Balzer Miller's Life Story
Text permission of Mary Ann Miller, Yakima, Washington, July 2012
This is a transcript of a taped interview of Balzer Miller done by his daughter Linda in 1978. At the front of each line, the L: indicates that it is Linda speaking, and the B: indicates that it is Balzer speaking.
L: This is Linda Doriss interviewing Balzer Leopold Miller on February 11, 1978 at his home in Yakima, Washington at 1:00 p.m. This is Tape One, Side One. Mr. Miller, can you tell me something about your family background?
B: Yes, I have some papers from 1808 from Christopher Miller, immigrated from Reichenbach, Baden, Germany, arrived in Russia August 1, 1808, his wife Katharina age 43 years, children Ignatz 14, Anton 4, Christopher 3, Joseph 2 1/2 , Barbara 18, Katharina 6. He got a homestead there, 162 acres land, two horses, one wagon.
L: Oh, that’s interesting. Then they were pioneers, homesteading in their land. Do you know if they built their own house?
B: Yes, they start building their sod houses first, for about two or three years, then when they had more money they started building themselves better houses.
L: Do you know if they also grew their own vegetables living out there?
B: To begin with, they just built vegetable gardens and saved those vegetables for the winters to live.
L: Did the family stay there until they died or did they move on to new areas?
B: No, the family stayed there.
L: And did his wife remain there also until she died?
B: Yes, she died there in 1814.
L: How old was she when she died?
B: 51 years old.
L: Did any of the children move away from there?
B: Yes, some of them moved about 20 kilometers away and got married and made their living there.
L: Do you know if the people who were living in the community gave it a name?
B: Yes, they named the town Mannheim. There were a lot of people who came there from Mannheim, Germany.
L: So, actually they named it after a town they had been living in before?
L: Did the head of the household, the father, Christopher, remain in Mannheim until his death?
B: Yes, he remained there and died and his son took over the homestead, Joseph Miller. And he got married there and ran the homestead, and then he had some children, Karl Miller, Englebert, Maria, Luis, Dominic, Jack, Leopold, Antony, and Joseph.
L: And what happened to the children?
B: The children, then, Joseph Miller, he immigrated to America in 1889. And the oldest son Karl, he stayed at home and took the homestead over.
L: Do you know how Joseph was able to immigrate to the United States? What procedures he had to go through to come over, if was it easy or if was it difficult for him at that time?
B: I don’t know how about it was. Anyway, he came to North Dakota and took a homestead up. And then his children, some moved to Canada, and some to South Dakota, to North Dakota on farms, and started farming there.
L: In other words, Joseph was the first of the Miller family to come to America?
L: And, do you recall what became of Karl?
B: Karl, he stayed at home in Russia and ran the homestead, the farm, and he died around 1928 or 1929.
L: Do you know what happened to the other children in the family?
B: Yes, some moved to South Dakota and farmed there. Some moved to Canada, Joseph Miller and Dominic Miller, they moved to Canada and took homesteads off there, and made their living there.
L: Do you know what year the children migrated to Canada? Approximately? No?
L: After the children moved away and went to Canada and various parts of the world, what did the grandfather Karl do on his homestead?
B: That’s my grandfather Karl Miller, he stayed in Russia on the homestead and farmed there. And he had children, Leopold, Ignatz, Katharina, Magdalene, Maria. And the oldest son, Leopold Miller, he got married and his father then started him out as a farmer, he gave him two horses and built him a house. So the rest of the children all stayed in the same place. And sent the kids to school; there was a nice brick building school up to the 8th grade.
L: Do you remember going to school?
B: Yes, I went four and a half years to school. And then I had to stay at home and start working in the field, to help to make a living.
L: Were you the oldest in your family?
B: No, I had one sister and one brother who were older than I am.
L: How long did they attend school?
B: My oldest sister, she had no school at all, she had to stay at home and work. And my other brother, he had nine years of school.
L: What type of work did the children do at home?
B: Oh, they had to do all kinds of chores. They had to start milking cows, or clean the barn, or feed the pigs or chickens. They had to work along the farm to make a living.
L: Do you remember your teachers from school?
B: Oh yes, they were like any teachers.
L: Did you have a new teacher for each grade or the same teacher all of the time?
B: No, it was the same teacher all of the time.
