Editor's note: This story will be presented in a three-part series.
Katie (Gisela) Schultz spent the first 10 years of her life in Nazi Germany.
Born in 1935 in Lower Saxony, the Aledo resident emigrated with her family to the United States in 1950 and began a whole new life — one that was far different, and in some ways similar to the one she had left behind in post-war Europe.
Schultz, now 87, has had time to reflect upon her life and the challenges she has faced throughout. And, in spite of everything, the octogenarian has maintained a cheerful disposition, an unrelenting optimism, and an unwavering faith in God.
Schultz grew up in a rural community just outside of the city of Oldenburg.
She still remembers the time as a young girl when she and her neighbors discovered that their fathers, uncles, male cousins, and the other men of their community had been drafted into service.
“It was very sad,” Schultz said. “One of my dad's cousins, humorously, bypassed the service by smoking two entire packs of cigarettes right before he took his physical. By the time the war was over, there were very few men left in our area.”
Vehemently opposed to the policies of the ruling Nazi Party, Schultz said that taking such a position put her family in constant danger.
“My parents and grandparents did the best they could to isolate us from the horrors of the war, though my grandfather listened to the radio every night,” Schultz said. “None of them supported Hitler, and they kept their fears from us children of what would happen if the Nazis found out.”
Not everything was bad for the German girl, however, as Schultz and her friends were able to play outside a lot and do things other children could do.
“I spent hours daydreaming in the fields across the street, water running in the irrigation ditches of gardens beneath my feet,” Schultz said. “For a while, I had a rare bicycle, which I rode into the big city to run errands. These included weekly Saturday trips to tend my father's grave."
Schultz said that German graves in that particular cemetery looked like miniature gardens, each of them with their own unique design.
"If he was available, I'd chat with a blacksmith whose shop was close to the cemetery," Schultz said. "I liked to watch him work. Besides, I knew my bicycle was safe with him around.”
Schultz has always loved flowers, and they were in abundance where she lived.
A self-proclaimed tomboy, Schultz excelled at the local sports club, “impressing boys with my ability to jump over ditches — even in dresses — using my grandfather's bean poles as if I were pole vaulting across.”
One of Schultz's friends, who eventually became a famous actress of stage and television in Germany, used to entertain the neighborhood for her birthday parties with her theatrics.
But at night, the realities of war would set back in, and Schultz was reminded of just how different her lifestyle was from those who "haven't had war on their homeland," and it could be terrifying.
“Every night, we were in a grocery store basement that served as our 'bomb shelter,' hearing the planes fly overhead,” Schultz said. “Mothers sat along the walls in benches, arms encircling their children, while we tried to sleep before going to school the next day. Not a word was spoken. I'm pretty sure the mothers — who probably didn't sleep much — silently prayed all night.”
On one occasion, Schultz said a soldier held a gun to her head.
"I couldn't understand English and what he said to me, so I laughed," Schultz said. "That startled him to the point that he put down his gun and gave me a chocolate bar instead of a bullet."
One of the more frightening incidents came when Schultz and her family were outside their home and narrowly escaped with their lives.
“I'll never forget that day that a British plane flew over our garden at the house," Schultz said. "He fired his guns at my mother, grandfather, and myself in the yard. We ran for cover. It wasn't until 2022 that I found out I wasn't the only one in the area that had that event occur."
Schultz said there were many moments of sheer terror for her during the war, but added that those episodes helped to foster within her an attitude that endures to this day.
“God was always protecting me,” Schultz said. “He had plans, and they weren't what I expected would happen, but they worked out very, very well. I was happy and remain so today, looking for the simple joys and gifts He provides instead of dwelling on the bad things life throws at all of us.”
When the war was over, the struggles continued for the German citizens, and Schultz and her family were no exception.
“We were starving," Schultz said. "Some of the soldiers threw their leftover bread into a nearby pond. I'm sure they were amused to watch my brother and other boys diving into the water after it.”
On the other hand, Schultz said she also experienced some incredible acts of kindness just after the war that helped to reaffirm her faith in humanity.
"We were happy when the British and Canadian occupation forces came in," Schultz said. "They fed us school children soup. We had to bring our own little pots with a handle for those delights. The occupation forces even threw a Christmas party for us. I'll never forget that party."
While things slowly began to return to normal, the fear of retribution from one of Germany's greatest and most bitter adversaries in the war remained ever present.
"We all feared a potential Russian invasion," Schultz said. "In fact, we had packed suitcases by our beds, always next to our bed the entire war, in case we had to flee or could immigrate to America.”
That day eventually came in 1950, when the Schultz family would embark on a new chapter of their lives that would present a whole new set of challenges, and yet be one of the best decisions they ever made.
For part 2, visit https://www.community-news.com/stories/coming-to-america,27338
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