Today, December 8th 2012, would have been my dad’s 100th birthday, were he still alive. And he is still alive in my heart and mind. I think of him and miss him each and every day, especially when something special happens or has happened over the past 35 years since he has been gone!! He never got to meet any of his grandchildren or great-grandchildren and he would have loved them all dearly and would have both helped them and spoiled them all to death! Unbelievable to me that it could be 35-years since he went to Heaven!
My dad, Karl Groetzmeier, was the kind of guy who said what he thought, stood up for his principles, worked too hard, but still managed to put his family first, was always the first person to volunteer and was liked by nearly everyone. And we all thought that he would live forever, or at least to be very old. He never seemed to run out of energy or goals.
He was born in Austria, the fourth and youngest child in his family. His father was drafted and went off to war (World War I) when my dad was an infant and never returned home, so my father never knew his dad and was raised by his mother, Theresa (my daughter’s name sake), who my father adored and who had a very difficult time making ends meet when he was young, so she leaned heavily on her oldest son, Josef, who was named after his father… the closest thing to a father that my dad knew (but only 8 years older than my dad).
My father, by all accounts was a good student but there was no money for college and he actually considered, ever so briefly, becoming a Catholic priest to get that education and further himself.
Instead he got married; married a gal, Loisa, who already had a young daughter, Elli, who my father adopted and they soon had a baby boy, Werner. But the bliss didn’t last long as he soon found himself in the whirl of the second World War having to leave his family behind as did his father and so many others during both those long and costly wars.
He was drafted into the German army when Hitler came to power and brought his homeland, Austria, into the “Reich”. My father was a young man at that time with a wife, daughter and son, but unlike being in the military in modern times or here in the United States, soldiers almost never got to come home on leave to see their families unless they were injured, so they were often separated for years during both World War I and World War II. As a German soldier, my father marched on foot from Germany to Normandy, France and then back through all of Europe to Moscow, where he almost froze to death after being struck in the face with a rifle butt which broke his nose, and left for dead. Being part of a medical unit probably helped him get through. While being held up outside of Moscow with no food and a lack of ammunition waiting for the non-forthcoming okay from Hitler to retreat, my dad received an envelope with nothing in it but his wife and son’s “dog tags” and a short note stating, “killed in bomb air-raids, no remains, no leave granted”. He found out later that his wife and four-year-old son never made it into the bomb shelter before the Americans dropped their bombs on their town. His daughter was away at school so survived.
Toward the end of the war he met my mother, Maria Holz, a German Red Cross nurse in an American Prisoner of War Camp where my father was now head of his medical unit to which the nurses had been attached. They had fled as a unit crossing by 2×4’s over the Elbe River to get from the Russian side to the American side before being captured. My mother was eight years younger than my father. She grew up in Frechen Germany and told us stories of how she could remember the Nazis and the ‘Hitler Jugend’ (Youth) in the streets everywhere when she was a child. The ‘Hitler Jugend’ was a type of political scouts associated with the Nazi party, and the only reason she did not have to join was because her mother was bed-ridden for over four years with rheumatoid arthritis and my mother had to take care of her, the house and the family when she wasn’t in school. She always said that her mother’s illness saved her, because she hated the politics that were going on around her.
My mom’s family was active in the “underground resistance movement” and helped in the fight against the Nazis and helped transport and hide people from them, primarily Jews, which was dangerous. (Actually both my father’s family in Austria as well as my mother’s family in Germany were part of ‘the underground’ so it seems somehow fitting that my dad’s 100th would fall on Hanukkah this year.) My mother, Maria, remembers a loud knock on the door when she was young. When her mother, Katarina, answered the door, four Nazis in full uniform threw her favorite uncle, Fritz, onto their doorstep. He had been caught helping some Jews to escape. The Nazis had beaten Fritz to the point that he was permanently crippled and while he was recovering, my mom remembering, told us of how some of his flesh was so bruised that it rotted and just fell away from his bones. It left her with a bad feeling about politics for the rest of her life.
