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September 7, 2010 > The Penpal Project

The Penpal Project

During this past school year, the Senior Penpal Project which initially linked sixth grade students from participating Tri-City elementary schools with seniors in a letter writing exchange, expanded to include interviews of the seniors who were matched with sixth grade students from Mission San Jose Elementary School. Students then wrote a story based upon the interview. The top three stories were selected by a panel of judges and are being printed in the Tri-City Voice Newspaper.

In last week's issue, the third place story, "Learned to Love It," appeared in these pages. Below is the second place story, "Growing Up in Germany." An upcoming issue will contain the first place story, "Free Together."

Growing up in Germany
Student Interviewer: Sharon Chen

Life in Munich, Germany, during the Second World War was a most unsettling time for everyone. I was 10 years old when the war began and it was not unusual then to see Nazi soldiers everywhere - in the streets, entering homes, and causing confrontations regularly.

I attended a public school whose philosophy was that Adolf Hitler's views were correct, which included that "all Jews should be destroyed." My parents were opposed to this way of thinking and as a result, I was most confused. After school, I would return home and complete my homework. I focused very hard on my studies then, not only because it helped me forget about the horrors of the Nazi regime or because it pleased my parents, but also because I realized the importance of a good education. Education would eventually lead to a good job and better way of life. In addition, I had daily chores. I loved cooking and especially enjoyed baking cookies and breads, as well as making some delicious soups. By the age of 12, I could maintain a house by myself.

My parents had seven Jewish friends. One day these friends came to our house and stated that they were in serious danger of being sent to concentration camps. My family was most concerned about their well being and so we agreed to help them by hiding them in our basement. One gentleman was a doctor. During this time with us, they appeared so lonely, bored, and depressed having to remain in hiding and yet they also realized there was no choice. All seven of them could not leave the house, not even one step outside, as they could have been seen and captured by the Nazi soldiers. I felt so sorry for them, as they had lost their freedom. In other words, they may have been avoiding a concentration camp, but they were nonetheless imprisoned inside our house.

We all knew that our seven friends could not stay with us forever. My parents began plotting an escape route for them to flee from Germany to Switzerland, which was a neutral country. The plan was for my father to drive a truck across the border with our friends in the back, covered with hay. It would be a long and perilous trip, but they were indeed worth the risk.

The day finally came when we packed up the truck with food, as well as supplies, and set off on our journey in transporting our friends to freedom. We didn't get too far before the truck was stopped by Nazi soldiers. While we had made certain that our friends were completely covered by hay, my heart was pounding and felt ready to explode as the Nazis began to ask us a number of questions. After what seemed like an endless series of answers, they finally told us to proceed. And then, after many tedious hours of driving, we arrived at the Switzerland border. We quickly had to say our goodbyes and off they went!

My parents continued to help them, however, by transferring money overseas. I remember thinking what a brave thing to do and I was so proud of their efforts. Although they didn't say anything at the time, I knew my parents were very worried about being caught and being forced to identify our friends. At this time, my parents also placed my brother and me in a private school so as to avoid the Hitler focus on our studies.

I liked the private school which was operated by Catholic nuns. There were no politics or teachings on Hitler in our curriculum. I finally felt safe and more like a child again! School was in session six days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Our academic subjects included math, a language, and a science. I enjoyed reading very much and never felt bored when a book accompanied me. On Saturdays, we had what were my favorite subjects -- cooking, sewing and first aid. To escape the reality of war, I wrapped myself up in the world of knowledge and kept myself busy. It did not, however, reduce my concern about the fate of our seven friends and their families.

After I graduated from high school in Germany, I wanted to continue with further study to become a pharmacist. This would require four more years of study at the University of Munich, which had been significantly destroyed during the war. I would have to wait. Since I was eager to begin the next phase of my life, I decided to pursue plans to go to the United States. One of our seven friends, the doctor, had started a new life in New York. My family was most excited and relieved when his letter arrived. The doctor was equally anxious to know that we were alive and well. And it was the doctor who later sponsored me to come to the United States.

When I boarded the ship headed for America, I was overwhelmed with excitement. As the ship pulled away from the harbor, it thrilled me to think about all the people aboard who were headed for a new adventure, along with their dreams, to a new land that they soon would call home.

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