Queen of the Bremen: The True Story of an American Child Trapped in Germany During World War II

Queen of the Bremen: The True Story of an American Child Trapped in Germany During World War II

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450251297
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/15/2012
Pages: 332
Sales rank: 527,258
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

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QUEEN OF THE BREMEN

The True Story of an American Child Trapped in Germany during World War II
By Marlies Adams DiFante Ann Marie DiFante

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Marlies Adams DiFante with Ann Marie DiFante
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-5129-7


Chapter One

Papa

My story begins with John Adams, born in 1892. He was one of seven siblings, but only ever spoke of two brothers; Nick and Peter and an older sister called Lena. The family lived in a small farmhouse in Oberemmel, a quaint village in the Rhineland of Germany. The land surrounding the house consisted mostly of vineyards, and the grapes produced supplied a meager income for their large family. As the children grew older, they helped work the vineyard out of necessity. It was a big job. Their mother, Anna, needed a great deal of assistance tending to the small plot of earth as she found herself sadly married to a cruel man who refused to lend his support and, more important, a helping hand.

Rather, her husband's efforts were focused in a much different place. He was the proprietor of the local tavern, and as the owner- operator, he led a two-bit, raunchy lifestyle in which his alcoholism flourished. Virtually any time of the day or night, he could be found at the bar where whatever profits his wife earned from her tiny vineyard were quickly swallowed in support of his drinking habit, leaving the family deficient in more ways than one.

The children were subjected to constant beatings as they grew and often witnessed their softhearted mother enduring the same abuse. As time passed, their father frequently reeked of booze and became increasingly violent. As a result of his cold-heartedness, self-indulgence, and lack of affection for his family, the children had no respect for him or his way of life.

Violence and fear became part of young John's life, and the simplicity of childhood slowly dissipated with every beating he sustained. As he came of age, John began to recognize how sorrowful and lonely his mother had become. He desperately yearned to ease his mother's pain. Trying to make light of the situation or telling jokes from time to time were only temporary distractions; her smile would quickly fade.

Standing five feet and eleven inches and weighing 150 pounds, John's thin build and chiseled face were a reflection of his youth and, despite a nonexistent childhood, he grew up to be a decent, hardworking, and handsome young man. Attempting to make a better way of life for himself, he finished school and attended a university where he studied the processing and planting of grapes. It was a business he knew well: the wine business.

During his course of study, he was called to serve in World War I as a non-commissioned officer in the cavalry. He instructed Turkish troops in warfare and was wounded twice in action, including once when he was shot in the head. While recuperating from that excruciating injury, he received word that his brother Peter had also been wounded in the war. However, the injuries that Peter sustained were life-threatening, and he never recovered.

The loss of Peter was devastating to John. The special bond built during their childhood and shared into their adult years had come to an end. He felt as though he had not only lost his brother, but his best friend. Peter, unfortunately, had felt the brunt of the abuse, and John had taken it upon himself to provide guidance and affection while protecting him from their father's heavy hand. The two had shared their hopes, dreams, and their innermost thoughts, and now there was a void he could never fill. Although he loved his other siblings, his relationships with them were never close. In fact, his ties to the others slowly faded over the coming years, and the relationship he shared with Lena would end many years later violently and abruptly, in a fit of rage.

Recovering from his injuries and heartbroken over the loss of Peter, John had no choice but to move on with his life. After the war ended, having filled him with knowledge and life experience, he found a position working as a teacher in a government-owned vineyard. The school was located in the town of Aachen Hausen, on the Rhine River; a place he would always feel was one of the loveliest parts of the district.

John was charged with overseeing a class of fifty students, and he enjoyed his work tremendously. The pay was sufficient, but due to inflation, the German mark was of little value; every bit of what he earned was spent during the coming week. After paying room and board and purchasing his necessities, he was left with nothing at the end of the month. The inability to save money was discouraging for John and most of the men he worked with. Some of his co- workers spoke of opportunities and high-paying jobs in the United States. They talked about the demand for workers and teachers with their knowledge and expertise. Night after night, their conversations turned to the land of opportunity.

John listened intently to the stories of how a man could become rich by knowing how to teach others his trade. During one such conversation, he uttered a few words that would change the course of his life. "I have an uncle who lives in the States, and I am going to contact him to obtain a visa." He had made up his mind to dare to dream. His friends secretly wished they could conjure the same courage, but with envy, they wished him luck. In 1923, with the financial help of his uncle, he packed what little belongings he had, bid farewell to his family, boarded an ocean liner, and departed Germany, bound for America and what was sure to be a better way of life.

