How did I come to write this book is a question I have been asked countless times? As I grew up in my parents' home I heard bits and pieces of their war time encounters. When I asked questions I was told I was too young to understand what had happened.
"Some day when you're older we'll tell you," was the typical comment I would hear from both my mother and father.
As I grew into my teenage years their stories no longer held my interest. One summer, in my third year of Optometry School, one of my best friends in College introduced me to Janice Neer, who one year later would become my wife. Graduation followed one year later and I volunteered to serve as a Captain in the Medical Corps in the United States Army. Our country was embroiled in a war in Viet Nam and serving at Fort Leonard Wood Army Hospital, Missouri, I quickly learned the horrors of war. I was twenty-five years old and only then began to realize that my parents must have lived and seen unspeakable events in World War II. Two and a half years later my tour of duty was complete and my wife and six week old daughter, Wendy, returned to Los Angeles, California.
My family history and Austrian roots seemed more important to me now, but I knew virtually nothing of my parents lives prior to immigrating to America in December, 1950. The extent of my knowledge regarding my grandparents was limited to only knowing their names. I intuitively knew there were dark secrets yet to be unearthed.
Years later, my second daughter, Christine was born and we resided in Tustin, California, in Orange County. My parents followed us to Orange County and lived close by in the city of Anaheim. Soon, a new tradition began. Every Friday my parents, Lizzi & Fredl, would pick up our daughters from school and spend the evening with us as a family. We all cherished that time together. While Grandpa played with the girls, Grandma would prepare one of her extraordinary Viennese meals. The dinner meal was more than just food it was an occasion to share the weeks' events and catch-up on other family news. After dinner, when the girls would leave the table to play I would attempt to get my mother and father to share stories of their past lives. I was always met with the same response, "Not now, maybe next week. Let's just enjoy this evening together." They always offered one excuse after another why; "this time" was not a good idea. Their intentional avoidance of the subject lasted almost twenty years.
Lizzi & Fredl and Me
August 11, 1953 (20th Wedding Anniversary)
Lizzi & Fredl
August 11, 1999 (66th Wedding Anniversary)
It was 1998 and my parents were in their late eighties and were understandably becoming frail as well as experiencing many serious health issues. One Friday evening I broached the same subject, but this time my approach was different. I stated that all of us are on this good earth for but a brief moment and we never know when that last moment will be. I continued by saying, "wouldn't it be a tragedy if Jan and I and your granddaughters never learned about their great-grandparents and what sacrifices you suffered during the war." Well, that concern hit the proverbial nerve. They almost seemed relieved when they agreed that they needed to start telling me about their past lives. I began to interview them over the next two years using audio tapes, video tapes and old fashioned note taking. The 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of their lives during World War II was finally starting to take shape. Unfortunately, their recollections of their past was not organized chronologically in their minds. I was getting their story in bits and pieces. It was not uncommon to return home from work and see my answering machine lit up with 8-10 messages. Each message was usually a clarification of what they had told me or another piece of the puzzle that they had forgotten to tell me. I started writing Lizzi & Fred: A Perilous Journey of Love and Faith in earnest in late 1999.
Radio Interview can be heard on Podcast Page