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Ten Thousand Miles of Miracles is an extraordinary account of a remarkable young lady named Paula who survived life during a crucial time in history few first-hand witnesses are still alive to tell about. This book follows her life beginning with her childhood in Zipserland, Slovakia, and her amazing journey of leaving home at 12 years old, traveling by herself to escape the ravages of WWII in Europe, fleeing a refugee camp, surviving air raids and phosphor bombs, narrowly escaping death many times, coming face ...
Ten Thousand Miles of Miracles is an extraordinary account of a remarkable young lady named Paula who survived life during a crucial time in history few first-hand witnesses are still alive to tell about. This book follows her life beginning with her childhood in Zipserland, Slovakia, and her amazing journey of leaving home at 12 years old, traveling by herself to escape the ravages of WWII in Europe, fleeing a refugee camp, surviving air raids and phosphor bombs, narrowly escaping death many times, coming face to face as a young lady with the Nazi soldiers for several hours while her family hid in the attic, and rescuing her war-torn and scattered family from the Russian front in Germany.
"SLOVAKIAN PARADISE" Our beautiful little valley in Slovakia
They say it was about, well, nobody exactly knows, but some say 800, some say 600 years ago when my forefathers migrated from Saxony in East Germany to the little land of Slovakia. And while many said it was because of religious persecution, nobody knows exactly why they came to this beautiful valley in little Slovakia called Zipserland, which means "Slovakian Paradise."
My forefathers settled in a little town called Schwedler. A beautiful, crystal clear river called Gollnitz ran right through our town of about 2,000 people where everybody knew everybody.
On our little farm we didn't have drinking water. We had a certain well we used for just the cattle where we would lower a bucket on a chain and then bring it back up with water to pour in the troughs. That water seemed clear and clean to me, but we didn't drink it. I really don't know why.
The drinking well we shared with our neighbors was located between our houses down a little steep, a few meters away from our house, and then through a corridor about 25 feet long. We would carry our buckets to the well, lower them down, fill them with water, and then carry them back home.
On January 30th, 1921, it was 15 degrees below zero with about three feet of snow on the ground when a very pregnant young woman named Susanna went down the steep for a bucket of drinking water. When she was about halfway home with the water, she dropped the bucket. Her baby decided to enter the world right then and there. Susanna was about 20 feet from the house, holding her baby in, and yelling for the neighbors to call for the mid-wife. By the time the mid-wife came, I was born. They named me Paula, a Latin expression meaning "Small."
In looking back on my life and everything I have been through, I think that was the first attempt from the adversary, Satan, to get me, and I now know it was the first of more than 10,000 miles of miracles that I would experience.
When I was four years old, there was a Sunday when my Aunt Molly was getting married and we were all dressed up for the event. Well, the night before, there had been a terrible storm and the mud was thick and deep around our house. I got mud all over my shoes, so I went down to the river to try to clean them off. I slipped and fell into that swollen and swift river.
On the other side of the river was a sawmill and one of the men there looked up and saw my red skirt floating in the water. He yelled to the others, "Hey, look, there's something or someone in the river. It looks like a child's skirt or something. We'd better go see what it is!"
Like I said, the river was carrying me along so swiftly and it took them all working together to latch onto me. They pulled me up on the shore and turned me upside down to try to get all the water out of my lungs. They were able to reach the doctor who lived nearby and rush him to the scene. He examined me but told them he thought it was too late and that I was already gone. They took me home where my folks laid me on a bed and tended to me. I eventually came around and once again my young life was spared.
We had our own national anthem there in Schwedler. We spoke high (pure) German in school and in public, but at home we spoke with our own unique dialect. We don't know exactly where our dialect came from, but the Germans didn't understand most of it.
We were raised to ourselves, so to speak. Most of the people were farmers then, so it was all farmland with no pollution until sometime later when factories moved into the bigger cities nearby.
We lived from the land there in our little Schwedler and were surrounded by the most gorgeous forest. Some of the firs and spruces were 150 feet high. The floor of the forest was amazingly beautiful from fruit berries growing abundantly. There was every kind of fruit you could imagine: raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries, strawberries. The blueberries were so abundant that when they were in bloom, there was a magnificent purple hue cast throughout the forest.
As children, we would grab a bowl after school and take a little time to pick and eat that wonderful fruit and berries all season.
We children picked all the berries for the marmalade we made in kettles. We would have jars after jars of good marmalade to last us through the winter. I liked especially the rosehip and blueberry marmalades. The rosehips were considered to be very healthy and we would pick them by the sacks full. The blueberries were good for the eyes.