In America

After days of traveling to the mysterious foreign land, John moved in with his uncle in Oregon and found a position at the Mission of the Divine Worth, a catholic school where he continued working for two years teaching wine making. During that time, he taught many of the students to speak German and in return they taught him English. Between the young priests and nuns at the mission and listening to play-by-play baseball on the radio, he was a quick study of the language and became a big fan of America's favorite pastime. John was happy in Oregon for a short while, but the novelty soon wore away. Besides, his uncle turned out to be as hardened and cruel as his father.

Even though he worked long hours to repay his debt for the trip across the ocean, it seemed the amount he owed decreased ever so slowly, and with no room in the main house, he was forced to take up residence in the barn. It was not exactly or even remotely close to how he imagined his new-found life to be. When he dared to dream, his visions never included sleeping in anyone's barn. He was willing to pay his dues, but in the back of his mind, he knew change was imminent.

Priding himself on being a man that always kept his word, he remained living under the less-than-stellar conditions until every dime he owed was paid in full. Afterwards, John saved his earnings and began making plans. Although he appreciated what his uncle had done for him, he decided to leave Oregon and the sooner the better.

His new destination: New York. He traveled to the Upstate area where he found a position working at Saint Michael's Mission on Conesus Lake. The mission, better known as the Bishop's Farm, was run-down and in desperate need of repair. His job was to bring the vineyards back to order, so the grapes used to make communion wine for Sunday mass could be produced. It was a dream come true, and the break he had been working diligently toward.

He was living in the land of opportunity and although the pay was not as much as he had expected, John was proud to be making a difference. His experience and knowledge brought the once depleted vineyards back to life. The harvest of grapes that year was tremendous and his hard work appreciated. John's innovative techniques revitalized the land that had been forgotten.

Continuing to teach the priests, together they cultivated the land he grew to love. John also focused his attention on a much grander goal. In 1929, he reached that goal as he received his citizenship papers, becoming an official United States citizen. His smile stretched across his face, exuberant. This was what he had dreamt of, what they had all dreamt of six years earlier back at the government-owned vineyard in Aachen Hausen.

By the following year, he had saved enough money to travel back to Germany to visit his mother, who was finally beginning to succumb to years of abuse. He was proud to return home and share the stories of his experiences as a new American with his old friends and family. He had been home for a few weeks, visiting his ailing mother, when some friends introduced him to the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes upon. Elisabeth Hans was soft-spoken and petite with dark hair and blue eyes. In one glorious instant, he fell deeply in love and immediately summed her up as gentle and caring, the kind of woman he must get to know.

She was working as a seamstress, and she was a master of her trade. She had many customers and kept extremely busy. Nevertheless, the two made time to get acquainted. Every moment they spent apart, he dreamt of their next rendezvous. He could think of little else.

Elisabeth was smitten with him as well, and they truly enjoyed each other's company. After dating a few times, she invited him to her hometown of Kell, near the city of Trier, to meet her family. The trip to her lovely village, nearing the border of Luxemburg, gave them ample opportunity to get to know one another. John was delighted to go and meet the family he had heard so much about.

Anxious to see Elisabeth and meet her new beau, her parents, five brothers, and five sisters gathered to greet them at the family home. Being warm and hospitable, they welcomed John one by one, making him feel a part of their family, something he had longed for. As the day wore on, his mind wandered; he pictured a family of his own that loved and respected one another and imagined how wonderful life would be with Elisabeth by his side. All he had to do was ask for her hand in marriage. He was one question and one answer away from true happiness.

After spending a fair amount of time growing closer to Elisabeth and her family on the farm, and realizing that his trip was nearing its end, John believed the perfect moment had arrived. Nervously, he turned to her and proposed. "I love you Elisabeth. Will you marry me? I promise to make a beautiful life for us in America."

As far as she was concerned, the question came out of nowhere. She responded nervously, "I barely know you, and you want me to cross an ocean to live in a strange land? No. I'm sorry, John, but I can't do that."

Devastated, he approached her father, hoping that he'd agree with the proposal and change his daughter's mind. However, to John's dismay, Herr Hans responded in kind.

