This interview details the lives of two sisters, Barbara Hermes and Erika Wagner, from their time spent in Niedersachsen, Germany, at the end of World War II to their immigration to the United States in 1954. Their story continues with a transatlantic journey and travels across the American Midwest to Cleveland, where they both live today.
Hermes, Barbara (interviewee); Wagner, Erika (interviewee)
Franklin, Bill (interviewer)
Cleveland German-American Oral History Project
"Barbara Hermes and Erika Wagner interview, 02 December 2020" (2020). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 195003.
William Franklin [00:00:00] So what's your last name again is how do you spell your last name?
Barbara Hermes [00:00:10] Which one are you asking?
William Franklin [00:00:11] I'm asking you, Barbara.
Barbara Hermes [00:00:12] Hermes, H-E-R-M-E-S, and my maiden name is Jordan, J-O-R-D-A-N. And I use it as a middle name.
Astrid Julian [00:00:31] OK, wait a minute. I have to chime in, my family from Pulman. I have a grandmother. Jordan. that's really wild about Jordan. And she there's a Bauhaus which is a family. I mean they were, they were the father was a minister, something supposedly that. So I'll have to find get some more connection to their family history and enough of that.
Barbara Hermes [00:01:01] That's really interesting. But the Jordan, of course, comes from our father and he is from Frankfurt Am Main. Far away from Porman.
Astrid Julian [00:01:13] So my Jordan is in Croatia and Pomerania, but he was the French Huguenot.
Barbara Hermes [00:01:22] Oh. Oh, and connection there.
William Franklin [00:01:26] Yeah. OK, Cousins Bill, we're taking up your time.
William Franklin [00:01:33] No, that's good. It's all very interesting to hear. The interconnections of all the families.
Astrid Julian [00:01:41] I'm hearing, bells voice a little bit fuzzy. Is that a concern? Is this going to. This is going to be transcribed, right?
William Franklin [00:01:49] It will be, yeah.
Astrid Julian [00:01:51] OK, I hear you. I hear everybody else really nice. And clearly, your voice is a little bit fuzzy. How about you guys? Can you hear Bill clearly? Fine.
Erika Wagner [00:02:03] I think he's quite soft.
William Franklin [00:02:05] Yeah, can you hear me now, I just turned the volume up, I don't know if that helps anybody that helps.
Erika Wagner [00:02:11] Yes, it does.
William Franklin [00:02:12] OK, very good.
William Franklin [00:02:16] OK, good. So I think we we had a discussion earlier and I think we got as far as your trip after the war and you were en route, I guess, through Germany and through Europe before you came to America.
Barbara Hermes [00:02:43] Yes, well, what we mostly talked about the last time was our fleeing our childhood home in Pomerania of the oncoming Russian front and the fighting front between Russia and Germany. And and possibly we would pick it up that our mother then took us and we ended up in north Germany. in Niedersachsen.
Erika Wagner [00:03:11] We lived up about eight years or nine years.
Barbara Hermes [00:03:22] We lived there from 1945 until 1954, which is when we immigrated to the United States, so nine years.
William Franklin [00:03:33] How do you spell Niedersachsen?
Barbara Hermes [00:03:38] Yeah, that's like that's like a German state. and it's N I E D E R S A C H S E N.
Erika Wagner [00:03:43] Lower Saxony is the English word. Yes.
William Franklin [00:03:56] Thank you, that will help in the transcribing.
Barbara Hermes [00:04:02] And the town, we went to what's calIed Aendorf (A S E N D O R F) and it had approximately 3000 residents. It was a small town.
William Franklin [00:04:25] And how long did you stay there?
Barbara Hermes [00:04:28] Nine years.
William Franklin [00:04:29] You were there for nine years. And was your father there with you, too?
Barbara Hermes [00:04:34] Well, our father. Our father. What's not with us when we fled. He was in the army and at some point when we arrived, when the war was over in May of nineteen forty five, sometime after that, maybe a month or so, Erica. Is that about right? Our mother decided to go look for our father because he would have no idea where we were if he were still alive. We didn't know that either. But but she knew his company's name and she knew. So she would question any military person that she would that we would come across about if they knew where that company ended up. And she was told that that company ended up in Bavaria.
Erika Wagner [00:05:39] It's in the south of Germany,. It's quite a distance away from northern Germany.
Barbara Hermes [00:05:46] And ended up after the war as the American occupation sector, whereas Niedersachsen where we were once the British sections, the British occupied section of Germany. But anyway, she she was a rather courageous woman. She left Erika and me with our grandmother. And and hitchhiked to the area mostly on military vehicles, because that's the only traffic there was, to find our father. And she did find him in an American prisoner of war camp. And so she was able to let him know where we ended up and a few months later, then he was released and he came and joined us in November of nineteen forty five.
William Franklin [00:06:51] And your mom was there all of that time in Bavaria with your dad, those few months while he was in a POW camp?
Barbara Hermes [00:06:59] No, She she came back. She just let him know where we lived.
Erika Wagner [00:07:05] I did want to interject something. You you had asked Bill. I had asked about if our father was along when we were fleeing from Pomerania. And I thought we should emphasize there were only women. There was my grandmother, my mother, the sister-in-law, my sister and I. There were no men.
William Franklin [00:07:38] And was your father, the only man that you found after the war that was alive, or were there other male relatives that you found?
Barbara Hermes [00:07:50] The only other male relatives that we knew of was my mother's brother, Otto. And and we did not find him until much later, but he was alive, but he somehow ended up in East Germany. He was in Greifswald in East Germany, he did not make it to the West.
William Franklin [00:08:24] So he was there until the 50s. Did he stay there the rest of his life, or did he ever get out?
Barbara Hermes [00:08:35] I couldn't hear you, Bill.
William Franklin [00:08:37] Oh, I was going to say that I don't ever get out of East Germany or was he there for the rest of his life? Did you ever hear from Otto.
Erika Wagner [00:08:48] Yeah, Otto stayed in the East Germany until the wall came down.
William Franklin [00:08:55] Oh.
Mark Cole [00:08:58] Hey Bill? I think we're getting a little feedback from your microphone or I don't I don't know where the microphone is on your computer. I don't know if you're scraping it with your sleeve or something like that. Good thing about this is we can edit it all out.
William Franklin [00:09:15] OK, good. I don't move anything out. There's nothing in the way. You know, about.
Mark Cole [00:09:21] Or I don't know if it might be feedback from your headphones, too, I.
Astrid Julian [00:09:24] Hear a lot of noise in the background, like static and crackle.
William Franklin [00:09:28] OK, maybe I can take these off, and see if that helps. help.
William Franklin [00:09:33] Does that help now?
Astrid Julian [00:09:37] Oh, yeah, it's wonderful. OK. Thank you.
William Franklin [00:09:41] It must have been interference or something from the from the headphones.
Mark Cole [00:09:48] Much, much clearer now.
William Franklin [00:09:50] OK. I thought maybe I could hear better with them, but I could hear fine, this will be recorded anyway,.
Barbara Hermes [00:09:56] You might be interested for us to tell us a little bit about school, the school we attended in Niedersachsen, in Asendorf. Or is that not something you'd be interested in?
William Franklin [00:10:11] Yes, absolutely. We'd love to hear that. So you were what age now?
Erika Wagner [00:10:15] These were the after war conditions?
Barbara Hermes [00:10:21] Yeah, I, I was seven years old.
William Franklin [00:10:26] You were seven, OK?
William Franklin [00:10:30] So you were just coming into grade school?
Barbara Hermes [00:10:34] Yes. I was started in the first grade,.
Erika Wagner [00:10:41] But you had attended school in Pomerania already,.
Barbara Hermes [00:10:45] Actually only for a couple days. And what happened there was I started in school and as all of you know, who had studied the war, Hitler took anyone and everyone at the end of the war. And so even though he had been a retired teacher and was quite elderly, he was also drafted into the war. And so my school days, I maybe had a week of school before he was then drafted. And then shortly after that, of course, we had to flee the front with the reifort. So, no, not much school before we got to Asendorf. And in Asendorf, there were also, not hardly any teachers. The schools that we attended, both of us, eventually error cut to head for classrooms first and second grade in one room, third and fourth, fifth and sixth and seventh and eighth grade. So that was our school house and that was the school. And we had a teacher who had a war injury. He was one of the teachers. He had a prosthetic leg. And we had another teacher who was quite old. He had been retired for quite a while. So the teaching staff was also. Rather sketchy, we had no books. And and all of you know, like I said about the Second World War, probably do that all school books were burned by it, by the allies, because because all the books contained Nazi pictures and material.