L: Do you remember the teacher’s name?
L: Do you remember what type of subjects or things you learned at school?
B: Oh, the most was writing and reading and math.
L: How many students were in school with you?
B: Oh, there was about 25 to 30 children in the class.
L: And, were they from the community also?
B: Yes, they were all from the community. Just from the 6th and 7th and 8th grade they came in from the smaller community. They had no 6th and 7th and 8th grade there, and they came to our town, Mannheim.
L: What do you think about school?
B: Oh, just like any kid.
L: Did you like school, or…?
B: Well, one way we like it, and one way we not, just like all the kids.
L: How long did children usually attend school?
B: Oh, in those years the most went to the 4th grade.
L: Was there a reason for that?
B: Yes, the kids had to stay at home and help on the farm to make their parents’ living.
L: Is that what most of the people did?
B: Yes, it was all hand work, there was no machinery, it was just horses and forks and shovels. And the children had to help along on the farm.
L: Did the people in the area lend a hand to each other?
B: Yes, they were all good. When somebody got sick in the family, then the mothers would all cook or bake something and bring it there to that family. And if the father got sick and he could not work on the farm, then all the neighbors and uncles and aunts would all come and put the seed in and harvesting and do the chores. Or when somebody lost a horse or a cow, the people helped along and gave them a horse or gave them a cow and so they all helped together to make a living.
L: What kind of crops did the people grow?
B: Oh, the most was wheat, barley, oats, corn, grapes.
L: Did the people use these products themselves or did they trade with other people?
B: They traded and sold it and bought other stuff that they needed.
L: Did they trade among themselves or did they go outside to other communities?
B: No, they went outside where there was an open market and they could sell the stuff. It was about 40 kilometers away and we had to take the stuff there and sell it on the open market.
L: Do you remember going to the open market?
B: Yes, I went along a lot of times with my father when I was a little boy.
L: Can you tell me what you remember about the open market when you went along?
B: Oh, you come there and there was sections, and one section was wheat, and the other block was cows, and the other block was horses, and you just walk around and look for what you wanted or to what you want to sell, and the people come around looking for what they want to buy, and they just sell it. What you cannot sell, you take home and bring it the other day to the market again.
L: Do you remember very much about your father?
B: Yes, he was a hard working man in the family.
L: Do you think your grandfather was the same way?
B: Yes, my grandfather was the same way. They farmed and in the wintertime they took care of their stock and then they had a shop, a carpenter shop, where they built wagons or plows or repaired all the machinery that they had for the next year. And then they sold stuff that they built during the wintertime, to make extra money.
L: Did you become skilled at building things, also, with your father?
B: Yes, the kids all grew up and in the wintertime we were all in the shop and the fathers, they showed us how to build things and everything. That’s the way everybody started out farming, or carpentering, or anything.
L: Do you remember what kinds of things you liked building best? Or what was the hardest or easiest thing to make?
B: Oh, we built wagons, wheels, and all the woodwork we done, and the blacksmith, they did all the screws and the bolts and the nails, they all built it by hand.
L: Do you remember learning how to make any other type of crafts?
B: Oh, there were all kinds of crafts to make through the wintertime. Like, the girls, they would help in the house, help the mother in the kitchen. They made homemade soap; the boys would go out and gather the animal bones up from the prairies, and the daughters and mothers would cook the bones and put lye in it and make soap. And the boys, they worked with the fathers in the fall to make wine, barrels and barrels of wine. They took the grapes and mashed them up and let them set for about three to four days and we take the juice off and put them in big crocks and then that wine got sold through the wintertime, to make money to make a living. And then we made all kinds of farm equipment, forks and rakes, and we were always in the shop through the wintertimes.
L: Did the entire community get together to make the wine, or was it the responsibility of each family?
B: No, that’s each family, brothers and sisters and uncles, and sometimes neighbors to help together.
L: Do you remember if each family had a different type of recipe for their wine, and were there different types of wine?
B: There were different kinds, there was white wine and a grape wine. It was just about all the same recipe.
L: There were grape vineyards in the area also?
B: Yes, each farmer had a vineyard yard. Then we had a big church in the middle of the town where all the people went on Sunday morning to the church. Sundays was church day.
L: What type of religion was in the church?
