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Alexander Braun oral history

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Interview with Alexander Braun

Topeka Kansas

30 November 2006

Name of Interviewer: Sara Keckeisen, Reference Librarian Kansas State Historical Society, 6425 SW Sixth Avenue, Topeka KS 66615-1099

Sara Keckeisen: It's November 30th, 2006. It's about 3:00 in the afternoon and I'm at the home of Alexander Braun at 3024 S W College in Topeka. He and I are here today to talk about his life, his early life as a refugee from ... (pauses)

Alexander Braun: Ukraine.

Sara:  .. .the Ukraine after World War II, his experiences coming to America and his marriage to Valentine Braun, whose collection of letters, papers and diaries we have at the Kansas State Historical Society, which were donated by Al in 2003. Val and her family came to America in 1948, but Al's ordeal continued after that as he came to Canada and then tried to get into America to be with Val. And so now we're going to start the story of Alexander Braun.

Sara: What is your full name?

Al: Alexander Braun. That's the full name. I don't have middle name. Well, in the Ukraine you have, like in Russia, they have the father's name; like my father was Peter, and we would say Alexander Petrovich Braun. Petrovich Braun. That means that you know at once that my father's name was Peter Petrovich.

Sara: When were you born?

Al: In nineteen ... (pauses). July the seventh ... (pauses). No, July the tenth in nineteen seventy ... (pauses). Nineteen twenty-three.

Sara:  1923. Where were you born?

Al: In the Ukraine in Wernersdorf. It was a German colony. They ... (pauses). There were about, I think, 15 or 17 different villages and they were, you know, they have that terrain, it's like like like waves, you know, when the ground form and this valley, usually we're in the crick or little river or something, and our little crick, it was, they called it [Tokmakcha?]. [Tokmakcha?] because it run to the city of Tokmak. Tokmak was a little, oh, probably a couple thousand people, you know, but that was the center where people would go and collect, you know, from the villages, but that started out as [Hebeke?] ... (pauses). No, Halbstadt. Halbstadt means "half town," and then was Wernersdorf... (pauses).

Sara: That's your town.

Al: And that is ours. And then was Liebenau. That was the name. And then was Schoensee. \shane-zay\. It means "beautiful lake," but there was no lake there.

Sara: How do you spell the name of your village?

Al: Wernersdorf. "Dorf' means "village". "Werner," that was the man what organized it, or what settled it.

Sara: W-E-R-N-E-R?

Al: Ya.

Sara: Okay, Wernersdorf. Okay. And what were your parent's names again?

Al: My dad's name was Peter Braun. Peter Ivanovich Braun. That would be his middle name because his father was John [undecipherable]. My mother was a [Broil?]. Her [maiden] name was [Broil].

Sara: Broil?

Al: Yeah. B-R-A-W-N or something. B-Broil. B ... (pauses). I don't even know. I have to [undecipherable] B-R-A- umlat- N ... (pauses). That's all I... (pauses).

Sara: Okay. And what was her first name?

Al: Katharine.

Sara: Katharine? Okay. Did you have any brothers and sisters?

Al: Oh yeah (laughs).

Sara: How many brothers and sisters did you have?

Al: Well, I was the oldest, but the shortest (laughs). And I had four brothers, they were still living. The one was missing during the World War II. The other two, they are in Canada. The one's in Alberta, the other one lives in Ontario. And then there were twins, girl and a boy, but they died as infants. They were [undecipherable]. There were in the hard times. You had here the... the... what you called the ... (pauses).

Sara: The Depression?

Al: The Depression, and we had by Stalin created famine. And then there were no medications and no medication, nothing all. Well, always they had just a [hamen?], what we called it, this lady what assists in childbirth ... (pauses).

Sara: Like a midwife.


Al: Ya, midwife, that's what they actually were and [undecipherable] ... (pauses). What else did you want to know about that thing?

Sara: What did your parents do for a living?

Al: Well, Mom was, at first she was just a housewife, you know? But then when they nationalized everything they took all the cattle away, all our horses away. And they took that all away from ... (pauses). It was in the 20's. I was born in 1923. My grandfather, grandmother, my brother, uncles, they all migrated to Canada. Manitoba. And we knew, us boys, we knew that they lived there. But later on, we didn't dare to talk about it, because it was very strict under Stalin so. My uncle was arrested because he got the letter from his brother from Canada. And he was sent away for five years. They let him come back and then the slightest thing, and they took him again. And we never heard from him again. Hejustdisappeared. My dad, at that time, he fled. He fled and hid in a Caucasian Mountains. We didn't know. Mum probably knew where he was, but we didn't. The kids didn't. You were not supposed to know because ... (pauses).