Barbara Hermes [00:13:03] And so but they were burned and they were taken away. And you were not allowed to have any such books in your house. And so there were no books. We also had no paper and we did not have pens or pencils and us probably. When did you go to school there? Did you could your younger. So you probably.....
Astrid Julian [00:13:30] I Didn't go to school at all in Germany? We came over in '56 to Canada and I started started first grade because I was afraid. Because I know.
Barbara Hermes [00:13:38] So you did not have this experience? No. I realized the moment I said that you were quite a bit younger. So so what most of the children had was a slate that we could write on it, you know, I don't know.
Erika Wagner [00:13:58] So you wrote on it with a slate pencil slate piece and then you would write it down and then you would write a new you could do it.
Erika Wagner [00:14:10] And you had two things attached to your slate with a string, one wet sponge and a dry cloth. So when you were done writing something, you wiped it with the wet sponge and dried it with the wet. With the dry cloth.
Barbara Hermes [00:14:25] Yeah. And and since we had no books or the teachers were incredibly ingenious, many of them would remember a poem by heart because you learned poetry by heart in Germany and the teacher would write it on the blackboard. And then we had to copy it down and then we had to learn it. And and so school was difficult. A little later, a few months into it, a few books arrived. But they were few we had generally a reading book and math book. I can't remember anything else, I think those were the two I can remember having, but we would be given assignments. But you had a book for five students maybe. And so for homework, we would be given an assignment. The parents devised a schedule that was pasted in front of the book that said from we went to school until noon for the first two hours. This child gets the book. And then it was your responsibility to carry it to the next child and then the next child would have it for two hours and the next child would have it for two hours. And that's how you got to do your homework and you had to carry these books to the next person who needed them. It was an extremely difficult time and I marvel at the fact that I actually learned quite well the circumstances.
William Franklin [00:16:29] That's quite a story. So what was what was your home life like back then? Was your mother working or your grandmother or.
Barbara Hermes [00:16:41] Asendorf, as I told you, was a very small town. It was a farming community and the way the refugees and of course, when we arrived, many, many refugees arrived from the east and the way the Burgermeister, the mayor of that small town, and I imagine. Most places in Germany dealt with the refugees was I don't know if you know that, Astrid, Erika, did they do that all over Germany.
Erika Wagner [00:17:21] Yes, they did.
Barbara Hermes [00:17:21] That you took a census. Every household that had to report how many rooms they had in the house and how many people lived there. And then it was decided how many refugees they could take in. So each household was assigned a number of refugees.
Astrid Julian [00:17:45] And when my sister was born, there was a neighbor of my grandmother and we lived with my grandmother and and they the police, they had bricked up their attic to not take any anyone. This was already I was born in fifty two and the police came and broke open the attic and they forced the person to open their house to other people because there were there were no homes, no no rooms even so. So, yeah, that continued a long time. From the time you guys were little I was born.
Barbara Hermes [00:18:18] Yeah. It was not optional. Whether or not you were going to take refugees, it was not optional. You had and I often have thought how we could deal with a homeless situation if we were to do it that way, ou see. It wouldn't be popular though, and it wasn't popular in Germany if you were a refugee. You were imposed on the local population and and that's how you were treated. I also feel often have said. I know what it feels to be discriminated against. I know what it feels like because as a refugee, you had a stigma attached to you. Now mind you, most of the people were extremely nice to us.
Erika Wagner [00:19:23] So I did want to interject that it was very easy to know who the refugees were because the local people spoke with a different dialect than the people who came in.
Barbara Hermes [00:19:39] Right.
William Franklin [00:19:41] These refugees were they are German speakers.
Barbara Hermes [00:19:44] Yes, more than dialect.
Erika Wagner [00:19:49] Most of them, yes, I think all of the, yea.
Astrid Julian [00:19:51] In my town, there were Polish speakers and there were some older I'm more of an urban area, so so that's that's different from time to time. But in the farming, I think I don't know why did you go to a farming village where you would if you come from a farm?
Erika Wagner [00:20:13] When we were on the train, fleeing from the from Pomerania, we were told that we should not go to a large city because the cities were so badly and the people were basically starving in the cities because they had no food.
Erika Wagner [00:20:31] They said the only way you can survive if you go to the countryside into a small village where there is farmland and you'll be able to get food. And we basically did get the food by often walking from house to house and begging for food.
Astrid Julian [00:20:49] That was my mother. She had the tagebuth, a diary from that time. And when there was there were long processions of refugees going through there. And she mentioned that a neighbor gave coffee to a little baby, but that was warm and it was all they had. So it was it was quite bad in the cities. That's more urban where she was.
Barbara Hermes [00:21:16] Yes. during the time that we lived in the in this Asendorf but on the farm there, people would come from the cities who would try to sell to the farmers any little valuable thing that they would have anything; jewelry, anything that they still had left after the war to trade it in for food. You remember that too, probably Astrid. That was that was in addition. And in comparison to what happened in the cities, we were pretty well off. And on the farm, the farmer gave us a pitcher of milk every day and they allowed us a small plot so we could grow our own vegetables.
Erika Wagner [00:22:30] We gave us a few chickens.
Barbara Hermes [00:22:36] We had some checks that we were able to raise,.
Erika Wagner [00:22:39] We raised chickens, we had rabbits that we raised and ate, we had every so often, one year we got they gave us the runt of the pigs,.
Barbara Hermes [00:22:52] A piglet. But only once we had that only once. I was going to say about this, about the school. I had some classmates where only one of the siblings could come to school in the winter because they had to switch off shoes, they only had one pair of shoes and only one of the kids could come to school and then the other child would come the next day to school. The poverty in those first years after the war was extreme. The other thing I wanted to say is that in my class we just told you the story about my father being an American prisoner of war camp and then coming home in November. But I was one of. Just like my class was about 20 students and I think there were three who had a father, the rest the rest of their father had died in the war. That's how dire it was.
William Franklin [00:24:15] So when you when your father came to that that village, you probably didn't recognize him, it must have been years from the last time you saw him, right?
Barbara Hermes [00:24:26] Well, no. Remember, he came back in November of 1945. We still see him maybe in 1944 before.
Erika Wagner [00:24:37] I did not recognize him because I remember asking my mother, who is that man that came into our house and.
Barbara Hermes [00:24:49] Erika was younger, so....
Erika Wagner [00:24:50] I was four years old when we left. So I had last seen him when I was three.
Erika Wagner [00:25:03] I was going to say the clothing I remember that clothing we had my mother would make because you could not buy fabric in this store, you really couldn't buy hardly anything in the store. So she had made us some skirts from some parachutes that had fallen down and that were that the soldiers had left behind. And she also there were some of the soldiers had discarded some old sweaters that she unraveled and then she knit sweaters for us from the unraveled soldier's sweaters. I had an Army green sweater, and Barbara too.
Barbara Hermes [00:25:49] Yeah, and the worst
Erika Wagner [00:25:55] We had my father made us bicycles by going to the dump and looking through the junk in the dump city in the town dump and then finding various bicycle parts and eventually found enough parts to make bicycles for Barbara and for me.
Barbara Hermes [00:26:14] He was he was actually very, very good. However, you were saying about him coming back, you said about recognizing him. I was going to say he did not have any work. He was an aircraft mechanic. And of course, that whole industry had died with the end of the war in in Germany.
Erika Wagner [00:26:45] Germany was not permitted airplanes.
Barbara Hermes [00:26:48] Right. And so he could not find any work. He worked briefly as an electrician. He worked briefly as a car mechanic. Our mother helped as a field hand and and that was very needed because none of the farmers had men to do the work. It was all women who had to do the farm because, like I said, the huge percentage of the men had died in the war. Young men.
William Franklin [00:27:27] So after the war, Germany wasn't even a lot of commercial airline anymore?
Barbara Hermes [00:27:34] No, not for years and years.
William Franklin [00:27:37] Wow, I didn't realize that.