"No. John, I won't try to change her mind. I wouldn't let any of my daughters cross that ocean and travel so far away, especially not Elisabeth."

Feeling completely dejected, he asked her, "If you won't be my wife, could I at least write to you when I return to America?" She agreed, believing no harm could come of it. Upon returning home, he immediately began his correspondence. He wrote from his heart, hoping to touch hers an ocean away.

As the letters arrived, Elisabeth was overwhelmed. His handwriting was impeccable, and she was amazed by how intelligent and thoughtful he was. Even though she had turned down his marriage proposal, deep down she missed him and waited patiently for his letters to arrive.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and as time slowly passed, John had all but given up on a life with Elisabeth. With his mother only days from death, he knew he would most likely never return to Germany.

John's mother, however, knew in her heart how much John loved Elisabeth. She also knew, as a mother, that she should do everything possible to bring the two of them together. She sent a telegram to Elisabeth asking her to please come visit her, as she had something of extreme importance to discuss. Elisabeth responded, telling her that she would come as soon as possible. Upon her arrival, at first sight, she realized how very ill John's mother was.

Mrs. Adams spoke bluntly: "I have a very serious question to ask you, and I hope that you will give me the right answer. I'm not going to get well, and I'm asking you as a last dying wish, to please agree to marry my son. He's a good man, and he'll be kind and gentle to you. I'm positive that you will learn to love him as much as I do. He is alone in America, but with you, he'd be complete. And that would be all I could hope for."

Elisabeth sheepishly replied, "I'm sorry but I can't do that. John seems like a wonderful man, and I love the letters he sends, but he's still a stranger to me. I cannot cross an ocean and marry a man I barely know." His mother began sobbing. When Elisabeth saw the tears on the face of a dying mother, pleading with her, she couldn't bear it. "Please don't cry. I'm sorry." She tried to explain the situation but failed to make her understand.

In that moment, Elisabeth reached out and touched the dying woman's hands. With tears swelling in her eyes, she promised to marry John. A smile crept across Mrs. Adam's face, and she blessed Elisabeth as she held her tightly. She wept, "Now I can die in peace, thank you my daughter." Two days after the promise was made, John's mother passed away. She was finally at peace and free from her sorrow-filled existence.

Elisabeth left Oberemel and returned home feeling burdened with the promise she'd made. Before she knew it, six months had passed, and still she couldn't bring herself to forget the words she had spoken. Night after night, she'd lay awake in bed thinking of her promise to a dying mother, yet how could she bring herself to leave her beloved family and move so far away? "I would die of homesickness. I just couldn't master this," she thought to herself. "But how could I break my promise? I gave her my word."

Elisabeth tried to put the conversation out of her mind, but the words taunted her every waking moment, and returned at night to haunt her dreams. Unable to untangle her inner turmoil, she sought her father's opinion and came to a decision. As much as he hated the idea, he felt that being a person of your word was non-negotiable. Promises were not meant to be broken. In fact, they couldn't be broken when made to someone on her deathbed. Agreeing with her father, and truly believing she'd remain in a desperate plight if she didn't tell John what had occurred, she sat down and wrote the letter that would alter the only existence she had ever known.

After receiving the long, detailed letter, John could not believe the words before his eyes. He learned of his mother's request, and in keeping with the promise, she went on to write that if it was still his wish, that she would indeed marry him. John was shocked and overjoyed. He immediately replied that he would return to Germany and marry Elisabeth.

Upon John's arrival, plans were swiftly made for an impromptu wedding. It was a bittersweet moment for Elisabeth as they prepared to become husband and wife. The marriage ceremony was scheduled to be held in Kell on July 26, 1932, with Elisabeth declaiming, "It is the will of God that I should marry this man."

The wedding day was as beautiful as any little girl dreams of. It seemed as though the whole town gathered to attend the mass. The sun was shining and John was beaming. His dreams had come true, and all of his prayers had been answered. The most beautiful woman he had ever crossed paths with was moments away from being his bride.

The church was decorated with the most fragrant flowers. As a surprise to John and Elisabeth, Mr. Hector, the organist had gathered flowers from all of the homes in town, from which the people contributed gladly. They were pure white, and looked like little white stars all in bloom. Her youngest sister, Ida, took her role as flower girl with great earnestness. She was only five years old and the quintessential vision of beauty. She wore a lovely white, long- sleeved frock, ankle socks with patent leather shoes, and a charming white bow in her hair. She carried a bundle of fragrant, white flowers nearly half her size.

