Grandma and Aunt Rose's German Pen Pal

Started by Emily Clifton on Monday, September 12, 2011


Profiles Mentioned:

9/12/2011 at 12:55 PM

Please read this and the other e-mail from Jean Lucille Krym when time permits. They are stories of my mother and my aunt (Rose Akre) and their pen pal, Annie from Germany. They deal mostly with our my mother and aunt corresponding with their pen pal in Germany...and more importantly, how they helped her after WWII.


Hi, Joe -

Many thanks for your message and memory jog. The short answer to your question is yes, I am in occasional contact with Dagmar (b. 1946) and her husband Karlheinz, who live in the ground-floor apartment in Offenbach (about 6 miles from Frankfurt) in the same building where her mother and father (and she, too, as a child) originally lived in the attic apartment.

I first visited Anne, husband Karl and Dagmar in August 1968 on my return from Turkey, though Mother and Phil had visited them first in 1964. Later, after Karl died, Anne came twice in Geneva where we had a delightful time together. Although it was still quite an adventure for her, in fact it was only six hours away by train in those days. When Daniel went to Germany to improve his German, he stayed a week with her as well.

During the 1980s and 1990s, when I was attending annual sessions of an international nutrition committee which met in Bonn, I would regularly stop by on the way. After Anne's death (in 1993 I believe, though I need to check) I stopped one more time to visit with Dagmar and Karlheinz. Since then we have kept in touch only at Christmas. It's a curious thing when I think about it: they're among the few people of our generation I know who don't have a computer or use e-mail, which of course have become my main means of communication since 1995. If they were connected, I'm sure I would be in touch more often.

Let me give you a quick summary, from memory and subject to correction by more knowledgeable siblings, about how Anne came into the family picture. When your Aunt Rose was at Academy High School (she graduated in 1928) a classmate was corresponding with a German girl her age. As I recall, my mother was intrigued and asked her friend to ask hers if she had another friend who'd like to correspond as well. Enter Annie Mayer.

My parents were married in July 1936. Rosemary was born in April 1938. Anne came to the US for the first time in January 1939 and stayed with my parents in Virginia until late August (the German army invaded Poland on 1 September 1939). As the outbreak of war approached, Anne became more and more anxious and finally departed for home in late August. The passenger ships that left New York Harbor just before and just after hers were sent to the bottom ... by German U-boats.

Anne's vessel made it to South Hampton and she was taken to London and put up at a hotel by the local authority. In due course arrangements were made for her to join a group of German diplomats leaving London for home under diplomatic immunity. During the four years of the war, she was a civilian secretary to the Army, spending two years in Germany, one year in (I believe) Russia, and the final year in Italy, where she ended the war in a POW camp. Given her fluency an American-accented English, she was able to inveigle out of the camp a short letter to my parents (strictly against regulations of course) thanks to a sympathetic American soldier/guard, who dispatched it for her. In addition to her dad, she lost a brother and fiance.

During her time in the US Anne traveled to Erie and the surrounding area, including Niagara Falls (I remember her telling me that she had purchased the Made in Japan trinket on her living-room table during her visit there in the spring of 1939). It was during this period that Anne first met all the family in Erie, and of course she renewed the relationship during her visit to Erie (1-31 August 1960). She crossed the Atlantic both times by passenger ship in and out of New York City and by train to Washington and Erie.

Yes, our mothers both sent post-war packages to Anne and her family to help them get through the difficult years of reconstruction and back on their feet. They had lost their three-story building to aerial bombing. Her dad's barber shop was on the ground floor, their apartment was over the shop, and the apartment above that was rented out. It was during an air raid that her father was killed "defending" his property (as Anne explained it to me, there was always a risk that squatters would take over any buildings that had been abandoned, even temporarily and even during bombardment).
- Jim Akre

Thanks for sending this along James, I have so many memories of Mother standing at the kitchen table ( in Falls Church & in Erie) wrapping large filled boxes with brown paper & string in preparation for mailing, The 'Marshall Plan' allowed moderate fees for shipping to Europe after the war and I recall the boxes being good size and they were stuffed with coffee, sugar, & leather shoes.(& other items that I do not remember)

In Germany Ann Giebler would trace her foot on a sheet of thin paper, Mother would take the outline to the store, 'try on shoes' , and after careful selection make the purchase for the next shipment. Rosemary, can you remember any of the other items? Also do you recall at what grade level the correspondence began, I thought it was in elementary school.