Barbara Hermes [00:27:42] And as for food, because our mother worked on various farms here and there, and she always negotiated that for that, they would feed her dinner and her children would be allowed to come for dinner. So Erica and I would at dinner time walk to wherever our mother was working on the farm and we would get to eat with the farmer. And and, of course, they had simple meals, but they had food, because it was a farm.
Erika Wagner [00:28:25] I think that's interesting, too, is that, you know, we to have bread, you have to have flour and you couldn't buy flour. So what we would do our whole family on weekends or evenings after the farmer was done harvesting the grain, the wheat, we would walk the fields and pick up the grains that had fallen to the ground. And we collected over years of everybody gathered together. And eventually we'd have enough and we would take the whole back to the miller and the miller would grind it for us. And then we would use that flour to have bread baked. And we in the summer, we didn't have shoes on. So you'd have to go barefoot on the stubble of the fields. So you really get your ankles scraped up.
Barbara Hermes [00:29:17] Yeah. And similarly, later in the fall when the potatoes are harvested, our mother took us to the potato fields and you just, you know, any leftover, a potato here and a potato there,. You just walked the field up and down and up and down and picked up singular potatoes until we had a sack of potatoes. And that would you know, that's how we would have our sack of potatoes. And because there was no wood for the winter when once our father came in November, my mother got permission to dig up, you know when you cut down a tree, you have the stump left. They would dig out stumps. They were allowed to do that. And but it's very, very hard work and and to have some wood so that we could have some heat. And because we had wood stove.
Erika Wagner [00:30:23] Another thing we did too, was we had that along the streets. There were some streets, had apple trees growing along the street so you could rent a tree. And then when the apples were ripe, then you could go to your tree and pick those trees from your rented tree.
William Franklin [00:30:45] Was this like in the mid '40's or late 40s or. Yes. What year would this have been?
Barbara Hermes [00:30:52] It would have been from 45 to '48. It was very, very difficult. In 1948, things started to get better.
William Franklin [00:31:08] And were the winters pretty harsh in that area?
Barbara Hermes [00:31:13] Yes, yes, this was North Germany.
William Franklin [00:31:19] Right, So what kind of winter clothes did you have? Did you were you able to find coats and boots or any outer clothing that kept you warm?
Barbara Hermes [00:31:33] Actually, Erica and I were pretty lucky many children did not have any, but we we were pretty lucky. The father of several of them and some of them we're still friends with one farmer had sons that were just a little older than we. And when they outgrew the clothes, they would give us some. You you only had what someone would give you. And like I said, the people actually were quite kind and helped each other out that way.
Erika Wagner [00:32:17] But you couldn't buy any if you outgrew something, you never throw anything away, you would always give it to somebody who could use it. And as a matter of fact, I was thinking you also collected things because they were that you you picked up things like silver foil off the ground because that was collected, that was reused, you know.
Barbara Hermes [00:32:41] Like the foil soldiers threw away that the chocolate was wrapped in because otherwise there wasn't any around.
Erika Wagner [00:32:49] And cigaret packs too. You llso collected like little pieces of cigaret stubs and you would take them home. And then the father you out there and the men did we didn't. Yo also you had no containers, no paper bags. So when you went to the grocery store, you had to bring a can or bag or you're in order to put your flour in their jar to put your flour in or something, a container. You had to bring your own container when you went to get milk. They poured the milk into your container. After we left for a while, after a while, then we were able to because we had the chickens we put my mother would send me to the store sometimes to go and buy, for example, like sugar or something. So she would give me a dozen eggs. I would take the dozen eggs to the to the store. And then they would give me maybe a pound of sugar for that.
Barbara Hermes [00:33:47] Sugar we didn't even get the first.
Erika Wagner [00:33:50] You didn't get sugar, but whatever you needed,maybe flour, you so you bartered for your food also.
William Franklin [00:33:58] And in 48, did you is that when they made plans to come to America?
Barbara Hermes [00:34:06] Well well, we, my father and sister in America and one of our most wonderful experience were when a package would arrive from America because our Tante Annie had sent a package, and you cannot imagine the joy of opening up this package and finding. such good stuff that she would send.
Erika Wagner [00:34:43] Jello.
Barbara Hermes [00:34:43] She also had, she had friends at church who would give give her clothing that were discarded and she would send it to us so we would get clothes that way,.
Erika Wagner [00:35:01] Sometimes some coffee, because you couldn't really buy coffee in Germany at that time.
Barbara Hermes [00:35:08] But like, anyway, my father had a sister in America. She had with her husband, emigrated to America in the 30s,.
Erika Wagner [00:35:21] 20's something.
Barbara Hermes [00:35:23] I'm sorry.
Erika Wagner [00:35:24] I thought it was like around nineteen twenty three, I thought, I don't know.
Barbara Hermes [00:35:28] Possibly, possibly, I forget the date if it may have been in '23. But she would write eventually and say, we'd like you to come to America, we'll be here, I'll be your sponsor and come to America. So, our father decided that perhaps he would like to do that and applied for a visa to come to America. And it took two years for that visa to come through.
William Franklin [00:36:07] So that was in 1950, 1951 or so?
Barbara Hermes [00:36:11] Well, he's– We came in 1954, and his, the visa, he would have started in 1951, the process of getting the visa to come to America.
Erika Wagner [00:36:30] If it's important, but we had when my father first applied, my grandmother, our whole family applied, my mother, father, my sister and I and also our grandmother, my mother's mother lived with us and she and her visa came through very quickly because she was an older person and had no bad, nothing,
Barbara Hermes [00:36:54] My father, because he had served in the army, the process took very long.
Erika Wagner [00:37:00] So, so the grandmother's visa came through almost immediately. But she couldn't didn't want to go alone because she was in her late 70s already or was 17 year old. And so she she didn't want to go alone. She wanted to wait for our visa. And then when the visa for the rest of the family came through, her visa had expired and then she could not go with us anymore and we had to leave her behind.
Barbara Hermes [00:37:26] Which was very sad for our mother. But that's how we came to America.
William Franklin [00:37:38] And when your father came to America, was he a mechanic? Did he find employment here?
Barbara Hermes [00:37:45] Well, our his sister lived in Evansville, Indiana. And the jobs they were able to find him was hired help in a peach orchard, fruit orchard.
Erika Wagner [00:37:59] He was supposed to work with Uncle Frank in the in that refrigerator company, but they were on strike by the time we got there. And then so they got my father a job working in a peach orchard as a hired hand.
Barbara Hermes [00:38:14] Also, what happened, because it took a long time to get our visa, the we could not get passage on. A ship, immigrant ship, immigrant ship and and in time before the expiration of the visa and so our aunt and uncle here in America said they would purchase, they would purchase us tickets on a regular ocean liner so that we could come and then they would pay for the tickets and we would then owe them the money and pay them back once we got to America. And so Erika and I and our parents got to come over on the SS United States,.
Erika Wagner [00:39:11] Which was the fastest ship at the time.
Barbara Hermes [00:39:13] Yeah, it had the blue ribbon for the ocean crossing, but, and of course, our Aunt bought the least expensive cabin she could find, she could get for us. And we did the bathroom, it had no bathroom, had like two bunk beds for four people and, and the bathroom was up the hall. But for us it was the most luxury we had ever seen in our life. We had never seen an experienced luxury like we did on this ocean crossing.
William Franklin [00:39:54] Must have been amazing, yeah.
Barbara Hermes [00:39:55] Can I tell you a cute story?
William Franklin [00:39:57] Yes, please do!
Barbara Hermes [00:39:58] We would– And of course we were assigned a table in the dining room and it was a table for four. And we had a waiter and we and it would be there would be menus on the table. And of course, we didn't know any English, but our reader was so cute he would always help us and point us in the right direction. And it was always a basket of rolls on the table. And we would love those rolls. But as soon as the basket was empty, the waiter would refill the basket. You know how people do in this country. And by the time we were done eating, my mother said, Oh, this little basket of rolls which we can't let go to waste. So she would gather up the rolls and she had a little bag. She put them in your bag and take them along. And every day we've got more rolls, a bag full of rolls. When we got to New York and picked this up actually in New York and had us overnight at another relative's house who lived in New York.
Erika Wagner [00:41:10] But first I have to tell you the story of how the rolls got into America. My mother had put them into one of these bags that are like cloth carrying bag, and she had them stuffed in the into the bag. And I had to put my doll on top of all the rolls.
