Roseville woman recalls family’s experiences in Nazi Germany
On the day of her birth, Melitta Strandberg was stolen from her parents.
She would not be united with them until six months later, when she was left at the doorsteps of a refugee camp.
She was born in 1944 during World War II at a hospital in Weimar, Germany, where Nazis experimented on babies, especially those with parents from Romania, Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia. Her parents, Oskar and Gisela Mohr, were originally from Romania.
"Not many people can talk about what happened then," she said.
For many years, Strandberg couldn't even discuss the past as she was too young to recall what she and her family experienced during the war. Her parents chose not to tell her the full story until she turned 16 years old.
"But I would eavesdrop on the walls," she said. "When other refugees would come over for coffee and cake, I would put a glass to the wall and listen to their stories. But (my parents) didn't want to traumatize us."
The information she pieced together years later about her family's quest for freedom make up the book "Hey Kids, Want Some Chocolates?" The Roseville resident, now 67, published the book in spring 2011 with the help of co-author George Pfautsch, who completed much of the historical research.
During World War II, Weimar housed the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp. Before the region fell into the hands of the Soviet Union, Strandberg's family caught the last train at midnight from Weimar to West Germany.
Her father's trickery made the escape possible, as he bribed officials to get their papers stamped and wore a uniform to advance to the front of the line. The family sat on hay bales in boxcars and barely ate. They managed to smuggle out her mother's disassembled sewing machine. Her mother was a seamstress and the appliance was her prized possession.
Strandberg spent the first 18 years of her life in Germany before moving to the United States in 1963 to live with her older sister who had married an American G.I. She landed in Minneapolis on the Fourth of July.
"I didn't know anything about Independence Day," Strandberg said. "I'm German. I thought, 'Wow, my sister arranged fireworks for me.'"
Actually, her sister had forgotten all about her and was out watching the fireworks.
"Her ego was crushed," said her husband Herb Strandberg, smiling.
The couple met at IBM in 1989 and soon moved to Roseville. Later, they sold their home, bought an RV and traveled around the country for three years. They walked the Boston Freedom Trail, went rafting in the Grand Canyon and spent time in Canada. Melitta Strandberg's favorite part of the trip involved a visit to Washington, D.C., a place that represents freedom and democracy, she said.
When they moved back to Roseville in 2008, she felt ready to write her life story, with encouragement and editing assistance from her husband.
"We should know the history because otherwise we repeat these things," he said.
Since returning to Roseville, the couple joined Sierra View Country Club, they play bocce and Melitta Strandberg paints and sells silk scarves. They recently went whitewater rafting on the American River.
"I have to do everything (Herb) does otherwise he'll call me chicken for the rest of my life," she said.
Sena Christian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.
To purchase a signed copy of "Hey Kids, Want Some Chocolates?" by Melitta Strandberg for $9 plus shipping, visit www.heykidsbook.com. The book is also available on Amazon.