In Germany during the thirties, it was tradition for the bride and all the attendants other than the flower girl to wear black. Elisabeth followed tradition to a T, wearing a floor-length, black gown with white trim at the scoop of the neck. Her jet-black hair was pulled back tightly and adorned with a gorgeous, white, flowing veil, trimmed with lace that trailed far behind her as she glided like an angel across the floor.

John was also dressed exquisitely in his dark suit and high-collared, button-down, white shirt and top hat, the only difference from the other men in attendance was that John was not wearing a necktie, making him stand out.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from QUEEN OF THE BREMEN by Marlies Adams DiFante Ann Marie DiFante Copyright © 2010 by Marlies Adams DiFante with Ann Marie DiFante. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction....................xi
1. Papa....................1
In America....................3
The Family Grows in Naples....................13
Christmas in Our German American home....................18
2. Modern Life in the Great Depression....................24
A Trip to the Old Country....................29
Crossing the Atlantic on the Bremen....................33
The "Laws" of Beauty....................36
3. Mama's Village....................38
The Family in the Farmhouse in Kell....................40
The "Laws" of the Family: Listening, Rising Early, and Keeping Busy....................46
The Family and German Law....................49
4. Rüsselsheim....................59
A New Baby in the House....................65
Spring in the Air and with it, Hope....................69
5. Starving under Nazi Rule....................71
Another Wonderful Summer at the Kell Farm....................81
A "Real Adams"....................87
The Two Marlies....................90
Pigs, and Spiders, and Mice, Oh My!....................92
6. The Rule of Fear....................95
Preparing for Another Hard Winter....................97
The Hitler Youth....................100
Air Raids and Ground Assaults....................103
7. Life Goes On in War Time....................118
The Underground Economy....................118
Me and the Gestapo....................120
8. The Hell that Was Holtztum....................128
Teaching the Pigs to Walk....................134
Deciding which Is Worse: Shame, Filth, or Loneliness....................142
9. Nazis in the Family....................149
Saved! But not Rescued....................154
Angels in Our Ears....................159
10. Rescue....................164
Recovering in Kell....................173
11. Changes at Kell....................179
Vazil, the Russian Uncle....................182
Testing Oma and Learning a Lesson....................186
Killing the Fatted Pig....................188
Mixed Blessings, Going Home....................194
12. With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?....................195
Nazis vs Women and Children....................195
The Allies vs Children....................201
13. Surviving on Faith....................205
The Damage Circles In....................207
A "Peaceful" Farming Community....................211
The Yanks Are Coming, the Yanks Are Coming....................214
The Family Reunited....................219
14. Peace without Relief....................222
War Is Over, but Not for Us....................226
From His Lips to God's Ears....................231
15. The Americans Prepare to Go Home....................238
At the Brink Again....................240
The Most Precious Gifts....................245
Every Blessing Mixed....................249
16. The Ends and the Means....................251
Dreams and Visions....................253
Finding Out the Beginning and the End....................254
More Good News....................256
Refugees Encamped....................257
The Saddest News Yet....................259
Separated Again, on the Troop Ship Ernie Pyle....................263
17. Back in America....................271
Only to Wait in Fear Again....................271
Bread and Bananas, Taxis and Trains....................274
Making Ourselves at Home Again....................277
18. Parceled Out in Naples....................281
School Dazed....................285
Saving Everything for Mama....................286
Still Making Trouble Standing Up for Others....................296
One Surprise and then the Best One Yet....................299
Mr. Parsons Brings Us Together Again....................302
19. Together for the Duration....................306
A New Baby and a New House....................308
Letter to Mama....................312
Angels that Graced My Life....................315
Afterword by Marlies DiFante....................317
Afterword by Ann Marie DiFante....................318

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Queen of the Bremen: The True Story of an American Child Trapped in Germany during World War II 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
annmaried on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This is the best story ever written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not stop reading this book. The story about her aunt was sick at best. I still can't get it out of my mind. AMAZING!
Guns2 More than 1 year ago
This book is a real page turner. I could not put it down. Great story about a little girl that had to deal with the most horrific events of war, starvation, freezing cold, abandonment and mistreatment by her own Aunt only because she was American. A great story for young and old alike. should be made into a movie.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book. I could not put it down, It made me laugh and cry.