Barbara Hermes [00:41:30] Because you weren't allowed to bring food.
Erika Wagner [00:41:33] Because you were not allowed to bring food in. That's how the rolls got into America.
Barbara Hermes [00:41:38] Because Erika"s dolls sat on top of them. But when we got to Aunt Mims' house, who was going to overnight us before we went to Evansville, Indiana,.
Erika Wagner [00:41:52] Our train, we missed our train because the ship was late. We were in a bad storm.
Barbara Hermes [00:41:57] Storm, yes. It was a dilly, but anyway. And my mother proudly, when Aunt Mims offered us dinner, our mother proudly brought her bag of rolls. She said, Oh, I have these rolls from the ship and Aunt Mims took a look at them, and she had one of these step-on garbage cans. She stepped on it and she said, "these are all still stale", and she just dumped them, and we thought our mother would have a heart attack.
William Franklin [00:42:28] And here she smuggles in these rolls for her. That's funny. So what year was this now?
Barbara Hermes [00:42:36] '54.
William Franklin [00:42:39] '54, 1954 now.
Barbara Hermes [00:42:40] February of 1954. And now tell about you going to school, Erika.
Erika Wagner [00:42:49] Well, we arrived on a Friday and on Monday I went to school. And my aunt had enrolled me in a Lutheran school, I was in seventh grade and I went on the bus with the other children and then I just sat in the classroom and did what I could, I just tried to catch what I could and they because it was a Lutheran school, I had to learn the "our father" and the confession of faith and the Ten Commandments. And in a letter that I wrote to my girlfriend in about two weeks later, I guess in two weeks, I had learned them.
William Franklin [00:43:35] And you didn't speak a word of English before you came to America, right?
Erika Wagner [00:43:39] For two years, we took English classes one day a week when we applied for our visa and they had after school in the evening on Wednesday, they had we had class and we learned Peter Pym and Billy Bob were the two characters in our English book. It was the British English that. So we had learned a little bit of English.
Barbara Hermes [00:44:08] Polly put the kettle on. I remember that. But we didn't learn much. I hate to say it.
Erika Wagner [00:44:16] We got enough to go and just be able to say hello and please and thank you and. And after a while, you sort of absorb the language by osmosis.
Barbara Hermes [00:44:30] Well, Erika went to grade school, but I was 16 at the time. And so they said I had to go to high school, but I did not get the courage to go for at least a week or more to get two weeks.
Erika Wagner [00:44:47] I think you should mention that in Germany, you had already worked for a whole year because when you finish eighth grade in Germany, you go and you start a career.
Barbara Hermes [00:44:58] Unless your parents can send you to higher education. And our parents were refugees. They did not have the means. So I, I guess I had gone to work as a household help for a year. But anyway, so now I got to go back to school. And that was for me the most appealing thing about coming to America. I was 16. Leaving my friends behind was not fun. That part I didn't like. But going back to school was really something special, except I didn't have the courage. But finally, I also got on that yellow school bus from the farm where we were that took us up to Rights High School. And the bus driver, Mr. Rody, spoke just three words, German or so. So he said to me. When you come out, come right here, I'll be here and take you back and I. Anyway, I told you that schoolhouse where we were, where we went in Asendorf, had four classrooms. Well, this high school had three floors and there were about 50 rooms on each floor. I mean, it was so huge. I could never figure out if I was on the first floor or the third floor. I could run all the way up to count the floors. You know, there were so many things that once you know them, they're really simple. But if no one ever tells you it, it is absolutely confounding and awfu. Like, they gave me, they sent me to the office and they gave me a card about the classrooms I was supposed to go to, and of course, if anyone ever told me that rooms that start with two like two thirty two would be on the second floor, that would have been easy but no one told me that. And room set start with three on the third floor. And the other thing was the even numbered classrooms were on one side and the outnumbered. But that took a long time. Before I figured that out, I was just a basket case. I couldn't find my way around. And when the bell rang. And they said, this is it, now we go home and everybody streaming out the door and I just follow this stream out and I know Mr. Rody is going to be there with the yellow school bus, except I get out the door and there are 20 yellow school busses lined up on every one of them looking exactly the same as the other one. I just stood there and broke out in tears. I didn't think I was ever going to get ever get home again. But but a girl came and ticked me on the shoulder and she said, aren't you the girl that rode with us this morning? And she showed me where this school was and how I had to figure out which the right bus was for me to take back.
William Franklin [00:48:38] It's hard– It's hard to prepare for a whole new culture like that, you know? Everything is new. Everything's different,.
Barbara Hermes [00:48:46] Everything's different.
Astrid Julian [00:48:48] And I have a question in general. How did the other children treat you? Were there other German speakers or did you stay by yourself or did you make friends easily?
Barbara Hermes [00:49:01] Well, I'll let Erika answer first because it was very different for her and for me,.
Erika Wagner [00:49:07] It's as far as we knew, we were the only German people in that whole town. So definitely no German speaking people. But I was going to say, because I was in seventh grade, I was in the same classroom most of the day and a girl from down the street was in the same class with me. Actually, I still correspond with her. And so. I just was assigned a seat, and that's the seat where I sat almost all day, and then when everybody streamed out for recess, I would go out with everybody. When they all went into the church, I went with everybody. And so so it was relatively easy for me.
Barbara Hermes [00:49:54] But you also had teachers who spoke German.
Erika Wagner [00:49:59] The teachers, but yeah, he spoke a few words of broken German, that one teacher I had, the religion teacher because he was a Lutheran school, and in those days, the Lutheran education included learning some German.
William Franklin [00:50:16] Were you still in Evanston?
Barbara Hermes [00:50:18] Evansville. Evansville is way south, in Indiana.
Erika Wagner [00:50:24] Across the Ohio River across.
Barbara Hermes [00:50:27] Yeah, across the Ohio River from Kentucky on its way at the southern point of Indiana.
Erika Wagner [00:50:35] And we lived there from February 1954 until the fall of 1955.
William Franklin [00:50:45] And then what happened in the fall of 1955?
Erika Wagner [00:50:45] I finished seventh grade and all of eighth grade in that school in Evansville.
Erika Wagner [00:50:56] Well, and– and then I started high school here in Cleveland.
William Franklin [00:51:04] How did you come to Cleveland? Did you have relatives here too?? No connections?
Barbara Hermes [00:51:11] No. But, well, no.
Erika Wagner [00:51:16] It was very difficult for our mother in Evansville because there were no German speaking people and there was no no place where you could buy any some food that's similar to German food, especially the bread was very difficult for my mother.
Barbara Hermes [00:51:35] Our mother was very, very homesick.
Erika Wagner [00:51:38] And she cried every day.
Barbara Hermes [00:51:40] But I was going to tell her that our cousin, our Mike. Father's sister's son had come home from the army with a young bride. And this young bride was from Berea, no not Berea, Bay Village, Ohio.
William Franklin [00:52:04] Bay Village, okay.
Barbara Hermes [00:52:08] And after a couple months, we established a household. We were friends with them. He was going to take his young wife to see her parents in Bay Village, Ohio. And I had gone to school in Germany with a girl who had come to Canada. And who I was corresponding with, she was also from Canada. She had moved to Cleveland and so I begged my cousin to take me along when they went to Bay Village so that I could visit my school friend from Germany and he did that. And and she so I got to stay with her at her house while my cousin's wife was when they were visiting her parents, but I stayed with my friend Catherine and she took me to the German central and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. There were all these 17 year olds, are these 17 year old boys. That was music that I could relate to. They were dancing. It was just wonderful.
Erika Wagner [00:53:34] And everybody apoke German there.
Barbara Hermes [00:53:36] And they spoke German. And I came home to Evansville and I just couldn't, I just told my parents how wonderful it was in Cleveland. And and my girlfriend's father worked at (Riester & Thesmacher Co.), on West 25th Street. They were metalworking shop. And he said, oh, I can get your father work there right away. Now, At the same time, mind you, as this had happened that spring, the there were some very late frosts in in Evansville.
Erika Wagner [00:54:24] In 1955.
