Introduction by Bob Jensen
"The European Atrocity You Never Heard About," by R.M. Douglas,
Chronicle of Higher Education, June 11, 2012 ---
After World War II ended, my wife's family was forced off their Czechoslovakia farm at gun point. Being only five years old, Erika never knew why they were forced to be refuges walking on the road. She was told that the soldiers pointing guns at them were "communists." Erika with her mother, grandparents, and Tante Pepe headed for Germany, but the Germans were blocking Czech immigrants at border check points even if they were German speaking refuges seeking shelter. Erika was eventually smuggled across the border to the bombed out, dark, and cold Regensburg train depot on a Christmas eve.
The rest of the story ---
A Year 2000 message of love from my wife, Erika.
She describes how a Munich street urchin became Cinderella filled with love and joy --- See Greetings from Erika below
A Year 2001 message of love from my wife,
Greetings from Erika Jensen
It's almost Christmas once again. I promised Bob that I would write the Year 2000 Christmas letter. He's growing impatient with me, so here goes. So many things have happened this year, if I write them all down it will take me long into next year to finish.
This summer I lost Tante Peppi, my beloved aunt, who helped raise me as a child when we were war refugees forced out of Czechoslovakia and into Germany when I was five years old. I flew to Germany immediately when I learned she was in the hospital. I arrived in her village less than two hours after she passed away. I am even more grateful now that Bob and I visited her in March. Tante Peppi was truly the guardian angel in my life. When no one wanted me as a child, she was there for me. She taught me to love and look for all things good in life. At the age of 86, she joined her husband, Uncle Karl, in heaven. This year I also lost my brother Rudi who lived in the mountains of Germany. Shortly after I married Bob in 1985, we traveled to Germany, and I was reunited with Rudi after nearly forty years of separation. I am now close with his widow and children, children I'd never known about until they were grown.
Initially, my heart wasn't in writing this letter. But as I thought about Christmas, I realized how this is the time of year to share our feelings and our news. My feelings and my news are all about loves --- many loves --- so many when I think about the good fortunes of my life. My body hurts each and every day, but I refuse to let my pain take over my good feelings about life. I have a wonderful family. I've been married to my best friend for nearly sixteen years, during which ten new angels joined me --- yes 10 grandchildren! Does this Granny ever love them all --- five girls and five boys ranging in ages from three months to nine years. They're scattered across the U.S. from California to Wisconsin to Maine.
Throughout the years, Tante Peppi was my comfort and my anchor in life --- she meant so much to me! I stepped off the train in Regensburg at 1:05 p.m. on July 29th and discovered I'd barely missed the chance to bid her a final farewell. I still feel her loss and her lingering presence to this day. Oh, how I loved her. Even though she passed away, I still feel her warm love around me. People we love really don't entirely leave us. They remain a part of our lives. Their warmth and love stays deep inside our hearts.
After she died, I stayed alone in her little cottage for nearly a month. She was there with me every waking moment. Everyone in her tiny village knew and loved her. The church was packed to overflowing at her funeral. She had a bit of a reputation as a clown who made the village people laugh and cry. She didn't have much in the way of worldly goods, but she was a generous soul who always shared with people in need of help.
Uncle Karl died two years ago, and it was obvious that Tante Peppi increasingly longed to join him in eternity. Tante Peppi and I were a team, partners in crime. I recall the dark nights after the war, when she stood lookout while I crawled in fields trying to find potatoes to keep us from starvation. Shortly before I was born, her only child, little Helga, died at six month's of age. After she lost her daughter, Tante Peppi became a children's' nurse. I remember watching her care for infants while their mothers worked during the day.
As I mentioned above, Bob and I were so lucky to be with her in March. That springtime trip to Germany became the highlight of this year. We went to Munich for a conference. My niece (Sabina) and her husband met us in Regensburg and drove us from Tante Pepsi's cottage to our Munich hotel on the city square. My life with my globe-hopping husband is so different and so wonderful. Along with many of Bob's friends at the conference, we attended a reception hosted by Christian Ude, the Burgermeister of Munich.
Although I'm shy by nature, I worked up the courage to walk right up to the Burgermeister and introduce myself. I told him that I was Granny Erika from Texas. I spoke in my native tongue known as Beurisch. His jaw dropped in surprise, and he asked me how it was that I could speak Beurisch. Outsiders can learn German, but rarely do they speak in Beurisch (a dialect spoken only in Bavaria). I related to him I commenced my education in a bombed-out schoolhouse in Munich. We were war refugees from Sudenten Deutschland, which is now in the Czech Republic. More specifically, I was born in Bohmarwaldt (Bohemia). And thus a former Munich street beggar named Erika became Cinderella at the Burgermeister's Ball. The next evening we attended a reception hosted by the Bavarian Prime Minister --- another night in which my glass slippers never seemed to touch the floor.
It was most difficult growing up the defeated rubble of World War II. Munich (known as Munchen in Germany) was in shambles. Uncle Karl remained a prisoner of war in Siberia for several years after the end of the war. My mother, Tante Peppi, and I lived in a schupfen (garden shed). Tante Peppi and I would wait until dark to go out in the fields to steal potatoes. We risked being shot or mauled by dogs, but the only other choice was starvation. More than once we came home with mostly stones that I'd mistaken for potatoes in the pitch-blackness. We were hungry and cold during those early years in Germany. Things got better when the American soldiers gave us food and fixed up our Schupfen against the cold. With the help of wonderful Americans under the Marshall Plan, Germany was quickly rebuilt. In the ensuing years when I attended school in Munich, my Tante shared the wonderful stories of our former lives and Christmases of the past. In more recent years, her face would light up like a Christmas tree when I told her about my new life with Bob and about our travels in Finland, Sweden, Germany, England, Belgium, New Zealand and nearly every one of America's 50 states.
When we said goodbye in March, I sensed that it would be my final farewell to Tante Peppi. She normally would come out of her cottage and wave to us, but that day she was too teary-eyed and stayed inside. Oh how I cried as if my heart was breaking as I pulled out of the grasp of her thin arms.
Her empty cottage, during my stay in her cottage in August, opened up a floodgate of memories. I wasn't alone; I felt her love all around me. I remembered so many wonderful things about her. Yes God continues to give me a wonderful angel for the rest of my life. My mother gave me life, but Tante Peppi gave me a richer and deeper sense of deep love. After a month in Germany, I grew terribly homesick --- homesick for my Bobby on the other side of the Atlantic.
I'm lucky to have suffered through a war and to have been so poor most of my life. Those years deepened my appreciation for what I now have! I love America, my family, my house, and all my wonderful friends. My husband made this possible and became a part me! No longer am I afraid like I was most of my life before I met Bob. He does not want a shadow; Bob made me a full partner in his life.
We have five wonderful children. They have children of their own --- those ten little angels. What else could I ask for in life? God has given us so very much, most of all he gave us his love and blessing! This is what Christmas is --- love in abundance.
A wise person once wrote the following:
Yesterday is history,
Tomorrow is a mystery,
Today is a gift,
That's why they call today the present.
To all our friends, most of all at this Season and all year long, I wish you all Love.
December 6, 2000
Bob Jensen's homepage is at http://faculty.trinity.edu/rjensen/
Bob Jensen's 1999 holiday message is at http://faculty.trinity.edu/rjensen/max01.htm
Pictures are shown below: (Tante Peppi is the clown!)
Erika Greets Christian Ude, the Burgermeister of Munich.