Sara: (interrupts) At about the same time when people were being arrested ... (pauses).

Al: Yeah, yeah that was in the thirties already.

Sara: In the what? In the thirties?

Al: In the thirties. Now collectivisation was in 1925, 26, but then ... (pauses).

Sara: (interrupts) Was that when everybody's individual farms were taken away?

Al: Well ya, you just got a little plot where you could [undecipherable]. It was, I would call about oh, half an ... (pauses), not even half an acre that we had, [undecipherable] and then each family had their plots on there and grew tomatoes and vegetables and so on.

Sara: Was your dad a farmer then?

Al: Ya, they were farmers. They had about 200 ... (pauses). I would think probably 'bout 2, 3 sections together, my dad and uncle, but at that time they thought they wouldn't... (pauses). Nobody knew that they were collectivicized [sic] you know, nationalized. But when they nationalized, and that, my uncle, he couldn't get away any more.

Sara: Okay. And your dad, at the time of nationalization or collectivization, there was a bad ... (pauses). There was that time when Stalin's people were arresting people, and your dad ran to the Caucuses.

Al: Ya, he he ... (pause) yes, went over that they were the Russians the next day or something and then he took off. And we didn't know where he went. But he came visit


us couple times but all a sudden I ... (pauses). And now were three kids who were to keep mum, you couldn't talk in school about it. If you did, the schoolteachers, usually they were like ... (pauses). Like uncovers, or whatever you call it.

Sara: Yeah, sure, right, right, like spies. Did you have any sisters as well?

Al: Well, one sister, yeah. The sister was bom in 1927 ... (pauses).

Sara: (interrupts) Oh, was that the twin?

Al: 29 ... (pauses). No ... (pauses).

Sara: Oh, different sister, okay.

Al: That was real later and she had ... (pauses) some kind of bone disease. Her bones were so weak and she couldn't walk on it. She needed some special support. We couldn't afford it, but her aunt and uncle, they lived in the Crimea. They were teachers there. So, they came and picked sister up and she was there I know from ... (pauses).

Sara: Oh, she went to live with them'!

Al: Ya, she lived with them and they got... (pauses) oh, support [undecipherable].

Sara: Like leg braces or something?

Al: Braces or so on, ya ... (pauses) and she was [undecipherable]; they were almost like mom and dad to her. They were just aunt and uncle, but they had girls about [undecipherable] the sister's age too, Karen and Katherine. And they later on, they were all old people; they were arrested and they died in prison. That was uncle Krample.

Sara: Krample?

Al: Krample was his name. And then Tante ... (pauses). I don't even know her name now anymore ... (pauses). Liza.

Sara: Liza?

Al: Liza. Ya.

Sara: What is your religious background?

Al: Bakers. Well, [Certis] Bakery didn't have any religion. We were Mennonites or called ourselves Mennonites before the Revolution.

Sara: What... (pauses). You were called ... (pauses). You called yourselves Mennonites, okay.


Al: Ya, General Conference.

Sara: Okay. All right. That's what I'm getting at (laughs).

Al: Ya, ya. General Conference.

Sara: Okay, so before the Revolution, you were General Conference Mennonites. [n.b.: General Conference Mennonites refers to an association of Mennonite congregations in the United States between 1860 and 2002. This designation wouldn't have applied to Mennonites in Russia—Al means that, once in North America, his Mennonite affiliation was with the General Conference denominations, rather than with the "Old" Mennonites, Mennonite Brethren, or other associations].

Al:   Well ya, but we were too little. We didn't even go to church at that time. I was already born after the Revolution was over. The Revolution actually ended in 1917 and I was born in 1923. And in between the years, they still had individual properties and so on. My dad and the uncle, they had ... (pauses). I think they said twelve horses, working horses what they worked the fields. They were all taken away. They had a bunch of cattle. They butcher ... (pauses). Before that, they butcher the hog every year once (pauses). Until they would be bis hoss. I mean real big ones ... (pauses). After that, that was all gone (sighs).

Sara: How old were you when your dad went away to hide?

Al: Well... (pauses).

Sara: Were you pretty small?

Al: I was about... (pauses). Let me see ... (pauses). Twenty-three and he was went away about... (pauses). I was only about four or five years old.

Sara: Okay, so you never heard very much about your ancestors, your Mennonite ancestors and how come your family didn't go to America when everybody else went?

Al: Well, they couldn't at that time. They didn't think they would take everything away and they had this land and the horses and all that, and they had a good ... (pauses) good estate (voice breaks) and there a big, big barn. They had cattle. I don't know how many [undecipherable] cattle they had. Later on, that was all confiscated and nationalized and stuff like that. And that's was a difficult time, but that most difficult for us was for mom 'specially. It was already in 1930 ... (pauses) or '34, it started a little better, but then '33 and I was only about ten years old.