We had fruit trees, too. We had plum trees, two cherry trees, two apple trees -one especially big one in the front of our house - and a pear tree behind the pig sty that would produce the most beautiful, tasty pears. And there was one pear tree that bore wee little pears. One bite and the whole pear was gone. I don't know what they were called, but I remember they were so tasty! We lived simply, and as I said, from the land and I don't recall there being much sickness.
As children, we didn't have much time to play, but when we did, we played hopscotch. None of our ground was paved, so when it would rain, the mud would be up to five inches high. We would have to wash our shoes with a bucket full of water to try to get all that mud off.
Families depended on everybody in the household, from the youngest to the oldest, to help with the chores. So we were always busy and therefore tired at night. It was a good life, very harsh and hard in so many ways, but a good life. We always seemed to have enough to eat, and it was good food, too.
I was just a little girl then and I remember so many things that happened in my time. I remember when we first put electricity in the barn. We had cows and oxen, pigs, geese, ducks, and chickens. We had all our own meat, our own produce, a big root cellar with a huge barrel full of sauerkraut that was the best thing you could ever taste. We all worked hard and stored everything we needed for the winter.
My mother would bake 12 eight-pound loaves of bread every two weeks for our family, and we would eat most of those 12 loaves by the time she would bake again. However, there were many people much poorer than we were and we gave a lot of our bread away. It seemed to me that it was the best bread ever. I couldn't imagine there could be anything like it anywhere else in world.
We worked hard as children. Today it would probably be called child abuse. We got beaten if we were bad and sometimes we didn't even know why we got a swat. There was no softness or spoken love and affection. I never heard my mother say "I love you." I don't ever remember being hugged or kissed. In fact, my mother told me I was ugly.
When I was six years old, school started at 8:00. We had to get up at 5:30 in the morning to help in the three barns full of animals, plus the pigs. We had to get the manure out, put new bedding down for the cattle, and help with the milking.
Then we had to help make breakfast and wash the dishes. We had two big bowls for the dishes, one filled with real hot water. We used something we called "soda" which was kind of a clear soap that was harsh on our hands. That's how we washed the dishes.
We cooked on a stove that had three burners. On the holes, there were three rings. If we wanted to cook slowly, we took just the small ring out. If we wanted to cook more quickly, we took out the second ring. And if we wanted to really cook fast, we took out the third ring. The pots would get pitch black from the smoke, so we had to take them to the river so we could scrub the bottoms with fine sand.
When we did our laundry, we boiled our clothes in a big kettle. Then we would take the clothes to the crystal clear water at the river to rinse and hang them up to dry.
As kids, we had to practically steal time to do our homework. I see so many children today who have so much free time and seem to have everything. You have to tell them a hundred times to do their homework. Then it's bedtime and they say they are too tired to do it. This was not an option for my son when I was raising him. We would do what we called "drilling" and if he didn't know the answers, he was sent back to the books at least once and sometimes twice.
We were never allowed to tell our parents that we were too tired to do our homework. That was simply unacceptable when I was a child. My mother would just look at us sometimes and we knew what she expected us to do. We never talked back to our parents. Never.
I heard a sermon the other day on the fifth commandment: honor your father and mother. I don't see that in our society today, but we really did honor our parents. We obeyed and did what we were expected to do, both at home and in school. Sometimes we truly barely had time for our homework, but we did it. That was not just our family, but everybody in the whole little valley. Children honored elders.
I was never in the "Hitler Youth" program, but we all knew what Adolph Hitler taught. He taught that young people were to honor their parents and elders. If we traveled on a bus or a train and saw an older person standing, we got up and offered them our seat. If we saw somebody walking by carrying a heavy load, we were expected to help him carry that load. People don't believe that Hitler taught that, but he did.
Germany was in good shape under Hitler's early leadership. Everyone seemed to have everything they needed and it was said that there was no unemployment or prostitution in the land. It was under Hitler's reign that all the power lines in Germany were buried underground.
It was also during Hitler's early leadership that the 90-mile high-speed super highway, the Autobahn, was opened in 1935.
Then Hitler got power-crazy, and as history now shows, his actions brought inconceivable devastation to millions.
The year when I was six years old, the summer had been particularly dry and we didn't have enough hay for the cattle for the winter. We had to go up to a mountain called Buchwald where there was luscious grass and beautiful springs everywhere. It took three hours by oxen and hay wagon to get up the mountain and we had to make several trips to get enough hay to last through the winter.
My dad always woke me up early in the morning to go with him to help. I would cry and ask him to get someone else to go with him. It was so early and I was still sleepy. He would tell me to bring my blanket and sleep on the way up, or I could walk behind him. So, I'd get up and ride in the wagon. When we got up the mountain, my dad would mow the grass and I would go behind him and spread it out. It was still dark when we would finish with the mowing and spreading of the grass.