Barbara Hermes [00:54:25] The peach crop, which was this this fruit orchard family's main crop, their crop was completely spoiled. Each trees had been in flower just as these late frosts happened. And so he had told my father already they would not be able to keep him on. And so my father and I drove. He had bought himself a '48 Dodge at this time and he and I drove to Cleveland. He got himself a job at the (Riester & Thesmacher Co.) Just had to walk in in those days, it was easy to find a job in Cleveland and we knew and shortly after moved the family to Cleveland.
William Franklin [00:55:26] What was the name of your friend that you visited here in Cleveland?
Barbara Hermes [00:55:30] Her name was Katherine Thiess (T H I E S S).
William Franklin [00:55:37] T H I E S S. Okay.
Barbara Hermes [00:55:38] And but she's now married and–
William Franklin [00:55:41] Has a different name.
Barbara Hermes [00:55:42] Her name is now Ritzmann. We still know each other. We're not close friends, but we still, you know, associate.
William Franklin [00:55:55] And your mother came to Cleveland to live with you again?
Barbara Hermes [00:55:58] Well, yeah, our whole family,.
William Franklin [00:56:00] That's good. Was she happier when she came to Cleveland?
Barbara Hermes [00:56:03] We rented a little trailer and packed all our belongings on this trailer that we pulled behind the car.
Erika Wagner [00:56:16] I'd like to mention when we came to Evansville, of course, we had nothing. We had each had a suitcase with our personal belongings. And so our aunt, Anni Robb, who was a member of this Lutheran church organized what she called like a household shower. And everyone would bring various kitchen utensils and things of furnishings even that we needed to set up a household. So everything needed was basically donated to us from these various church members.
Barbara Hermes [00:56:57] And we couldn't believe how kind and friendly and generous they were.
William Franklin [00:57:07] And you mentioned the German Central. Was that West 130th in Parma?
Barbara Hermes [00:57:13] No, it's on York Road in Parma.
William Franklin [00:57:17] York Road, okay.
Barbara Hermes [00:57:17] Yeah, it's on York Road.
Erika Wagner [00:57:20] In those days, there was also– There were German bakers, German butchers. There was a German movie theater, a German Newspaper.
Barbara Hermes [00:57:29] Capitol Theater had German movies. Yeah, there was a German newspaper. You're right. And so our parents joined a singing society and and quickly was able to make German friends and feel much more at home. And then we we met. German young people, we then hung out with.
Erika Wagner [00:58:08] And both of us ended up marrying German guys that were from Germany.
William Franklin [00:58:18] I'm sure you all shared similar backgrounds, I'm sure, right?
Barbara Hermes [00:58:22] Well, the backgrounds–
Erika Wagner [00:58:24] Not really, but just the language.
Barbara Hermes [00:58:26] We're different from different parts of Germany. But yes, there was there was a shared, some shared stories. Certainly of immigrating as young people and all that meant being uprooted, taken away from your circle of friends and having to start over to ake friends. That kind of–
Astrid Julian [00:58:56] I have a question that your spouses come over a lot of the time with their families?
Barbara Hermes [00:59:01] My husband came with his parents.
Erika Wagner [00:59:05] My husband came alone, too, but his brother was living here. So but we didn't know I mean, we we didn't know them when we came. I was 12 when I came from Germany. Barbara was 16. We didn't know anybody who immigrated at that time.
William Franklin [00:59:30] OK, good.
Astrid Julian [00:59:33] What else was the Cleveland like for young people? Did you get– Did you make American friends? Was it easy to make American friends because these are things that Cleveland State students might wonder about. How did you find your way in American society?
Barbara Hermes [00:59:48] Well, I went to Rhodes High School here as well to write high school in Evansville. And because there we came out from the country, on the bus, on the school bus, it was much more difficult to make friends. But we had a family that lived up the street where Erica said. She went to school with the one girl. Had an older sister that I became friends with also in Evansville. But here in Cleveland, then, I was able to make a good number of friends in the high school and high school.
Erika Wagner [01:00:40] And I started Rhodes High School in the ninth grade here, and for me, actually, a lot of people didn't realize that I was an immigrant because I was speaking English by now. And so I had basically just fit right in. And I had a lot of friends, high school friends that I'm still friends with a lot of them. And we still meet on a regular basis.
William Franklin [01:01:08] Mm hmm.
Barbara Hermes [01:01:09] Yeah, I was going to say that I when I arrived, it was a year and a half we lived in Evansville before we came to Cleveland. And when I went to high school, they all teased me and they said I had a Southern accent, but they didn't recognize it as a German accent.
William Franklin [01:01:33] It's interesting because you have a much thicker accent than your sister.
Erika Wagner [01:01:37] Yes.
William Franklin [01:01:38] And there's only four years difference, it's amazing how that impacted your your English
Astrid Julian [01:01:45] Barbara, what did you study in high school?
Barbara Hermes [01:01:51] Well, you see, I also felt that I was cheated in high school because of the language barrier I was steered towards, not college classes. I mean, they tested me out of any kind of math classes because my math was very good. I had the highest grade in the standardized ninth grade math test that they would administer. So they said, that's good enough. You don't need to take it anymore. So I never got any algebra or any of that. And so they they had me take bookkeeping and typing. And. I took an art class anyway. I think it's– I enjoyed particularly English. I really liked my English classes and and. I signed up for noncredit Shakespeare class because I so enjoyed Shakespeare. Go figure. But when at the end of that, when I decided I wanted to go to college, I found that I was very deficient because I had not had any of the college prep classes and I had to. So they they had me to catch up work twice before I could go to college.
Erika Wagner [01:03:35] I was scared because I had all of my friends were all going to college. There was really nobody who wasn't going to college of my friends. So I went all in to I went into all the college prep classes. I took French and I took the sciences and the histories. I mean, and then I went to college. I went to Western Reserve University after high school.
William Franklin [01:04:05] Mm hmm. You said you went from Rhodes High School. Where did you live here when you were in Cleveland?
Erika Wagner [01:04:12] We lived off Broadview Road at West 17th Street.
Barbara Hermes [01:04:18] It's just north of Memphis Avenue, close to where the zoo is.
Erika Wagner [01:04:27] Well, that was Clybourn Avenue, right?
Barbara Hermes [01:04:29] Yeah.
Erika Wagner [01:04:29] We lived on Clybourn first.
William Franklin [01:04:33] And what colleges did you go to?
Barbara Hermes [01:04:38] I went to Western Reserve and then I went to Cleveland State for my law degree.
William Franklin [01:04:43] Oh, very good. Are you practicing law now?
Barbara Hermes [01:04:47] Yes, just part time. Well, after– Go ahead, you were going to ask Erika a followup question.
William Franklin [01:04:58] I was going to ask what you specialized in, if you were an immigration lawyer or–
Erika Wagner [01:05:03] Right now, I'm doing only probate law.
William Franklin [01:05:07] Uh-huh. And before that?
Erika Wagner [01:05:09] I did domestic relations and probate and some other areas.
William Franklin [01:05:16] Very good. And Barbara, what did you study?
Barbara Hermes [01:05:20] Well, after high school, I got a job with Eastern Airlines and worked for them for a while and when I got married and had two children. I was home for a while, I was a mother and homemaker for a while and worked my husband through college, he was still going to college and when he finished and got a job, he said, OK, now it's your turn. So as I said, I tried to get into Cleveland State and they said, Oh, you're too you're very deficient. You better do some makeup classes. So they sent me to try C for beginning algebra and the biology class and the the basic sciences that I hadn't had. But then I decided that I really like the science classes and I wanted to go into science. And I, I ended up I transferred then from Tracy to Cleveland State and studied in their environmental health program that was in in their biology department. The program doesn't exist anymore. But at the time, one of the fields that you could go into was industrial hygiene, which is occupational safety and health. And that fascinated me. And so I, I went into industrial hygiene. I asked to do an internship, got called into the office by my professor. He said, no, Barbara, I would like you to know this is really not a field for women. You'll have to wear safety shoes and a hard hat. And it's just not really very appealing to women. I said, thanks, that's for me. So so I did my my internship. My internship was with the Diamond Shamrock Company. It was a big chemical company, were headquartered at that time still in Cleveland. We moved it down to Dallas. But anyway, Diamond Shamrock sent me to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to a chlorine factory for my entrance. And the first thing they handed me was a hard hat and an escape respirator. And they said, if you see a yellow cloud, you whip out your escape respirator and run out with it. Anyway, I then worked as an industrial hygenist and got my certification eventually when Diamond Shamrock moved their headquarters to Dallas, I got a job with Williams and worked there for 22 more years as an industrial activist and traveled around the country to all the manufacturing sites and did tests and stuff that I really loved.
