Ernest Biebel was born on October 12th, 1941, in Uivar, Romania, and migrated to the United States in 1955 to pursue a new life after World War II and the aftermath. In this 2019 interview, Biebel discusses the experiences of his childhood in Europe, his family's move to the United States, and his life in the United States as a native German speaker.
Biebel, Ernest (interviewee)
Brunecz, Cecelia (interviewer)
Cecelia Brunecz [00:00:01] Today is November 7, 2019. I am here with Ernest Biebel and we are talking about his experience in Europe and then coming over to America during the Soviet occupation. When was your date of birth and where were you born?
Ernest Biebel [00:00:23] I was – very quick update – my date of birth was October 12th, 1941. I was born in Uivar Romania.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:00:40] Can you spell the village where you were born?
Ernest Biebel [00:00:43] It's U U V A R? That's close. OK.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:00:52] Now what was the war experience like for your family?
Ernest Biebel [00:00:56] Well, my father was drafted into the German army and the families were left to defend themselves and the Russian front was advancing. And if they wouldn't left my day all all gotten killed and raped. And so what they did. They put all the families in trains, the old my grandfather and grand mother. They stayed behind to take care of the animals. And we went on the trains. At the first stop was in Germany. And a lot of people, including some of my relatives, got off in Germany. They still remain there today. And we continue. And we got off in Austria and in Austria, the people who ask. Would you mind housing a war refugee which was done. It was pleasant. And we remained there for until nineteen fifty five, which was about ten years. That's when I completed my eighth year of schooling and I was ready for trade school at that particular time.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:02:06] How old were you?
Ernest Biebel [00:02:07] Fourteen. I was fourteen, and that's when we immigrated to the United States.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:02:13] Was there a reason specifically why you came to the United States?
Ernest Biebel [00:02:16] Well, we already had some relatives here in the United States. You always heard of the quality of life and. How much better it was in the United States, which is true even today yet. And it's a great standard of living and is a beautiful country. And we never heard anything which was negative about the freedom, the freedom of how free it is. That's what really impressed us.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:02:44] Did your family talk about the Germans a lot when you were over in Europe?
Ernest Biebel [00:02:51] Oh, yes, yes, stell, even though Australia was neutral, but they were involved. And are they all my relatives? Most of were drafted into the German army. A lot of them didn't make it back in Romania. A lot of people were drafted and they were taken into the concentration camps of Russia. There were other concentration camps that they never came back. We heard from time to time, you know, so-and-so died, so-and-so died. And that was not pleasant. And I and my people were not soldiers. We were farmers. And we are minding your own business. And but you get stuck in the big political thing of the world. And after the world, after the war, everybody hated the Germans because of the war. And they took it out on the Germans, German farmers. And so and thats hard, what happened.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:03:56] So what was the tension the feeling over while you guys were there?
Ernest Biebel [00:04:00] It was just rebuilding and was rebuilding. The war was done. And they you started out from scratch again. You had nothing. Because we arrived by train. And I remember going out in the fields and and digging for potatoes after the machines went over and my mother went with with some tools and try to pick out some potatoes from the field that were leftover. It was poor poor poor at that particular time.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:04:34] How did you get over to America?
Ernest Biebel [00:04:37] [inaudible]. When we finally heard apply to go to the United States, which was very nice. And it took many years and a lot of interviews and so forth. And you heard you also needed a sponsor at that particular time, which, and you had to either go to a church or a sponsor or there were other ways. But you could not just get over it without having some representative over there that would help you. OK. Which we never needed any help because my father my mother worked immediately. My mother was a seamstress and she worked in a factory in a seamstress factory. My father worked in the construction immediately. And so you came over the United States with no English, I remember it was very tough in school, not speaking any English, but you learn everyday a little bit more and a little bit more and went to evening school and did did good. Yeah.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:05:45] Were you just German speakers when you were over in Europe?
Ernest Biebel [00:05:49] Yes. We just spoke German and we never really had any English classes. And I didn't really expect that ever to happen to you when you fill out applications to go to a country. Doesn't mean that you're accepted. So we were really not prepared to know English. And it was not easy going to school under the circumstances.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:06:17] Were you able to get a sponsor?
Ernest Biebel [00:06:19] Oh, yes. We got a sponsor. No problem at all. We were nice people. I think they were church people that a church to be attended later on to. And they, my relatives who if there was any help at that time, my relatives helped us with explaining how things were and what we had to do in order to fit in.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:06:45] Did your parents ever talk about the Soviets?
Ernest Biebel [00:06:51] Well, the only thing we heard how tough it was when they pulled people into the concentration camps. A lot of the farmers were pulled into concentration camps to work and they worked them to death. And then you heard so-and-so died, so-and-so died. And we were always concerned about my father being pulled into the concentration camps.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:07:14] So when you got to Cleveland what did you do?
