German Refugees

Updated: May 31, 2020

 

  A Refugee Family Comes To Humboldt

By Andrew M. Genzoli

(from the Humboldt Beacon, December 9, 1951)

 

As the string of passenger and box cars making up the morning train moved slowly through the canyons and woods of Southern Humboldt on the Northwestern Pacific’s last lap toward Eureka Tuesday morning, the seven members of the Fritz family were wide awake.

For them, a lifetime of uncertainty, indecision, fleeing and of being shuffled about the world as victims of man-made selfishness and brutality, was soon to come to an end.

For the Fritz’s a new life was ahead . . . in hours it would begin.  They were Humboldt’s newest arrivals . . . refugees from a struggling Europe which had long before furnished America with her adopted sons and daughters, a role which she will probably continue for many generations more.

Frau Fritz sat quietly, but anxiously as the train jogged along.  In her methodical manner, gained through long practice as she moved with her family, she gave the family a close check.  However, for young Siegfried and Hermann, there was still much for them to see as they peered through the wet morning’s growing light . . . They could see huge trees, a murky river, tall mountains . . .

The three girls, cute Juliana, big-sisters Rosemarie and Anna occasionally glanced at a passing railroad village.  Most of the time they were interested in preparations which would help a lady make a good appearance when their train stopped at Fortuna . . .

Fortuna . . . thought Herr Fritz . . . Fortuna, where they would soon be getting off the train.  Through his mind flashed the few English words he had picked up, and now he would use them to good advantage . . .

At the Northwestern Pacific railroad depot in Fortuna, a small group waited in the chilly air, as the rain punctuated the morning, to welcome the newcomers.  They were part of the Seventh-day Adventist church group who are sponsoring George and Clara Fritz and their five children to live in America . . . they were Mr. and Mrs. Derwood Palmer and Dr. and Mrs. C. W. Atteberry and their families . . .

A few minutes before eight o’clock, the train bounded around the bend, coming to a rattling steaming halt in front of the depot.

The Fritz family, unstylish, but very neatly and warmly dressed, stepped down onto the ramp . . . Formalities were brief and quiet. . . Father Fritz said several words in English about being glad to be here and about his baggage.  Mr. Palmer and Dr. Atteberry assured him everything would be taken care of.  The women gave the mother and the girls a warm hug of welcome . . . it was something like a reunion.  Hands of welcome were extended and the arrivals met the greeters . . . everyone was wreathed in happy smiles.  Even for this writer, the moment was more than another news story . . . here was an act of humanity being fulfilled to the last word to the joy of everyone . . .

A HELPING HAND

Without fanfare . . . without great flourishes of publicity . . . a hard-working church group with love in their hearts, had reached into the cold ruins of Europe to find a deserving family and offering them haven and hope, brought them from the embroiled land, across the Atlantic ocean, the great continent of America to the shores of the Pacific . . . Working through the World Council of Churches, of which the Seventh-day Adventist church is a member, the Adventist church at Fortuna had offered asylum to the Fritz family . . .

However, their future had to be assured, and it would not have been fair to either the Fritz’ or the community to cast them loose.  It was necessary to have sponsors for them so they would not become an unexpected burden.  The Adventists offered a hand to the Fritz family of five through their sponsors, Dr. and Mrs. C.V. Atteberry . . . and Mrs. Derwood D. Palmer, Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Gladden, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Thornberg, Mr. and Mrs. Sam Hoopes, Jr., and Mr. and Mrs. Al McManus, all of Fortuna.

  Since the English spoken by the Fritz family is rather limited, we uncovered their story with the help of Mr. Fred Lang, whose home is at Palmer Creek and whose occupation is that of cabinet maker.  There were many times when we were able to understand the conversation, sometimes with words and sometimes without . . . Human feelings rarely have to be put into words . . . they can be easily felt.

 

UNUSUAL LIFE

George and Clara Fritz’ story is a rather unusual one . . . for they are a refugee family which has always managed in some way or another to hold themselves intact . . . moving as a group . . . living as a group . . . worrying and fleeing as a group.  George Fritz anticipated trouble long before it actually struck, and fortunately, he was able at times to stay ahead of it, just far enough to avoid any extreme physical suffering.

When the world began to broil in its warring juice, the Fritz family was living in Virovitica, Yugoslavia, where George was a farmer and carpenter.  A carpenter in the old country, we were told is the man who only begins the house . . . doing the framework and other wood work . . . the other work toward completing the house is done by various artisans . . . The community in which they lived, moved between various countries, sometimes leaving one’s citizenship a little in doubt, Royal families often found a reason to fight . . . to take a section of country . . . and to subject its people to their demands.  Sometimes the results were demonstrations . . . examples of extreme brutality.