B: It was a Catholic community. All the Catholic people were living in each town and we were seven Catholic communities around there. And about 100 miles away from us were about eight or seven other religious communities. And then between the German towns were Russian towns and they stayed alone in their towns. And we visited each other from town to town in the wintertime with horses and sleighs. And we had Russian friends and the Russians had German friends.
L: Do you know what the other religions were or were called?
B: It was Lutheran. Evangelical.
L: Did you celebrate holidays that were related to the church?
B: Yes, we always celebrated holidays. New Year, Christmas, and birthdays, and names days. Holy, holy names, the most of them.
L: What is a names day?
B: A names day is, like a holy name, saints, like Caspar, or Melchior, or Balthasar, like the three holy men. That’s a holy names day and that gets celebrated when your name falls on that day.
L: Oh, I see. So if you happened to be named after one of the saints or holy people, that day is celebrated?
L: How is it celebrated?
B: Oh, the family got together, just like you have a party. The mothers cook and bake things, and the fathers get something to drink and the family gets together and has a good time.
L: Is that the same as celebrating a birthday or is that different?
B: Oh, it’s just about the same, it’s just a names day, a holy name, to celebrate it.
L: Did you also celebrate birthdays on top of that?
B: Yes, but not as much as names days.
L: Oh, then…
B: The religious names got more celebrated than the birthdays.
L: What about Christmas? Do you remember any of your Christmas’s at home?
B: Oh, yes.
L: Can you tell me what they were like?
B: Oh, they were different; and like here. You get your presents of Christmas. The mothers, they baked cookies, and we made candies and then in the evening when the supper was done and all the dishes were washed then the family got together.
L: How many were in your family?
B: We were six children in our family.
L: Did you receive Christmas presents like they do in this country?
B: Yes, nothing bought, we had to make everything at home.
L: Do you remember what kinds of gifts you received that were made at home?
B: Oh, you get cookies and all kinds of stuff that the mother baked and then we made our own baskets to put the stuff in it. In the wintertimes we got all kinds of limbs from the trees and we made baskets. Small baskets, big baskets. And then we made carpet with corn stalk. We got corn stalks and then sliced it and weaved carpet all winter. The boys sliced the stalk and the girls washed it and we had needles, wooden needles, and then we made carpet for the house. Throw carpet, in front of the chair, in front of the bed, or on the kitchen floor, and so.
L: Was there a character that represented Santa Claus?
B: Yes, the boys and the girls got together and they made up, what you call a Christkindel, which was one girl who dressed herself up like a bride. Like when a girl gets married, she had all kinds of nice stuff on. And she brings the presents for the children. They came to the doors and the mother gave them the presents outside and she brought it in and put it down, but we had to say our prayer first before we got our present. Then there was one man made up as, what you call, the Belsenickel. He had some kind of bear’s coat over him, and he had a chain underneath that bear’s coat and he rattled it and scared the boys. And whoever was mean he put a chain around his leg and pulled him outside in the snow. And until the boy said he was good, and that he did all his homework and his schoolwork, then he let him go again, then he came in the house again. And they went from house to house, oh it was about 20 blocks, and in the next 20 blocks another bunch of other people made that up again, so that everybody got his Christmas evening.
L: Do you remember what other kinds of things you and your friends would do for fun to entertain yourselves when you were young?
B: Oh, we would play four cornered balls. We would make a ball out of horse hair, make them wet and dry them and make a hard ball out of it, then we would always play balls in the evening. Four corners, and one in the middle, then we’d throw it back and forth and then we’d hit the middle guy, and whoever failed, he had to go out in the corner, and the other guy came in.
L: Do you remember the kinds of things your parents did?
B: The parents got together in the evening and talked about the farms, what they did all through the day, how much wheat they planted and how much they harvested, and all kinds of farm things. They sat together in the evenings outside. And we had lots of sunflowers there, and they all ate sunflower seeds in the evening. The sunflowers got roasted in the oven and we ate them like peanuts.
L: Do you think that the people considered themselves to be poor, or were they middle class, or did they have enough money to get by?
B: No, there were some rich people and poor people. Like the owner, who owned land, he had land; and some people had no land, they worked out, they worked on the rich people’s farms to make a living. And the farmer paid him so much wheat, or gave him so much meat or flour for the work that he did. There was not much money to be exchanging hands, just the stuff that we raised.