While in Europe (1991) Vic & I saw an authentic model of Frankfort before the allied bombing. It was so very beautiful, as lovely as some or the preserved walled villages of France. What a loss! To alight from a bunker & find only rubble cannot even be imagined. Anne was never without morbid thoughts of the war, in letters or in person. In '96 or '97 Vic & I also attended a large family wedding in Germany with our (grown) children. The groom had been a cub scout in our den and his mother Heidi (a friend of mine) was born in Germany while her parents struggled to get the heck out of Europe. Heidi's many cousins were all at the wedding, all in their fifties, NONE of them ever knew a father, all died at the front. Vic keeps in touch with a former patient, (lives in U.S. ) who was born & raised in Germany & learned to fly at fourteen (German built bombers!) (all the older men were dead) He was scheduled to fly solo on the very day that American tanks rolled into town & that was the end of the war! Like cousin Joseph said these were all real people with real lives.

Eager for this heat wave to moderate a bit. In August we fly to the Nevada desert for nephew's wedding & I am not sure if I am going to like the weather there either!

Love to all,


I have an Ann Giebler story too. In the summer of 1969 I was fortunate to spend 6 weeks in rural England earning 6 credits in History at Alvescot Lodge in a joint venture with Edinboro College (University). It was the year that my nephew Ben was born in May and we landed on the moon in July. The mushroom farmers at the local pub treated us like royalty at our country's achievement that night as we watched on the only TV in the small community. We had two week more to travel wherever we wanted and my friend and I went to Brussels entering by ship at Ostend; Luxembourg visiting with the children of a woman who had hidden my uncle Chester Benacci in her barm during the Battle of the Bulge after he got caught behind enemy lines; then to Ann and Karl's in Frankfurt. They were still in the attic apartment and gave up their beautiflly appointed bedroom for us to stay in. Karl had his bicycle repair and sales shop beside their building. Friankfurt was completely rebuilt and I saw no signs of the ravages of the war. We rented a car and traveled for a few days by cities on the Main River and thoroughly enjoyed Germany. Ann took us to visit with Dagmar one night as she had her own apartment...she seemed to be in her early 20'a with a boyfriend. We then drove to Paris for a day and then flew back to the US.

I know my mother received lots of cut glass items from Ann over the years and she treasured them. I remember when she visited in 1960. We had a big picnic at Uncle Joe's on Wellington Road in her honor. She was a beautiful person, a good friend of our family, and treated me really well in that summer of 1969.
- Lori Ann Benacci

Dear Cousin Lori,

This is a revelation, I never knew you visited Anne and it is thrilling to know about your wonderful journey.

I still bake your recipe for Beer Bread and enjoy it along with your Mother's recipe for Ozark Pudding. There can be so much history in a recipe box.

Now here is an Aunt Ann story. While she was visiting my Mother on Poplar St. we were opening a package that had arrived from Anne Giebler. A carved wooden candleholder (holds four candles) was in the box labeled for me. My sense of style & interior design was obviously underveloped since I announced to the two Mangin sisters that I didn't like the candleholder. Aunt Ann took it home and saved it for me till I came to my senses some years later when Vic & I were married, finished with the Army assignment and were about to move into a real house in Rochester, NY. It was then the time for our dear & loving Aunt to bring back this pretty and useful item. ( I had actually forgotten about it. Perhaps moving five times in three years caused a little memory loss.) Happy to report that the candleholder looks really nice in the dining room, used on many occasions & during power failures too. All good memories are again intact.

Love to all,

Jean Lucile

Create a free account or login to participate in this discussion