William Franklin [01:08:57] Yeah, very good.
Erika Wagner [01:09:00] I was going to say I was going to say regarding the schooling is that when I graduated from high school, you know, Barbara, when she graduated from high school, she got herself a job as a secretary and she paid rent at home. And that was the same expectation for me. And my parents were quite disappointed that I finished high school, that I was not going to get a job and and pay rent at home because I was saving my money to got to pay for my tuition. So I think for my parents, you know, my going to college was really a financial burden because I couldn't because I was not contributing financially to the household in those, and immigrants in those days expected their children, a lot of them expected the children to quit school at 16 and then start paying rent at home and contribute their salary to the household.
William Franklin [01:10:03] That was pretty typical back then.
Erika Wagner [01:10:05] Oh, yes. Yes.
Barbara Hermes [01:10:07] And I thought, yeah, that's how I felt that I needed to get a job. I actually had a teacher who kept saying, Barbara, you should go to college. I was very good in high school. I must tell you academically, both of us did very well. So she kept saying I should go to college, but I felt I couldn't do that because the expectation was that I would get a job. And like Erika said.
Erika Wagner [01:10:40] You know, we had neighbors that were that had come from Italy and all the children had to turn all of their salary, they had to turn over to their parents, and then parents basically gave them an allowance that they could use. But the expectation was that the children would give all their money to the parents, when they lived at home.
William Franklin [01:11:06] And you still had a relative in Evansville, right? You had an uncle that was still living there?
Erika Wagner [01:11:12] Well, yes, the aunt and uncle lived in Evansville.
Barbara Hermes [01:11:17] Right now they do not. The uncle died and the well, the aunt and uncle have died many years ago. But the cousin, a cousin who lived in Evansville still for a long time, then moved to San Diego because that's where her only son ended up. You know, kids end up all over the place. So she lives in San Diego. And Erica and I have visited her a couple of times. And the cousin Harry, who is the one that has the wife that was from Bay Village, he moved to Seattle, Washington. He was an engineer at Boeing for many years. He's, of course, now retired. But but he still lives in Seattle, in the Seattle area.
William Franklin [01:12:17] Very good. OK, good. Well, I think we...
Astrid Julian [01:12:23] So, how important is keeping the German language? Do speak German and how did you speak German with your children or did you just let it go?
Barbara Hermes [01:12:36] I'll let you go first, Erika.
Erika Wagner [01:12:39] Well, I mean, to me, I think it was quite important and I I did speak German to my children. I must say that my husband, when my husband came from Germany, he could not speak any English. So I had to speak to him in English so that he could learn English. And that, unfortunately, set up a pattern of speaking English at home because I forced myself to speak English so he could learn English. And but when we had children, we did speak German to them. And both my children went to the German language school and they both speak German and they and. But I tried to teach German to my grandchildren, and it's very difficult because you don't see them every day and and you when you do see them, you want to communicate with them and you don't want to have the only the short time you have with the grandchild to be a German lesson. So it's difficult. I did take my children with them to Germany. I've been with them. I tried to establish contact for them in Germany. They said they're not doing that well, but they have gone to Germany several times, probably five or six times. My oldest grandson, I've taken to Germany three times and the other two I've taken to Germany twice. So I think it's like at least having the contact with Germany. I'm hoping that they will somehow keep up a little bit of the culture.
Barbara Hermes [01:14:29] Well, and we I can tell you when I go to Germany, I always commended for speaking German as well as I do, and I know I speak it well. But at home we speak mostly English mostly, but but slip into German whenever it's convenient because both of us speak both languages and, I always say, if you when you communicate, you use you use all the words that you have in your in your realm of of words, and if you have two languages and you can use them, then why not use all of that when you communicate? And that's sort of how we my husband and I look at the way that we communicate. We use whichever language works best for what we want to say also. And from what Erika said, we we decided when we had our first child that we would absolutely only speak German so that he would learn German and did and he spoke only German, except we realized when he started kindergarten he would need to be able to speak English. So then we taught him English. And our older son, because of that, is still very, very fluent in German. And our younger son also learned German, but not quite as well as the older one because he had to handle both languages at the same time. But again, the same as Erica said. The grandchildren, it just became difficult, first of all, two of our grandchildren live in Portland, Oregon, and it was impossible. And the other two here, whenever we would have them, we would try to teach them a little bit. But it's really isn't sufficient to just do it whenever we might or babysit them. It's not sufficient. Now, no one like my grandson is taking German. In college. And he and I have made it a practice that twice a week I call him and we do a peace time and I do German with him, and that's working out very well. So I hope he keeps that up. But I wanted to say, both of us, Eric and I are very active in the German community. You know, we've danced for years and years with the Schuhplattler group here in Cleveland and we sing in the choir where we sing all German. Songs, folk songs and so forth, so we have had opportunity to keep up our language here also.
William Franklin [01:18:03] So the culture is still very important to you?
Erika Wagner [01:18:06] Yes, yes. I was a teacher when I graduated from college and I was teaching German and French for a while and I and I taught at the German school, the weekend German school for a while also. And, once, once a year, I organize a German Christmas service at my church with a German choir and, you know, but that had to that fell through this year to everyone's chagrin.
William Franklin [01:18:47] And one other question I had was, how do you how does it feel to go back to Germany now? Do you have any, I don't know, emotional connection to it now after all these years?
Barbara Hermes [01:19:03] Oh, yes.
William Franklin [01:19:05] How does how does it feel to go back?
Barbara Hermes [01:19:09] Well, I'll I'll go first and and I know Erika and I both have gone I have gone to confirmation class reunions. In Asendorf, and where I was confirmed and they didn't have class reunions, but they have the reunions of the confirmation class and the it was first every 10 years and then later on every five years. So I would go and I would still see the people that I went to school with because they all were in the same confirmation class. So we do that and we have relatives in Germany that we go visit and they come and visit here. In the last few years, many of our relatives have visited us here, so we stay in contact with them. I write to very many people in Germany and I know Erika does, too.
Erika Wagner [01:20:27] Interesting that you said how we feel. I think what we enjoy going back to Germany and seeing like in Asendorf, seeing the places where we used to live and where we went to school, and it gives you a pretty good feeling and seeing old friends. But I think eventually you. You do feel like America is home, you you don't really have the desire to move back there and live there. I don't it's it's nice to go back because it's it's brings back memories. I think that's the that's the main thing. And it makes and you hear we hear from the U.S. and the language and you eat from all your foods and and that's all a lot of it's very comforting. But then one, two, three, four weeks are over. You're ready to go home?
Barbara Hermes [01:21:26] Yeah, I feel like I definitely, too, feel that going to Germany is going to visit and coming home is home to the U.S. expats home.
William Franklin [01:21:45] Very interesting, thank you.
Barbara Hermes [01:21:46] But we do go visit with some frequency.
Erika Wagner [01:21:50] Yeah. More frequently now, when we were younger, we didn't have the money, we would go like every six or seven years. And I think the last few years we've gone every other year, we've actually had years where we're twice in one year because we do have a reunion and we'd have another with our dance group. We had an event. So it's it's become more common and more, but it's become more frequent than it used to. I was supposed to go this year and of course, that fell through. I was supposed to have a confirmation class reunion this May.
Barbara Hermes [01:22:29] And I was contemplating going with her because I know a lot of those people as well. But of course, we couldn't. We were also expecting company from Germany this year. I was we were expecting someone in June and my cousin in September. But none of that could happen this year either.
Erika Wagner [01:22:49] Yeah, we had we had a customer coming also in March that I know bad. It was supposed to come here and she couldn't come. You couldn't come either. No.
William Franklin [01:23:02] It's been a difficult year to travel, to say the least. Yeah, and your connection to Donauschwaben, you've been members for probably years, right? It's like a second home.
Erika Wagner [01:23:18] Yeah, we've been a member of the Donauschwaben for a long time, my husband used to play on their soccer team that that was something, too that was very popular here. And people watch soccer. We didn't have that in Evansville, Indiana. And that's a very popular sport in Germany. so we've been members of the Donauschwaben since the probably early '60s, probably fifty– Actually '58 when my husband started playing soccer here.