After World War I, life continued at a regular pace at Virovitica.  George was kept busy with his farming and carpentering, and the raising of a family. 

Early in World War II, before the United States had even considered entering the fray and Chamberlain had returned to Britain with his useless piece of appeasement paper from Hitler, George noticed a strange stirring in his part of the world.  Wherever possible, Hitler would uncover small settlements of people who had migrated from Germany to Yugoslavia.  He would have his agents cultivate favor with them, hoping to establish a stronghold (fifth column).  Naturally, the Yugoslavians looked with disfavor upon these people, and in many instances they were persecuted because they were of German origin, even if they had no particular respect for Hitler.

 

BECOMES CAPTIVE

When Hitler’s juggernaut rolled eastward, an effort was made to bring George into the Yugoslavian army.  As a conscientious objector, his military time of six weeks was spent in the supply line until he was separated and the fighting was ended.  George was interned for 18 days at Macedonia and then allowed to return to his home.

George began to see reverses taking place, although Hitler had established his shortlived state of Croatia, which included Virovitica.  Seeing that difficulties were to be encountered, and wishing to find safety for himself and his family, in 1942 George Fritz went to Spital in Austria, hoping things would be OK in a few months.  There he found a job in a sawmill.  Not long after, the news from home got worse and his wife asked him to come and get them.  It was not safe to sleep in the house because the Partisans (rebel group) came nights to plunder, so Clara packed her four children at night and took them through the back yard and over a meadow to sleep under the willow bushes by the creek.  (In those days there were no sleeping bags or plastic so they tried to roll up tight a feather bed to keep warm.  Clara was also sick and Tony was about two years old.)  Her last letter from home to her husband said that if he couldn’t make it home soon they might not see each other again.

Housing was almost impossible to get in Spital so George showed the letter to his boss.  The boss didn’t want to lose him so he said to get his family and he would have a barrack on the yard built so the family would have shelter on arrival.  

They took their exile from Yugoslavia voluntarily because it was too dangerous for the Germans to live there.  Everything went along fairly smoothly, even though the war was at its peak . . . the family ate, although George nervously eyed coming events.  The war swept around the Fritz family, as the German army fell before Allied forces.  The British came in and shipped the family off to Villach, Austria.  There they remained four days, until the British again moved them, this time to Italy. 

For the next 18 months the family passed through 13 different camps . . . they weren’t considered concentration camps, but rather gathering points for the great mass of displaced people.  They were held at Fermo most of the time.  The Fermo camp* was operated by Italians, Fritz says, and conditions there were bad.

 

TO AMERICAN ZONE

It was possible for the family to prove that they were of German origin, and the German government was required to supply them with passports.  They were able to return to that country, going to the state of Hesse.** They asked to be allowed to live in the American zone, which was permitted.  This as the first time in those many years that they had found freedom of any real quality.

George found employment in a sawmill as a carpenter and worked there for about three years.

The family applied, through the Adventist church, for immigration privileges, which were extended to them.  After long formalities, requiring four months, their clearance papers were readied for them.

On November 26 they left for New York, arriving in the metropolis on the morning of December 1.  While there they spent a half day with an uncle, then continued across the United States by train, arriving at Fortuna on Tuesday morning . . .

George is extremely happy over the fact that his father and a brother had arrived in the United States about 50 days ahead of him.  They are living in Michigan. (and came later to Fortuna)

Daughters Rose Marie and Anna have completed their schooling in the old country and are accomplished seamstresses.  They are capable of various types of sewing and tailoring.  They have expressed a desire to learn English as soon as possible.

Juliana started school this week at the Seventh-day Adventist school.  Siegfried and Hermann will also get their schooling underway.

According to Mrs. Palmer, considerable interest has been expressed in the new family, and while they are looking about for a home for the group, they are staying at the Palmer home.  One house has been offered, and they are going to see what it was like.  George expects to find work in the Fortuna area . . .

The Fritz’ are elated to know that somewhere in the world they are wanted . . . and especially so, to know that America has found a home for them.  They will learn our ways . . . work with us . . . and soon become one of us.

 

*The Fermo Camp (Italian: Campo Fermo, Croatian: Logor Fermo) was a post-World War II displaced persons camp near Fermo Italy whose inhabitants were Croats and Germans displaced from Yugoslavia.  The first Croats arrived in June 1945.  The majority arrived at the camp on August 15, 1945. Most of the about 2,000 inhabitants who were living inside the camp, which was situated on the premises of a former textile factory, were of Ustaša background. In 1947 the camp was repeatedly raided by British military personnel in a search for war criminals hiding among the population.  In late 1947 and early 1948, representatives from Argentina, the United States, Canada, and Australia came to the camp to offer the inhabitants a chance to immigrate to their perspective countries. 

 

**(Hesse or Hessen, a state in Germany).