My parents were married in the American prisoner of war camp, where the nurses made my mother a wedding dress out of gauze bandages. Unfortunately there are no photos. My mother was pregnant while they were in captivity and lost their son, Karl, after only living a few days. They remarried at City Hall in Frechen, Germany, my mother’s hometown, when they were eventually released, where her half sister Lisbeth and her husband Peter (Klein) lived and were witnesses. Then my parents went to Linz, Austria, the area my father was from and reconnected with his adopted daughter. My mother also responded to a letter from her father in America, who she had only known as Uncle Willy growing up, that somehow found its way to her after 5-years in response her letter letting him know that her mother had passed away 3-days before WWII broke out and all mail delivery between the countries quickly halted. That grew into an invitation for my parents to come to America, for which they put themselves on a list and waited for the authorization to come for 7-years.
In the meantime my father became a contractor and was part of the rebuilding process of Linz, Austria. By the time the paperwork and call came for them to come to America I had been born, my step-sister had grown up and was looking at marriage, my parents were doing well economically and father was contemplating a run for the Austrian Senate. But he gave that all up to come to America because he knew if they didn’t come it would always haunt my mother as an opportunity missed to get to know her father, William (Fritzen), and half-sister, Marion, (my name sake) plus they truly believed that America was the land of opportunity and would be a better place for me and any future children. My sister, Carla, and brother, Rick, were born in California and the three of us were taught to be grateful for the opportunity and luck of living in this wonderful country. It would pain my father to see this country today!
I often think that my father would have had an easier life if they had stayed in Austria. He worked two to three jobs from virtually the day they arrived in California, by way of New York, until he died far too young of Cancer at age 63, but he never complained nor ever mentioned once that he had regrets because he felt he did the right thing for my mother and his kids, who each thought they were his favorite. And the only reason I know that he had a previous family or about his war experience was because, being the oldest, I spent a lot of time with my mom and she shared those stories. He never talked about them, like so many veterans don’t.
My father seemed to work 24/7 yet looking back, he was home every day for a sit down dinner; he never missed a special event for any of us (based on the standards of the times); he spent his two and then three week vacations with us… the family and they were always great; he went hunting and fishing with my brother (who was the youngest); and both my parents made holidays, especially Christmas, and trips to places like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm fabulous adventures for lasting memories. I wish I could have done as well!! And how he would have loved to see my daughter in the Electrical Parade as Minnie Mouse!
Whatever the emergency or need was for the three of us kids, my parents found a way to fix it or meet the need. And with their packed schedule and strict budget they always found a way to help anyone who needed it as well.
My dad found out in November of 1976 that he had colon cancer after a six month circus of occurrences where the doctor could not determine what was wrong with him and he died the following March. (Definite malpractice, but my mother chose not to pursue it… and it ultimately lead to her death as well as may brother’s.) He never was sick that I can remember before that time, not even a cold. He was starting to look forward to retiring, at least from his full-time job with the phone company and he was looking forward to spending time with my brother until he graduated, who was sixteen when our dad died. And after that my father was looking forward to going back on a visit to Austria and Germany for the first time after 25+ years and to do some traveling with my mom. He never got to do any of it and one of the last conversations we had, under the veil of morphine he was on for the pain at the end, he said, “Marion, it wasn’t enough!” That statement haunts me and perhaps is why I always feel that I need to still do so much more and don’t have time to just sit around. (I always think of Mary See who didn’t start her famous candy business until she was 68 and Mother Terresa who worked tirelessly to the end… not that I’m comparing myself to either of them, but am inspired.)
I miss my dad every day and am so grateful to have had him as a father. And as painful as it was, I am so grateful to have been the one to give him his shots and help take care of him to the end.
I miss you Daddy and I know you are watching over me! And you were right… it wasn’t enough!
And one of these days I will get that book, The Groetzmeiers, finished as a dedication to the memory of my parents and brother, who all passed far too young and have been gone far too long… so that their grandkids and great grandkids (nieces and nephews) and others, who knew and loved them, might know them a bit better.