Barbara Hermes [01:23:47] But when we– When we say we belong to a German organization, it's the Schuhplattler and it's not the Donauschwaben. Yeah. It's a separate organization.
Erika Wagner [01:24:02] The club we dance with is a Schuhplattler fine, which is a Bavarian organization. And it's– It just happens to be located in the building where the Donauschwaben. Yeah, because it's a German organization we went to we went to a rented space with them.
William Franklin [01:24:27] I see. Very good.
Erika Wagner [01:24:29] But we are members there also, we have lifetime membership with them.
Astrid Julian [01:24:35] Yeah, so do we.
William Franklin [01:24:40] Very good. Well, I think we went over our hour. I don't know if anybody else have any questions or can I get a few questions?
Barbara Hermes [01:24:51] I don't know if he wanted to ask some questions, some things, Mark.
Mark Cole [01:24:58] So I did have one. But you both answered it in a way. I was going to ask you, where do you consider home after home? And you just answered that at the end. But I wondered if you might reflect a little bit on you, because you both said you consider the United States home. But I was hoping you could say a little bit about how you think about Cleveland and the immigrant experience and what Cleveland means, particularly as a city means for you or as an area of means for you. And then the second part of that question would be, would you both talk about grandchildren, children and grandchildren? Do they think of themselves as coming from an immigrant family? Do they still have those connections? Do they still think about, you know, grandma and grandpa as immigrants or is that part of the family story or is it something that's sort of gone away? So two questions.
Barbara Hermes [01:26:06] Well, first, I'll take the first part. I think both of ours are fairly similar. The first part about Cleveland, I have to tell you, I personally love Cleveland. I love living here. And whenever we have visitors from Germany, they're always amazed when we take them to places of what there is, what it has to offer. And and initially, of course, it was very, very appealing because the of the immigrant experience, we've outgrown that at this point. That's, you know, even though we still belong to German groups and so forth, it's no longer immigrants. Most of them are already children of immigrants. We're really the older ones who are first generation, next generation. So so I can tell you that that that I really, really feel at home here in Cleveland and like it a lot and have no thoughts whatsoever of moving to Florida or some such thing so and so, go ahead, Erica.
Erika Wagner [01:27:30] Well, I was I basically feel the same way, you know, because it was it's such a it was such a pleasant experience to come to Cleveland and to find all those activities here that we had remembered from home. It really seemed like a very inviting place. And I I do think culturally Cleveland has a lot to offer. But, you know, it's so and that's one one reason why it draws me to Cleveland because of all the museums, the concert, the music, the theaters, the actually the scenery. It's lovely down at Lake Erie and downtown. Those are just some of my favorite places. So I enjoy that. And the second part of your question was, you know, how how do our grandchildren feel? I think we tell I think our grandchildren know that they're German. You know, they say, yeah, I'm German or my one grandson says I'm half German and half Dutch. So they they realize that there is that German. Sorry. And whenever we do have family get togethers, I think especially at Christmas, we do sing a few German Christmas songs, and when Barbara and I take our grandchildren for my trip, we take them for a trip once a year. We try to sing one or two German songs with them or tell them some stories about the old days. And so so they do know that they that there's roots that they have to it that they're attached to. And like I said, I've taken all our grandchildren who have gone back to Germany to visit so they know what it's like over there and. And so they have a very realistic feel for being over there and being over here, how it's different.
Barbara Hermes [01:29:38] Yeah, I might I might add that we were talking about Erica and I dancing in this folk dance, the Schuhplattler folk dance group, both my sons, both our sons dance and I know and Erica's children and so and and both my grandchildren that live in Cleveland have have danced in the group and competed with the group. So, yes, they've they've very much been drawn into that culture. And that's true for Erika too.
Erika Wagner [01:30:19] Yeah, my grandchildren have they have danced to the youngest one is not very agile. I don't think you can ever do it, but the second youngest is still pretty active.
Mark Cole [01:30:33] Thank you.
Barbara Hermes [01:30:34] None of that this year.
Erika Wagner [01:30:38] But I don't know if they really think of us as being immigrants, I think we sort of have to remind them of that every so often. I know when my grandson complained about how how terrible it is with the virus, and I tell it well, think about it, that it was worse when grandma was small, so.
William Franklin [01:31:02] There's no comparison.
Erika Wagner [01:31:04] You're right.
Astrid Julian [01:31:09] Yes, of one thing that my son talks about is that among black Americans and also immigrants, that they have to live more deliberately when they accept a piece of German American culture. It's it's they think about it from all different angles. They don't just they're not born into it. So when they decide that they're going to bring something that's American home and into their lives or into their value system, it's a much more deliberate act. And he puts a lot of affinity with with other minorities such as the African American. And do you find that also that you you identify with other minorities like African Americans or Latinos?
Barbara Hermes [01:31:59] Yes. Yes, definitely. Earlier when when we were talking about what and and Bill was saying that that it was a culture shock when we came to this country and everything was so different. I often think about immigrants who come from very, very different cultures, how to, you know, coming from Germany to America, it's about as close in cultures. It's you get and it still was not like what about immigrants who come from cultures that are vastly different, like African or or South Asian or Vietnamese or any of those cultures where Korean where where the cultural difference is so much greater yet that it must be a huge, huge adjustment. So I feel very empathetic to all of that.
Erika Wagner [01:33:07] Also, so the discrimination factor that you sometimes feel that you'll be not being discriminated against, but you certainly feel you can identify with someone who is discriminated against because, well, like children do. I know my my children have been called Nazis when they went to school and looked down on because of their German background.
Astrid Julian [01:33:36] Well, that's what happened to my kids. Yeah. And again, a letter writing campaign to the Board of Education said that because of the lack of, I mean, every culture was allowed to be proud of them, of their backgrounds and everything in ninth grade reading list, except the only books about Germans were really negative, not even memoirs, they were kind of novels and so on. So we did get some really good books in the school system about the actual German American experience. So, so, but you want to go with the flow, right? You don't want to make it, if you will, but sometimes you've got to be because those little guys say they're there. They can be very hurt by that. And we you know, if you have a sensitive child and you've got to look out for them because of my mom, I have to say she is really I mean, the last 10 years of her life are wonderful because she works with all black Americans in Cleveland. And she was totally accepted in a way that she was in five Americans. You know, the black Americans never heard of her accent. They would say things like they were invited to parties, come drive to Lakewood from the east side and pick up this little German lady to keep her safe. Right. Bring her to their parties. They would say Gerty, wear your tribal regalia and bring your drums, which meant where you can go and play. You bring your accordion. And and they really, honestly were so warm and accepting and and I felt really happy that she was able. So that was a nice thing for my mother. I don't think that I don't think she realized that she was being held at a distance because of her accent. But but I kind of perceived that I did.
Erika Wagner [01:35:45] I did want to mention something that when I was in college, I was going for an education degree and I did some research on children of immigrants, and I found in my research that the children of immigrants have a very high rate of emotional problems because their parents don't fit in. So it is very difficult for the children. I'm not yeah, I'm not.
Astrid Julian [01:36:23] Yeah. I mean, everybody story's different. Some people are more sensitive to it than others. I know my husband doesn't even think about it, you know, so.
Erika Wagner [01:36:34] Was he born here in the US?
Astrid Julian [01:36:37] No, he was born in [inaudible] Yugoslavia.
Erika Wagner [01:36:40] Right, but what I'm talking about, like our children, our generation, first generation that is born here to an immigrant parent.
Astrid Julian [01:36:49] Yeah, he he he doesn't perceive it in the same way that my son and I do. So he is much more easygoing, which is good, it's a way to be happy. So anyway, so was there anything else you guys want to hear?
Barbara Hermes [01:37:07] Yeah, I wanted to on the same question. I think my said I had said earlier, I feel that our experience as being refugees in Germany and feeling a discrimination factor has made me very sensitive towards people who who are discriminated against. And I have a great deal of empathy for people and feel strongly with them. I feel strongly with like the Black Lives Matter movement, but not only Black lives, other immigrants from other areas as well. I, I think they have a difficult time and need all the support.
Astrid Julian [01:38:04] Yes, definitely.
