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Coming to America

Schultz recalls adjusting to new home after leaving war zone


Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series.

Just before she turned 15, Katie Schultz experienced one of the greatest and most transformative events of her young life when she and her family emigrated to the United States.

Growing up in Northwest Germany, Schultz' father worked as a bookkeeper in the city of Oldenburg, where he met her mother at his place of employment one fateful afternoon.

“My dad interviewed my mother for a job at the firm and immediately fell in love with her, coming home that very night to tell his parents he had found his future wife,” Schultz said.

Sadly, Schultz's father died of renal failure when she was 5-years-old, and after surviving World War II with her mother and brother, Hans, the Schultz family would make the journey by ship to New York City. Schultz said the differences between Germany at the time and the United States were immediately noticeable.

"I didn't see the Statue of Liberty when our ship arrived,” Schultz said. “My brother and I were asleep, in fact, under the still of night. But the freedom it represented was so wonderful to my mother that she made certain she saw the lady. Thinking back on that incident, it was almost a symbol for us — leaving the dark and awaiting a brighter day."

Schultz had limited private lessons in the English language while living in Germany, but it was not quite enough to prepare her for the shock of coming to a new land where German was not the primary language.

"My mother insisted that we retain some of our German heritage such as Christmas traditions, but only at home,” Schultz said. “She told my brother and I that we were now going to be Americans. She expected us to learn the English language as fast as possible, as well as becoming good, contributing citizens to this land that was so open to accepting us."

Adjusting to her new home

Schultz embraced many aspects of her adopted country, but said it was the warmth and graciousness that her American friends and neighbors extended to her and her family that still sticks with her to this day.

"Remember, only five years earlier our countries were at war," Schultz said. "I think considering the atrocities committed by Hitler and the Nazis and the sort of prejudice that could have been brought upon our little German family, Americans were amazingly kind to us.

“We had just come from a country where, just a few years earlier, you couldn't even whisper in the quiet of your own home against Hitler."

Schultz started junior high school in Dubuque, Iowa in 1950, where she was assigned a host student named Luann Powers, who took the German girl under her wing and showed her the ropes.

Schultz later learned that students were informed prior to her enrollment at the school that she "was not, under any circumstances, to be bothered or embarrassed."

Schultz quickly adapted to her new life in America.

She would walk to school with her friends, go to the movies every Saturday, and still remembers an occasion when she was invited to ice skate by some of the local girls.

"It was comical, actually, because they were speaking in English and making these hand gestures trying to get me to comprehend that they were inviting me to attend," Shultz said. "I felt right at home. Thank God for those loving, accepting people."

Things were very different in her new town, but periodically, vestiges of the old world would creep in.

Shortly after arriving in the United States in an episode that Schultz now describes as a “humorous event,” something rather sobering happened.

"One day, our family heard a siren," Schultz said. "The family with whom we shared a home with was at work. My mother, myself, and my brother were terrified when we heard that wailing. Mom was shortly informed by her aunt when bothered at work, that the ruckus was merely a fire engine siren, not an air attack warning."

While there was certainly new terrain to navigate, Schultz said that, by and large, her family got along just fine.

Learning new things

“Baseball and American football were foreign to my childhood in Germany,” Schultz said. “There was definitely a whole lot more food readily available as well. Even the church was different from Germany in that they had a youth group. I felt out of place in some of the traditional German clothing and with my braids, but they disappeared in a hurry as we sought to fit in.

“The American schools were also significantly larger than my neighborhood school in Germany. We didn't have to know where the bomb shelters were here in the U.S. or spend every night sleeping in one.

"In Germany, school ended shortly after noon, and we went home to daily soup. We couldn't believe, in American schools, that we could have things like gelatin, pudding, even a piece of cake with a meal. Hamburgers? I still love them today, but we had never heard of such a thing in Germany.”

As she grew into her later teen years, Schultz took a job at a small family-owned cafe in Dubuque that she kept between her junior and senior years of high school.

She would serve as editor of the student newspaper and at one point had aspirations of becoming a journalist.

The Iowan has always had a fondness for flowers and colors and thought about a career in interior design as well.

Schultz eventually went to work for the Dubuque Container Company, making $2.45 an hour working as the secretary for the company's purchasing agent until she married in 1955.

Becoming a citizen

She became a U.S. Citizen in the spring of 1956 in Bismarck, North Dakota.

“I remember that day well,” Schultz said. “The judge, among other questions, asked me, 'Why are you now in North Dakota?' I told him my husband had accepted a job. The judge asked, 'May I ask what your husband does?' I said, 'He is a pastor here.' He asked me which denomination and I said, 'He's a Lutheran pastor.' The judge then got very excited and said, 'Oh, that's wonderful!' He was clapping his hands.”

Schultz met her husband in Dubuque, at a church group for young adults.

The group was specifically designed to link young men about to become pastors with prospective wives.

“It worked in our case,” Schultz said. “We married in 1955 when I was 20 years old, and we celebrated 41 years of marriage before he passed away.”

From 1973 until 2005, Schultz worked at the Hope Haven Area Development Center Corporation in West Burlington, Iowa, where she helped young adults with special needs to learn to work, live on their own, and develop survival skills.

Schultz, now 88, lived in Iowa until the day after her 87th birthday, before taking a scenic route through the back roads of multiple states in a U-Haul with her son, Darrell, singing most of the way in joyful anticipation of her arrival in the city of Aledo.

“I love it here,” Schultz said. “The church we go to reminds me very much of those first congregations my husband and I served. I like to ride in the car and look for flowers, which remind me of Germany.”

Schultz said that coming to the United States when she did taught her one of the most important lessons of her life, even if at first, she was not completely sold on the idea.

“I didn't want to go because I was almost dating age and there was a boy interested in me in Germany,” Schultz said. “My mom just wanted us to get away from war.

"If nothing else comes out of this, I'd like to point out how important it is not to repeat some of the mistakes of earlier generations. I can't overestimate the damages to people and families caused by war. But, at the same time, I want to point out that everyone needs to look at the things God provides for them — the silver linings in the dark clouds and concentrate on them.”


Part 1 of this series can be found in the March 3, 2023 issue of The Community News or at https://www.community-news.com/stories/horrors-of-war-glories-of-life,26746.

Part 3 can be found at https://www.community-news.com/stories/aledos-schultz-returns-to-germany-after-seven-decades-away,27359



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