Eric could see the shoreline beaded with lights. "Oh, look, Hans, the lights are moving. There must be thousands of them."
"Automobiles, I think." Hans studied the lights.
"I never dreamed there could be so many automobiles in all the world."
That night Eric could sleep little for thinking of all the exciting events rushing together for tomorrow. His mind anticipated all manner of pleasant surprises.
The boys ate breakfast that Saturday morning at six o'clock, and they carried their hand baggage up to the deck before seven.
Eric looked out at a typical harbor scene. The Ernie Pyle moved slowly in among many other ships of all sizes and flying the flags of many nations--freighters, passenger vessels, tugs, barges, tankers, and every other kind of craft large and small. Little boats darted through the water plying between ships and piers. Excitement rode the air like an invisible wave.
Then Eric saw the fireboats. They shot streams of water high into the air. They seemed to be saluting one of the big liners that slowly moved in among them. The monster vessel acknowledged the display of water with low whistles. Eric tried to count the fireboats, but he couldn't. There seemed to be quite a few, and the streams of water they shot into the air soared as high as a forest tree and broke into tumbling spray--quite a show! Eric had never heard of such a thing.
"Look! The Statue of Liberty!" someone cried out.
The boys looked out and saw the giant figure straight ahead. "I wish we could have seen it last night. It's lighted at night, isn't it?" some person near the boys exclaimed.
Eric could see the torch in the statue's hand and made up his mind that one day he would visit that statue and climb the stairs that someone had told him wound up to the top of the tall figure. It would be like climbing the Süntelturm back in his home valley.
Again a booming voice announced, "United States citizens will be permitted to land first."
Eric and Hans looked at each other. Queer, yet almost impossible, to think of themselves as United States citizens.
But they did not leave the ship with the first passengers ashore. The friendly gentleman whose baggage they had accepted in Bremen was not an American citizen, and they must wait until he cleared customs. Hour after hour went by, and Eric felt that he could not endure the delay. Surely Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Arthur had come to meet them, or maybe "Mama" Wittig (Aunt Charlotte's mother). Now surely their relatives would think they hadn't come. What if he and Hans should be turned loose in the great city of New York without knowing how to speak English. They hadn't any money either. They hadn't needed any on board the ship but now--
After five hours the gentleman finally cleared customs and claimed his two suitcases with a grunt of acknowledgment, nothing more.
Then the boys rushed out to see if any friendly person waited to welcome them to this huge and noisy land.
Mama Wittig came forward and greeted them with such an affectionate welcome that they forgot their anxiety in the wonder of being at last in the United States. Mama Wittig hired a taxi, and they drove through canyon-like streets crowded with people on foot and more people in countless automobiles. She answered all their questions in German. She called their attention to men who were fastening up Christmas decorations all along the streets.
Eric could not help comparing this huge city of New York with Hamburg and Bremen. No bombs had fallen here. Every office building, every factory, every church and home stood undamaged. What a blockbuster could do dropped into the center of this street! Eric shuddered.
The taxi took them to Grand Central Station. They entered the enormous vaulted building, and Eric could see Christmas decorations all about him. He heard the strains of organ music--"Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." The glorious strains echoed throughout the vast structure. Mama Wittig must have made a mistake and brought them to a cathedral of some sort. Father had been right about finding Germany in the United States--Bach's music in the first building they had entered.
Then Mama Wittig led the boys to the ticket counter, and Eric saw that this huge and majestic building must indeed be a railway station. She bought them tickets to Syracuse, New York, and put a bag of lunch into each boy's hand. Then she led them to a place where huge engines roared in and out, pulling their trains of passenger coaches. "Now, you just stay right on this train, and Uncle Arthur and Aunt Charlotte will meet you in Syracuse." Mama Wittig waved good-bye until the train carried them out of the station.
The boys found comfortable seats and looked about them. The coach seemed uncrowded--such a contrast to the trains between Hameln and Hamburg. They looked out their window and decided that the winter landscape flowing past looked much like the German countryside.
Then they opened their lunch bags. Eric thought that since they had eaten breakfast many hours ago, maybe the time had come to taste food in the United States. They found delicious sandwiches, bananas, oranges, and the biggest candy bars they had ever seen. Eric began eating his large candy bar at once.
All the rest of the day they spent on
the train watching the snowy farms and winter woods and villages speed
past. Sometimes they dozed a little. Dark night had fallen when their train
pulled into Syracuse.
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