L: What type of tax system did the government have at that time?
B: Oh, they had a tax system where you had to give so much land you had, and so much got taxed.
L: Do you know what percentage of land was given to the government? Or what percentage of money you owed the government? How much they required?
B: No, you have to have tax. Just so much bushels when you raise potatoes, you have to give so many bushels of potatoes for tax, or so many bushels of wheat, or so many liters of milk from one cow you had to give it to the government for the city people to live on it.
L: How did the government collect this from the people?
B: There was a center and you had to bring so much on to that center, of the harvest you had seen. You have so much land, and you have to give so much bushels of your stuff, and if you have so much cows, you have to give so many liters of your milk there.
L: Was this based on a yearly thing?
B: Yes, on yearly income.
L: Do you remember having to bring some of your produce in to the center?
B: Yes, we had to weigh it, so much, and put everything in a sack and bring it there, and from there on, the parish had to furnish the wagons and bring all the stuff to the railroad and load it in the railroad cars and take it to the big cities for the people who lived there, and they had centers there.
L: Do you remember what type of things your family had to bring in?
B: Oh, we had to bring wheat and corn and milk and meat. Everything what we had, we had to bring so much to that center and give it to the government.
L: What were your family’s feelings about this? Were they glad to?
B: Oh, they were glad to, as long as they could keep their own land and their own factories. They liked to give something to the government.
L: What type of promises did the government make in response to the things you gave them? Did they promise you more freedom or…?
B: Yes, as long as there was freedom, they gave the people freedom. But then later on Communism took over, and it was all a different story.
L: What age were you when Communism started to invade your community? Do you recall, when you started to realize more about…?
B: Oh, around 1929 or 1930. The government started making corporations in the town. They took about three or four farmers together and made a corporation deal out of it, and they didn’t have to pay so much tax to the government as the private owner. The private owner still had to give about twice as much tax, and that’s the way they started the Communism.
L: Do you remember any other changes that took place when that happened?
B: Yes, they started out with the religions. The children always had prayer in the school in the morning, but when Communism started out, we had no more prayers. We could not go in the church, just on Sundays. They started with going in the church.
L: Do you remember any other rules they started to enforce?
B: Oh, there were all kinds of rules to enforce.
L: Do you recall the people’s feelings about being forced to attend church only one day a week or do you remember what people were saying or how they felt about that?
B: Oh, they didn’t like it. They were taking the freedom away. And then the farmers were all supposed to volunteer to give their land to the corporations. What they were called at that time were corporations, they started out Communism. They had to pay no tax, and the private owner always had to pay more tax, and more tax, and you were supposed to volunteer to give your property to the government. Just like, for example, my father was a rich farmer and he did not give his land off to the corporation. And he got taxed so high, so that he could not pay his tax anymore, he did not have enough income in the fall to pay his tax, and he got forced, he had to volunteer and give all his land to the corporation.
L: This is tape one, side two. Balzer has been talking about the government’s force in taking over land and forcing the community people to enter a corporation against their will.
B: And so, my father didn’t want to give his land away. And he got forced into it, he had to sign all his land and stock over to the government. And then in 1938 all those people who didn’t sign their land over to the government in the early 1930’s and 1928’s, those people all got taken away to jail and they sent them to Siberia and they all got destroyed, about 25 to 30 million people, all rich people, got sent to Siberia and starved and froze to death out there; the religious people, the churches got all closed up in 1934 and they made museums out of the churches or granaries or dance halls, there was no more religions allowed in our community.
L: Was there very much that the people could do about this situation?
B: Yes, they made some revolutions, but they got overcome by the Communists. Lots of people got shot, and all houses burned down, and the horses taken away. The revolutions people, the Russian people, they took over, and the people were so scared and they could not do anything anymore.
L: Were any of the members of your family affected by this?
B: Yes, they took my father in 1938 to Siberia and we never saw him again. He starved or froze to death out there. And four uncles on my side, and the same on my wife’s side.
L: Were you ever able to hear from those people again or have news of their whereabouts?
B: No, they just told us a place where they took them to Siberia, and we did not get any letters and we could not write them, and we had no address from them, and they never came back. They all died out there or froze to death.
