“I was a little girl 7 years old when the end of the war was. We got bombed for almost two years, day and night. In the afternoon the Americans would bomb us and at night the British.”
So it was strange when she grew up to marry an American. She met her husband, Bob Voeltz, originally from Gettysburg, S.D., in about 1955. He had been stationed in Germany after the war. She had studied two years of English in high school by then in her home city of Wurzburg.
“He was actually the first person I ever talked to in English except for my teacher. It was very exciting for me.”
She also had an idea of what South Dakota, the middle of America, was like from books and movies.
“I had read some books by Karl May and they had pictures of Indians and horses in them,” she says. “I had seen western films – maybe two of them. And the Indians all spoke German. They’d come out of the hills and say, ‘Wie geht’s?’”
America seemed more foreign when she made the trip over, alone, to meet her fiancé. He’d already returned to America some months before. The trip over took her 10 days. She was on her way to South Dakota; but the arrival gave her second thoughts.
“My aunt and some others had come to New York before the war. They would send us packages during the war and after the war, too — clothing and coffee and sugar, I remember that. So I had someone to meet me. They lived in Queens, New York, but they came to Hoboken, New Jersey, because that’s where the boat landed.
“When I got off the boat, the immigration officer checked everybody’s papers. I had a visa and a passport and a little clothes. He saw I was going to South Dakota and he said, ‘South Dakota? You don’t want to go to South Dakota. They’ve got wild Indians riding around in the hills and they’ll probably scalp you.’ So when I got to my relatives’ house I had to call Bob and ask him if I should come. I said, ‘Bob, are there wild Indians riding around South Dakota?’ He told me, ‘No, they’re not wild anymore. Don’t worry about it.’”
She went back alone to visit her parents nine years later, but she missed her husband and her three children, David, Tami and Angela, and she found she no longer dreamed in her native tongue.
“You know when I knew I was a good American? When I started dreaming in American English.”