Ernest Biebel [00:07:18] Well, we first immigrated. We had relatives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I went there. I attended Catholic High School and junior high. And eventually, at the end of my high school, I graduated from Bishop David High School. And after that, here I my English still was not 100 percent like it should have been in order to be college material. And I enlisted in the Army and I had three wonderful years in the Army and learned a lot. And after the army, Harrisburg didn't have that many job opportunities. So I had a relative in Cleveland, Ohio, and I relocated here. And later on my parents followed me. And we we've been here since 1965 til now.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:08:16] Now, how would you describe Cleveland in 1965?
Ernest Biebel [00:08:20] Wonderful, wonderful city. It's got everything to offer. A lot of ethnic people who live here. A lot of job opportunities. Except for a couple months of bad weather is a great good. The mild spring and the mild fall, the Indian summers. And it's just a great town. If anyone has ever lived anywhere, where else they can really praise Cleveland. Cleveland is a great town.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:08:54] So when did you become involved with the club?
Ernest Biebel [00:08:55] Well, immediately here there was. We played soccer, immediately joined the organizations, and went to the meetings. And at that time we had a smaller club on 140 and Lorraine, and eventually outgrew that. And we bought a land here; these acres here. And there was just a small building there at that time. And many people did a lot of thinking and a lot of dreaming of what can we do here in order to make this for the kids, to make it more better quality building. And eventually, this was built with a lot of donations by no government help. And that the soccer fields and there are a lot of organizations here, a lot of German different organizations that call this the home. And they have their meetings here. They have their outings here. And just a couple of days ago, we did 4000 pounds of sausage in the other building over and little things like that. And we keep the traditions going. We have our dances, you know, and we have the Octoberfest, and we have the church blessing. And naturally, the New Year's Eve party. And we have German groups coming from Germany that put on the show again coming up in December. And there's always something going on. But - but Cleveland has so much to offer between the American traditions. I love the Fourth of July celebration, and I belong to the American Legion also. We always get honored being veterans. So it's a great town to be in, and I always promote it whenever I'm out of town and we talk about different cities that people live in and we don't have hurricanes, we don't have fires. Thank God. OK. So in that respect, yeah, we we love Cleveland. We love the United States. We are we're really Americanized 100 percent. And we just keep up our old traditions from the memories of Europe.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:11:14] Do you have other family members who are part of the center?
Ernest Biebel [00:11:18] Yes, I have. I have a cousin here, Frank, a vendor that helped build the club more, more or less build the club here. In the very beginning, he and his construction company did a lot, a lot of work to get it off the ground. And he is up there in age now. But he was mostly instrumental for building this large, large building and he worked out well.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:11:47] What was it like being an immigrant in Cleveland?
Ernest Biebel [00:11:58] Well, we were lucky enough to have um to have enough other immigrants around that we were not alone so when there were issues that you had to communicate about. You had other people here help you along with what was happening in politically or otherwise that, you know, with the with the ways the cities are run and counties are run and do understand your health. What's happening at one particular time or another and so you always had help and support. And it was it was a good living over the years. Oh, there was always employment available. And you never had to be unemployed. Never took one dollar of government assistance.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:12:59] Do you think that Cleveland is the same now as it was when you first came?
Ernest Biebel [00:13:05] Well, it still has a lot of opportunities and the media sometimes gives you a view which is not necessarily correct and it makes you believe this. There's so much negative, so many negative things are happening here, which is really not necessarily the truth. And when you have ambition in the United States and you can do anything you want to. It's really up to you to pick up the pieces and look at yourself in the mirror every morning and say, let's go out there and conquer the world.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:13:51] So what when you think about your time in Europe, what are the feelings that you have for it?
Ernest Biebel [00:13:58] Well, I was a war child and I was three years old and what I remember my my parents, obviously I've heard all these stories, how tough it was and how they were farmers and how they worked in the morning from dark to dark and all these stories of how tough it was at that particular time in comparison to now where Australia's a war child. And I arrived in Austria at the age of the age of three to 14. It was a growing up and going to school and and doing the things that boys do. Boys will be boys and I remember how few cars there were at that particular time around town and how you went through a gas station. Little things like they had a gas, there was one pump and they get whole city, one gas pump in. You turned the crank and you you pump one gallon up and then you released a gallon it went into the car and then he pumped another gallon up and he released it and it went into the car. That's how pumps were at that particular time.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:15:24] So was was it that much different over in America, then, over when you memories of Europe?