L: Is this what the government wanted you to believe, that they were no longer living?
B: No, they didn’t tell us that they had died. We never thought that they had died, but we heard in later years that they all starved and froze to death out there, and the government wanted to get rid of all those people who did not want to join in Communism.
L: What happened to your family at this time?
B: My family; war broke out in 1941. We were at home, I, my mother, and my brothers and my sisters.
L: Which war was this?
B: It was the second World War.
L: Where was your family living during this time?
B: We still lived at home in Mannheim up to 1944.
L: Can you tell me what became of your family during the war?
B: We still lived in Mannheim up to 1944. And when the German troops came in and freed us from Communism, then the boys had to go in the German war. And there were two brothers at home, and one brother had to go right away to be a German soldier.
L: What was his name?
B: My brother was Jack, he had to go. My oldest brother was married and I was at home and lived on the farm. And my father was gone and I had to help my mother to raise the family.
L: What was your married brother’s name?
L: Then what became of your sisters during that time?
B: They still were at home. The oldest sister was married and the youngest sister was at home.
L: What were their names?
B: Lydia and Rosa.
L: Then did you also join the army?
B: No, later on. I had to join in the army. We people all had to leave then, when the German troops lost the war in Russia. Then we were seven German towns there and we had to all go back to Germany. We put horses on the wagon, we put our best clothes on and the mothers cooked and baked and we loaded the wagon up. And this was in 1944 in March, we left all the villages standing alone, and we traveled for two to three months with horses and wagons, raining and snow, and a lot of children and older people died on the way. Like, my grandmother, she died on the wagon and my brother’s wife she gave birth to her baby on the wagon and it stayed alive. And so we traveled. Mannheim traveled six weeks to Hungary and there they put us on the trains.
L: You traveled from Mannheim to Hungary?
L: I see.
B: We traveled over Romania and Hungary, and then they loaded us on the train and they took the horses and wagons away to the army or took it back to other villages and brought those people out. There was a lot of people; the most of the German people, they had to go out to Germany. And when we came to Germany, we all had to go in the war from 16 to 65 years old.
L: Going back a little bit, do you remember what your grandmother died of?
B: Oh, we drank water from the river and cooked food on the open fire and got sick from the diptheria and most of the people died from that.
L: I see. Then where did the train finally take you?
B: They took us back to Germany. And then they put us all to another family’s home, one family had to take another family in.
L: And how long did you live with another family?
B: I lived about three months, and then I had to go to the army, I got drafted and had to go to the war.
L: Your family lived together until you were drafted into the army?
B: And then when the war was over, the Russian government took all the Russian citizens, it made no difference what nationality they were, only if they were a Russian citizen, they took them all back to Russia again after the war in 1945.
L: Do you remember what became of your brother when he was in the army?
B: Yes, one got killed in the war, Jack got killed. And two brothers and two sisters and my mother, they took them back to Siberia and dumped them on the prairie and they had to start building their houses again, just like years and years before, and start making a living there.
L: Do you remember the day that you were drafted into the army?
B: It was around July in 1944. I got drafted and we had training for three months. And I had to go to The Battle of the Bulge in that war. And after the war I was, I was one year in the war and two years in the American prison camp, I hid myself there so that the Russians wouldn’t take me back to Siberia. And I was two years in West Germany.
L: Do you remember the feelings of the men at that time who were joining the army? Were they anxious to fight for their country or were they afraid? And was it something they didn’t want to do?
B: Oh, we all felt we were free from Communism, and we figured we have to fight, we got told we have to fight for your country.
L: Do you remember how old you were when you were enlisted in the army?
B: I was 22 years of age, I think.
L: And what did you do?
B: Oh, I was in the artillery, about six miles behind the line always.
L: In the artillery?
L: Do you remember what that was like?
B: Oh, it was war. Hundreds of airplanes flying around over your head and throwing bombs. And artillery coming over the line and exploding behind and lots of soldiers got killed, and we had to help them stay alive and take care of ourselves to stay alive and take care of civilian people to stay alive, kids and women behind the line.
L: Were you ever hurt or injured?
B: Yes I was wounded twice, but nothing serious. So as you always get back in the hospital behind the lines somewhere.
L: Can you tell me about those injuries?