Erika Wagner [01:38:10] Yeah, I feel that way, too. I think I can identify with people who are discriminated against. Because I experienced it as a child.
Astrid Julian [01:38:24] Anything else? Are we winding down?
Erika Wagner [01:38:31] Well, you know, in Germany, they call him fliefling. Here in America, they call 'em DPs.
Astrid Julian [01:38:39] Or now, it's migrants, right?
Barbara Hermes [01:38:42] Yeah, you I think I have a question what happens next with this project?
Mark Cole [01:38:54] You want me to answer that, Bill?
William Franklin [01:38:56] Yeah, you could explain it better.
Mark Cole [01:39:00] So what we will do with this or what actually Bill will do the most of the heavy lifting here is since we're recording this and Zoom is actually nice when you record this, it records it in separate files. It's nice to see you all, but we don't need the video part of this. So we're going to use the audio part of it and we will do a transcription of it so that people who are hearing impaired can also read the text of this. And then it's going to be archived in Cleveland State University in part of the library. And it's archived in the title of it is the German American Oral History Project. And so we're we're collecting all of these things and they're going to be there in perpetuity for anybody who wants to do research on Cleveland culture, German American culture, the immigrant experience, we have all kinds of tag words that are associated with us. So when somebody is doing research and they're looking for things online, they might stumble across your stories and be able to use them.
Barbara Hermes [01:40:14] Are you doing this type of interview with other people?
Mark Cole [01:40:22] Yes, we are trying– So this idea was born, I guess it's been more than a year now. It was probably just before last Christmas that I was at the the cultural center listening to somebody talk about the dwindling numbers of the older members of the German club. And I had this idea that maybe we ought to record their stories as soon as possible. You, Astrid and Bill know this, but I do a lot of work with the Jewish community in Cleveland. I do a lot with Holocaust education. And there's a lot of similarities between this. You know, there are the numbers of Holocaust survivors are are dwindling at a steady rate. And a lot of this is happening in that community. And I thought, why should that happen in the German American community as well? And since Cleveland is one of the important hot spots, I thought this would be a very interesting way to do it. There are other initiatives that are going on at Cleveland State as well. We have a growing Arab-American population in Cleveland going up by thousands and thousands every year. One of my colleagues are doing that.
Barbara Hermes [01:41:45] So Ukrainians are very numerous in Cleveland as well.
Mark Cole [01:41:50] Yes, Eastern Europeans, I think in far larger numbers. I think there are probably more Croatians here than in Croatia, at least it seems that way,.
Barbara Hermes [01:42:03] Mark?
Mark Cole [01:42:04] Yes.
Barbara Hermes [01:42:07] You know, I was telling you about us being active in the German community and belonging to the Schuhplattler and the dance group and the choir. We early this year before the pandemic closed everything down, we had our Buntenachmittag (festive afternoon), we call it. And and we have done this now to how many? 13, 13.
Erika Wagner [01:42:36] So it's over twenty-five, it's like twenty-seven years.
Barbara Hermes [01:42:41] Every year we put on a program that is done completely in German, all the offerings, all the poems, everything is in German. And we have done it now on a Sunday afternoon for over 20 years. And and you say about the dwindling, we and of course you have to, you know, the people that come have to be able to speak German. So that audience dwindles too. But I wonder if we, this last, several of them, but even this last one from 2020 we we have on a CD. Would that be something you would like to have as part of your project?
Mark Cole [01:43:34] I think absolutely. Yes. And if we could talk some of those dwindling numbers into doing interviews as well, you know, it's just not those who are associated with, you know, German associate associational life or the Donauschwaben or any of that. It's anybody who has some sort of German origin ethnicity. However, we Austrians, we you know, Swiss, we're interested in them all. As long as there's some sort of link to German. Absolutely. So I'd love to have a copy of that. I would turn it over to the library and it would be in a repository. I'd probably be in special collections. I think it's probably from what I would gather, I would do with it. And then we could link it to this as well as sort of another resource for people.
Barbara Hermes [01:44:28] Why don't you give me your address or I will give you my email and you can email it to me.
Mark Cole [01:44:34] OK, I think I have your email right now. I think I sent you a link for I already have your email so we can we can be in contact afterwards.
Barbara Hermes [01:44:45] And I want to tell you, if you really would like some more people. We told you about our German choir there. It's thirty people there and they all have their own story.
Astrid Julian [01:44:57] Yes. And I think it is doing this via Zoom is a lot easier for a lot of people, you know, and if this is an acceptable way to go forward, Mark received a grant for this. So so that's a sign of recognition.
Mark Cole [01:45:16] And to be honest with you, it's been sort of slow going, getting this going. There was a lot of interest will say interest at the beginning, but then actually getting people to do sit down for an interview, there started to be quite a bit of reticence. But now that Bill especially has been working on it, things are going in the right direction. So absolutely, if we could get if you could give me contact information, then Bill or I or Fritz could get on it and we could contact them. And I think, as Astrid said, I think it's easier to assume than it is setting up a time where, you know, Bill could come to their home or something like that.
Barbara Hermes [01:46:02] I thought this format worked very well.
Mark Cole [01:46:06] I agree. And Zoom makes it very– On the technology side, Zoom makes it very easy. The recording is because I do a lot of this stuff for my glasses, so the recording quality is good and it just makes it very convenient. And in the time of a pandemic, it's even better.
Astrid Julian [01:46:25] Some of our older people who are very frail, like [inaudible]. So, you know, her daughter was going to let us know when she had a good day and we could come in and record her. But but yeah, if we can do this via zoom,it's going to be excellent. And Henry Sabien, who's in his 90s, I think and and he.
Barbara Hermes [01:46:43] I know Henry
Astrid Julian [01:46:44] Really. Yeah, he's an old Prussian. I mean, how many old Prussians do you know?
Barbara Hermes [01:46:49] He came over on the same boat with my husband. (laughs)
Astrid Julian [01:46:53] Cool. So but there are there are many and varied stories.
Barbara Hermes [01:46:58] But of course, he has horrendous stories from his fleeing from the south.
Astrid Julian [01:47:08] He had to come all the way from East Pussia, know that by Theresienstadt, all the way to Kaliningrad, so as a little boy, so he, well, he was he was a little bit older, but he he might have. Yeah, he was still a child.
Barbara Hermes [01:47:25] He was a child.
Astrid Julian [01:47:26] But an older child, old enough to remember.
Erika Wagner [01:47:30] He told me that his mother just had twins, I believe, and one of the babies froze to death.
Barbara Hermes [01:47:39] On that trip. Yes, yes, yes.
Astrid Julian [01:47:42] They were they were left at the side of the road. I mean, they couldn't even get over. So it's incredibly sad.
Barbara Hermes [01:47:50] Mark, for other people for it for someone else, I will contact several people in the choir and ask if they're interested, and then I shall email you. The contact information. Is that–
Mark Cole [01:48:09] Okay, That sounds great. That's really what we need, is somebody to grease the wheels, as they say, make it easier, because if we just kind of cold call people, they look at us kind of suspiciously like, what do we really want and why would we be interested in their story, that sort of thing.
Astrid Julian [01:48:28] Right.
Mark Cole [01:48:29] So that was great.
Astrid Julian [01:48:30] And you guys know, when you're a scholar at the university, like the young students, any time you can get, you know, basic research, not stuff that comes out of books, but actual people talking in an interview, you can you know, you can you can do original research, and that's more valuable than–
Mark Cole [01:48:52] And oral history is really popular right now, so there are a lot of people looking for this type of material.
Erika Wagner [01:49:01] Good.
Mark Cole [01:49:02] Yeah, so great. Bill, do you want to record like an official thank you and send off and then we could edit out this bit that we don't need in there?
William Franklin [01:49:11] Yeah, sure. So, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everybody. Thank you, Barbara Hermes and Erika Wagner, for your participation tonight. And this is just gonna be valuable information for us and we can't thank you enough.
Barbara Hermes [01:49:30] Am I allowed to ask one more question? Well, I know a little bit about Astrid. I know you taught at the German school, but will each of you three Mark and Bill and Astrid tell us just a little bit about your family background since we told you all of ours.
William Franklin [01:49:53] Oh, my gosh!
Mark Cole [01:49:56] I'll turn the recording off.
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