Ernest Biebel [00:15:34] Well, is definitely different. You know, it was more industrial. The were more factories around, the more streets around more highways. More cars. Everything is more advanced in the United States than then in Europe; plumbing. Europe and a lot of areas, you still have outdoor plumbing and so indoor plumbing helped a lot. That's true. And buying a car and having the freedom of not having to take public transportation, everywhere that you needed to go, which was in Europe that was what you did. So the quality of life was just so much better and is so much better in the United States in comparison to Europe. And it continues today with so many of our friends, so many of Donauschwaben have started companies and they advanced they were regular workers when they started. Then years later, they just decided to pick up the pieces and go be become independent, which is a good thing. And I always when I worked over thirty one years at a local company and I always moonlighted on the side, always had apartment buildings on the side. And after did all my own repairs and after work, I worked over there. And I always had two jobs all my life.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:17:16] Have you gone back to Europe since?
Ernest Biebel [00:17:23] We go back to the above once every 10 years and we still have relatives there and a lot of them have their own companies, and recently we went in Salzburg and we have a cousin, a distant cousin in that area also. And the other ones, I have a cousin in Munich and some other cousins in different areas in Germany. And they do well, it's changed. Europe has changed a lot. It's become a lot better. The the opportunities that you have.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:18:03] So you feel like Europe's changed more since then than America has.
Ernest Biebel [00:18:11] It's become better. You know, the the kids here with proper education. I have more opportunities nowadays. And just like they do here with education, that you go further in life and you do things here that you would never have done without an education.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:18:48] Back to the club. What all clubs are you part of in the center?
Ernest Biebel [00:18:50] Well, I belong to this ski group and a ski group. And the tennis group and the old timers, we had their meetings once every month. And the volunteers that come here when I come here whenever I can to volunteer on Wednesdays. I make sausage with the bowlers and that's always fun the camaraderie with the bowlers, and with the people is always good. And by now, they bring their kids in and there grandkids. Our old members in a club here by now, already close to 90, about that age. And I'm about 15 years younger than that, so I'm still in between. I'm not with the old guys and not with the young guys. And the young guys are in college and the grandchildren are in college and they're married. And by now, the grandchildren are having children. So. Time goes on.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:20:05] How do you feel about the center, its influence for you old traditions?
Ernest Biebel [00:20:13] It's very good here, we still keep it up here. We keep up the language school in the club. Well, you know, we keep up the sporting and things. We have our guests coming in from Germany from time to time to put on a show for us. The meals are cooked in a traditional European way. And we have our German baker that in Cleveland that makes the German styled bread and European type bread and bakery bakeries and so forth. And the young people, the young kids really appreciate coming here. It's something which is different. Not that America, the American way is not good, but they come here once in a while and enjoy a little different atmosphere. And they learn a lot about when they do travel if they pick up some data and information from here. Some of them go to school here to brush up a little bit on their German before they go to Germany on vacation, because it really helps to know a couple of words when you are in a different continent and you're stuck at a menu and you no one speaks your language, and no one speaks English, and you have to come up with a decision. What are you going to order?
Cecelia Brunecz [00:21:50] When did you think you finally got a handle on the English language?
Ernest Biebel [00:21:55] Well, I'm still working on it. It takes the languages, is an ongoing thing here, but it took a couple of three years I remember. It was very hard in junior high school in the very beginning because of everybody else was having troubles, you know, with the studying and not only did I have trouble studying, I had trouble understanding anything. Okay, so you do what you can and with the help of teachers and everybody else, it worked out okay.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:22:42] How did you feel like not knowing the English language all that well, how much did it affect your assimilation in America?
Ernest Biebel [00:22:53] Well, everything when you go to a different continent and everything is done differently than what you're accustomed to. On top of that, you're 14 years old. So you're sort of not extremely happy to be there because you don't know what's going on. I remember if I could have gone back that same day, I would have gone back to back in a heartbeat, because at that time me and the United States was not my home, you know, and it was just a strange land that you were you went to. And you expect things to be euphoria, all that kind of which it's not, you know, you'd still have opportunities and so forth. But as a kid, you look for instant gratification, which it's not. You make the best of every day and you go from there. I remember there was just a time when TVs came out, you know, which was interesting, the black and white TVs in 1955. And it wasn't easy getting comfortable with the traditions and the USA the way it was at that particular time, not knowing anything and being a stranger in a country. And but Americanized over the years has really worked well and all my people here, all the people in the club. There isn't one person I can say that says I'm German, whatever your from German ancestry. But we are one hundred percent Americans and we love the United States. We love it. It's a wonderful country.
Cecelia Brunecz [00:24:48] That's all I have. So you won't make any last words?
Ernest Biebel [00:24:51] Well, I just want to say that it's a it's an honor to have been accepted with our immigration papers years ago, and it worked out very well. And I want to thank the politicians who, for having the laws that made it possible for us to immigrate to the United States, because this is a wonderful country. God bless America.
Cleveland German-American Oral History Project
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"Ernest Biebel interview, 07 November 2019" (2019). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 195001.