B: Oh, my finger got splinters, and my lips got splinters, and my legs got splinters, so it was no serious problem.
L: Can you tell me how long you remained in the army?
B: About 11 months.
L: Do you recall what happened after the 11 months you were in the army?
B: The war was over then in May 5th, 1945 and I was in the east front and I didn’t want to go into the Russian prison camp and I started running, caught me a horse and was riding for two weeks and finally I rode into the American side, on the west side, and went to the Americans and they loaded us all up and took us by thousands and took us into Italy in the American prison camp. And I was in there for two years.
L: I see. It sounds like you had two choices to make, either to enter the Russian prisoner-of-war camp or, what was the other choice?
B: The American side.
L: I see. And you chose to…?
B: I chose, I wanted to get away from the Russians, I was afraid if they caught me they’d send me to Siberia and I’d starve to death out there. So I went into the American prison camp and I was two years in Italy in the American prison camp, and then finally the Russian troops came in and they wanted to take all the Russian citizens out. And I threw my papers all away and I told them I’m born in West Germany in Mannheim where my old ancestors came from. And so I stayed free, for two years. And in West Germany they took all the refugees and took them all, they forced them all back to Russia whoever was a Russian citizen. And finally in 1947, I heard down in the American prison camp, that they stopped sending the refugees back to Russia. And then I went to West Germany in 1947 on January the 20th and I was in West Germany up to 1949. At that time in West Germany there was no future for a job or to make a living, there was nothing to eat. Then Canada, they wanted some farm workers and I had relatives in Canada. Then I immigrated to Canada in 1949. And I was in Canada in 1949 and 1950 and worked on the farm there with my relatives.
L: Let me ask you, were you able to leave the camp in Italy at any time? Were you free there? Or were you held prisoner for two years?
B: No, we were held prisoners, for about six months. And then you had to have an address showing as you had a home in West Germany or in East Germany, or where you want to go.
L: Oh, I see.
B: And I had no address, and no relatives. I didn’t know where my family was at that time. And so I stayed in the prison camp until they stopped sending the refugees home. I was afraid to go back to the country and they would catch me there and send me back to Siberia.
L: Can you tell me what life was like in the prison camp?
B: Oh, we were free in there. There was about 200,000 soldiers in there. And we got our meal every day.
L: What was a typical day like?
B: Oh, in the summer time it was so hot and most of the older people passed out. They had no trees or anything and it was just sun and hot. We younger people helped the older people and that’s the way we lived too.
L: Were there regulated activities? Did everyone get up at the same time?
B: No, we had the whole camp laid out like a city. We got tents, army tents in there and we had it laid out in blocks. And in each 20, 40, or 50 people in each tent. And then we had a kitchen, for every 100 men there was one kitchen, and then we had one cook who cooked. We got just enough to eat, so that we wouldn’t make any revolution there or something, we all were so weak so that we would just stay there. Then in the second year, they started taking us out to the companies to work out there and then we had a better life, and got something to eat more and so.
L: Do you think the people were grateful when they left the camp? Or do you feel that that was their home? Did they have anyplace to go to after the war was over and they were free to go home?
B: They were free to go home, but they could not go home, they did not let the men go home in the country. The Allies were afraid they would make a revolution in the country. Then they kept them out of the country, all the soldiers, like in France, in Belgium, Italy.
L: Is that your reason for wanting to migrate to Canada and be with your relatives there?
B: Yes, I was always afraid that the Russians would still come and catch me somewhere in West Germany and I wanted to get away and be in a free country.
L: Were there cases of people you had known who had been arrested by the Russians and taken away?
B: Yes, my whole family they took away and my wife’s whole family they took away and they took them to Siberia.
L: Can you tell me how you were released from the prisoner-of-war camp in Italy?
