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When I was 15 years old and my brother was 13, our parents sat us down and told us that we might be leaving Germany within a year. Our papers were in order and the entire family - Mom, Dad, my brother Wolfgang, my little sisters Angelika, 5, and Karola, less than 2 years old - would be traveling to Hamburg, Germany, 50 miles from where we lived, to see the American consulate for final approval of our immigration to the United States.
What a shock that was to us. My brother was very excited; my sisters did not understand. I was unhappy and told my parents that I would not be coming with them. I wanted to stay in Germany, probably with my aunt who lived in the big city of Hamburg.
My mother said: "You are definitely not staying in Germany. I could not possibly leave one of our children behind."
I would become teary-eyed when I thought of saying goodbye to my beloved grandmother. Since Grandma lived with us since I was born, I could not imagine life without her.
Mother had managed the war years by herself, with a paralyzed mother and two very young children - my brother and me. She was remarkable - always making the right decisions concerning us fleeing our home in Stargard, Pomerania, escaping the Russian fighting on the front, which closed in on us repeatedly.
My father came back from America and England, where he had spent three years as a prisoner of war. Living in Germany as refugees was depressing. After my dad lost his job with the British in 1954, it became clear that Germany was no longer the place for my parents to raise their four children. Immigration forms were completed, documents were notarized and passports arrived.
My father rented a Volkswagen Beetle with a driver. Early one morning, the car pulled up in front of our home. Three adults, two teenagers and two little girls all piled into this little car for the three-hour drive to Hamburg. All our papers were in order.
We returned home, and though Grandma was glad we had a safe trip, she still hoped that somehow this would not come to fruition.
We spent Christmas 1955 all together, with Grandma and my aunt from Hamburg and didn't talk about the immigration. Where would we be for Christmas 1956? Then our travel papers arrived. We were coming to America.
I had already told my teachers, and classmates and all my friends. They were so excited that I got caught in the anticipation of "Coming to America."
Three large, wooden crates arrived at our house and our belongings were packed. Suitcases with personal belongings were ready. Grandma was picked up by my uncle from Cologne. My aunt from Hamburg came and we said our goodbyes. I controlled myself and did not even cry. (That is, not in front of anyone. How could we leave all our family? We were so close.)
Our home was empty. Everything was either sold or shipped. Mom and Dad and brother and sister slept at our friend's house. My sister Angelika and I slept at my girlfriend's house. In the early morning hours, we boarded a train to Bremerhaven.
Four days later, after the final clearing, we boarded the SS General Langfitt, a military troop transportation ship. My Dad's parents and my beloved aunt stood at the dock waving their handkerchiefs. The ship pulled away, the tears flowed.
So began my largest, life-changing experience. We arrived in New York City on April 30, 1956. We settled in Buffalo and began our lives again.
I will forever be grateful to my parents for giving us the opportunity for a better life in America. When we visit Germany, it is wonderful and so much fun, but home? Home for many, many years now has been Buffalo, N.Y. No regrets - just happy in Buffalo.