When the sun came out and reflected on that freshly cut and deeply green grass, it was a beautiful sight. I would turn the grass four times during the day so that by late afternoon it would be dry enough for us to load onto the wagon.
I would be on the wagon loading the grass while my dad would pass it to me with a pitchfork. He always said that when I loaded it, it was better than what anyone else could do. When others would load it, they would always lose some on the rough and rocky way back down the hill. I guess that's why he would wake me up to go with him on those early mornings.
After the wagon was loaded, he would cut down a tree and use it to hold the wagon back from the oxen as we made our way back down that steep mountainside. With the little weight I had then, as a small child, I had to sit on that tree that was bound to the wagon to help hold it back. I was black and blue by the time we got down the hill and I got off that tree.
As I mentioned before, there was a forest near our house and we could take our cattle to graze there during those dry summers. To get to that part of the forest would take about three hours.
I took the cattle to forest to graze many times during my childhood. I would take a pillow, a blanket and some food and spend the entire weekend there, just me and the cattle. Friday evening I made my camp and went back home on Sunday evening. The cattle would stay nearby while grazing. If they did start to stray, I would call them and they would come right back.
Sometimes I felt that I could talk with those oxen and cows and horses. In the spring, when we plowed the fields, I would tell them to go right, and they would go right. I would tell them to go left, and they would go left. I had a big apron full of grain and would sow grain like the farmers mentioned in the Bible.
I recall one particular weekend when I was about seven years old that I took the cattle to the forest to graze. It was beautiful weather and the forest was just gorgeous. At night I made a big fire and the cattle would all come close around.
I ate a good supper, bread and butter and fruit. There were little wells in the wild with water as clear as crystal where I would kneel down for a drink.
One night the cattle woke me up and I heard little twigs breaking. When the cattle felt danger, they would make a certain noise, and they made that noise that night. I knew something was going on. They all were standing up, none of them would lie down. Suddenly I saw an image through the flame of the fire. No more than 20 feet away was a big bear!
Sometimes woodworkers from the forest would stop by our house and visit my dad. I had heard one of them tell a story of encountering a bear in the forest once. He said he took a hot stick out of his campfire, swung it at the bear and scared it away. I remembered that story and pulled a big hot stick from my fire, swung at that bear, and believe it or not, that bear went away. And also, believe it or not, I wasn't afraid to go back to sleep.
I laid back down and looked up at the sky, the moon, the stars and those high lovely trees, and my, what an awesome sight that was. I didn't know anything about God at that time in my life, but in those moments of childhood ignorance and innocence, I surely knew of Him.
It seems I was never afraid of anything.
There were some evenings when my dad and the men in our little town would gather around to spit and talk. I don't know what it was about that spitting they did, but I didn't like it. I vividly remember one particular evening when I was about five years old and I heard some of those men make comments about me to my dad, "That little girl is not afraid of even the Devil!"
When I was 12 years old, my dad said to me, "If I were you, I'd get away from here as soon as I could." I had always worked so hard and would walk as far as my little legs would carry me to help out, so I just could not understand why he would say that. Did he want me to go away? Why? I just didn't know.
It was somewhat customary during this time for the older children, usually girls, to leave home at a young age. My cousin, Clair, had done so. They called it "serving". Still, I was somewhat hurt and confused as to why my father would want me to leave, but I trusted his judgment and decided it was best for me to leave home and go on my own.
I was born in 1921. When the war started in 1933, I left home and went by train to a beautiful town called Leutschau, about 40 miles from home.
There were a lot of Jewish people living there and I worked for a couple who had a small department store where you could buy almost anything. Since they were not permitted under Jewish law to do any kind of work on the Sabbath, I would even shut the electric lights off for them.
On Friday they would cook a pot of beans with chicken, spices, and vegetables in it and take it to the town kitchen where everybody else would bring their pots of beans. They would put it all in one big oven. Then on the Sabbath, somebody who was not Jewish would turn the oven on. It would take many hours for it all to cook and by mid-afternoon everyone would enjoy a great meal. They called it Schont and I remember it tasted so very good.
A few years ago when I had the privilege of traveling to Israel, there was a lady on the plane and we talked about Schont. When she got home, she sent me her recipe. I made it once, but since I don't eat real chicken, I used soy chicken; and while the Schont was good, it was not nearly as good as I remember it being in those days when I had left home at 12 years old for Leutschau and worked for those Jewish people.
Excerpted from 10,000 MILES OF MIRACLES by PAULA LINDEMANN Copyright © 2008 by Paula Lindermann and Becky White. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted January 11, 2011
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