B: Yes, you had to have an address to get out of there, out of the camp. I had a friend in the camp, and he found his parents in West Germany and then he went home to his parents and then he wrote a letter and we had to take the letter to the mayor and the mayor had to stamp it and approve it that he would take me in to that city. And when I got that letter in the prison camp, I took it down to the office and from there on they took me out of that camp and put me in another camp where they made a train full of people together, about 1000, 2000, 3000, and that’s the way I came back to West Germany. And then I worked on a farm there, for two years, the first year for just food, board, and room, no pay. Just so that I had something to eat and had a home. And in the second year I got a little money paid so that I could buy more clothes. And the time was so bad there, there was no future to get a job to get paid and I had no relatives, and I knew nothing of my family. And so I had heard and had known about from years back when I was a little boy, that I had relatives in America. And I got an address from Dickenson, they had a German paper there and I wrote in that paper a letter and described my relatives in North Dakota, they were supposed to be named Eberle, names Eberle. And my uncle, he had that paper and he read my letter and from there on he decided that I was a relative to him. And then he wrote me a letter back and asked me a lot of questions, like who was my grandparents, my parents. And so I was a relative to him, and I wrote him that I would like to come over to the United States, and I’m alone in West Germany and I have no relatives. And so he tried to write to the White House and they told him that it takes two years before I can immigrate to the United States. But he had a cousin in Canada and he went to Canada, and his cousin needed some farm hands. And then we went to the Council and I went to the Canadian Council in West Germany and made the papers out and that’s the way I came to Canada.
L: Do you remember what part of Canada they were living in?
B: Unity, Saskatchewan, it was in northwest Canada.
L: Do you remember the name of the newspaper that they read about you in?
B: Yes, the Herald, the German Herald in Dickenson.
L: Then how much time did it take for you to make the migration from West Germany to Canada?
B: Oh, it took about eight months. They have to check all the papers through, so that no political people immigrate to Canada.
L: Was there quite a bit of information you had to fill out? A lot of paperwork?
B: There was a lot of, lot of, papers to fill out, where you are born, where you come from and what you were all through your life, soldiers and what kind of officers, or anything what information and they check that up. I was one month in the camp there in Hanover where they check all the papers out. Then I was in Canada for two years.
L: Do you remember your trip over? What it was like?
B: Yes, we came over with the boat. We had about 2000 people on the boat, on the ship. We stopped in England and took another 500 people. We came to Quebec, Canada in July of 1949.
L: How long did the trip take?
B: Eleven days on the ocean. And then it took two days and two nights on the train to north Saskatchewan.
L: Was this your first time on a ship?
B: Yes, that was my first time on a ship. There were a lot of sick people on it.
L: It wasn’t a pleasant trip?
B: Oh, it was not so pleasant a trip, but I was young that time and alone, and we boys was always on top of the deck and doing something, fresh air and so.
L: Where did you arrive on the ship? What part of the coastline?
B: Quebec, Canada.
L: Quebec, Canada. And were your relatives there to meet you?
B: No, I had to go two days and two nights on the train, to north Saskatchewan.
L: What did you do in Canada? Did you live with your relatives then?
B: Yes, I lived there. It was my father’s second cousin’s boys. And I worked on the farm there for $45 a month for three months and in the wintertime just board and room, no pay. And I had no future there either, so I immigrated to the United States, North Dakota, to my uncle’s son’s farm. And I worked there for one year and then I went back to Canada and got married and stayed there six months, in Regina, Canada.
L: Did you find that there were more people living in the Dakotas that were German than in Canada?
B: No, it was just about the same, it was all German peoples, most of the German people on farms.
L: Can you tell me how you came from Canada to Yakima, Washington where you are presently living?
B: Yes, my wife, she had an aunt in Yakima. And she wrote us that we could live with her, she was sick at that time and her husband died. So I came first to Yakima and found out what kind of climate is here. I took the train and came to Yakima. And then I found myself a job in Yakima working in a baseball field. nd then I sent papers back to Canada so that my wife could immigrate to the United States. And that’s the way we came to Yakima.
L: At that time were there laws in regard to immigration from Canada to the United States also?
B: Yes, I had to have a job first, so that I could support my wife. And I had to have a house, and so my wife’s aunt had a house and I had a job.
L: Have you heard from or found out about any of your lost relatives since the war?
B: Yes, I heard from the German Red Cross in 1953, they found my mother, two sisters, and two brothers in Siberia. And I wrote every year to my mother a letter, and asked how the family lived there, and what they were doing. And they worked there in the coal mines, my brothers, my sisters, and they made a living there. My mother died two years ago out there. I still have two sisters there and one brother. And now finally my oldest sister, she’s 64 years old, they let her go and she is now in West Germany.
L: Do you have any desire to return home some day?
B: I, no, I cannot go home.