Sara: Yeah, okay. And so she had to take care of eveiybodv.


Al: Yes, she did. And not only that, she had a few beads hidden away to hold us over, tide us over, but they's confiscated. They came and frisked us and took everything away, to the last thing. Every for weeks and weeks and weeks, all we got to eat is just... (pauses). You call 'em pumpkin here but they were the big white ones with the [fat cattle?] in them. And that's what... (pauses). That's what we had to eat, they cook them and eat it. We was sick from that, you know, that couldn't eat it. That we ate. That was all we had to eat!

Sara: Did your mother have to have a job then too?

Al: Well, then they made her work, and she was a cripple anyway. She had a bad, bad, bad cross, I mean "cross," I said spine.

Sara: Oh yeah?

Al: Her spine was [undecipherable] like this. Now see [undecipherable], (chuckles). We always made fun of her, but it was nothing to be funny about, like a [undecipherable] walk like a duck (chuckles), you know?

Sara: Oh, okay. Yeah. Yeah. But what did she ... (pauses). What did they make her do for a (pauses).

Al: (interrupts) Oh, she worked ... (pauses). At first, for a time, she had to work in the field, but later on she worked, like special in fall a [undecipherable] sunflowers. They had lots of sunflowers. They were all [undecipherable]. They had to have ... (pauses). Oh what you call it, some ... (pauses)?

Sara: Like a machete or something?

Al: Yeah, like a baseball bat on a string or something and then you beat them off.

Sara: Oh, okay, to get the seed heads off.

Al: Ya. Then the seed came out of that. The seed came out of that.

Sara: Did you and your brothers have to work in the fields then too?

Al: Oh ya, well I was helping a ... (pauses). They had three tractors there, and they were all antique tractors. They needed to be every so many ... (pauses). Oh, what they call miles, they were, you know, 'round in the field, and then they had to change the bearines because they have bearings, they made them themselves, from lead, you know. Had a form to pour the lead, put them in, and then you had to grind them out, and I was helping. We called it [Prescheptrik?]. [Prescheptrik?] means actually a ... (pauses). [Preshept?], that is to hook on, to engage or something. You know, when they had a plow and turned around, they didn't drove their plow around. They unhooked it, and then the tractor ... (pauses). The person that run the tractor, they would drive around and in the meantime,


we ... (pauses). They use the hands, you know, turn it around, and then we have to hook it back up. That's why they called it [preschept?]. [Precsheptrik?] means ... (pauses). I don't know ... (pauses). Some support (laughs). You don't have that words here (laughs).

Sara: (laughs) All right. Okay. So you were the person that helped turned the thing around, right?

Al: Turned around and then whenever the ... (pauses).

Sara: Hook it up again?

Al: Plows or something plugged up or something, then I was the one with the ... (pauses). Clean it up, you know.

Sara: Did you ... (pauses). Is that where you ... (pauses). One of the letters in Val's collection said something about how she said, "I know you want to be a farmer when you come to America." Is that true? Did you really want to be a farmer or did you ... (pauses)?

Al: (interrupts) No, no.

Sara: Had you had enough farming?

Al: I had enough farming. I didn't want anythinz with the farm to do. But then when I came to Germany, you see, I came to Germany first before I came to Canada. I worked in the ... (pauses) on a big German estate. They had about 100 hectare. Hectare is bigger than an acre, about 2-1/2 hectare is an acre. And they had over 100 of them, and we did the fertilizing and all that, it was all done by hand with the hand spreader all spring.

Sara: What... (pauses). What is ... (pauses). Did you go to school when you were little?

Al: Yes. Then go to grade school and then ... (pauses).

Sara: (interrupts) In your village?

Al: In a village grade school, but then the middle school or what you would 7* and 81" and 9th grade, that was our next village. We had to walk that. That was about, oh probably 2-1/2 miles or something like that.

Sara: Okay. What village was that?

Al: Liebenau.

Sara: In Liebenau, okay.


Al: It was a ... (pauses). They had already 7   and 8   and 9   grade. I got to go back a year because I did a one year when I was supposed to do the [examine] [sic]. Back at home I had malaria and I almost died from it, and I didn't go. So I missed a whole semester of school. And that was just the time when Stalin gave orders. Before, all the school children, we could learn the German, because, you know, but when they nationalized all the schools, then they turned the schools into higher education school. Well then, we had to have our German language as a foreign language, but they have to have Russian as the national language and Ukraine as the republic language, so we learned ... (pauses).

Sara: (interrupts) Three languages?

Al: Three language right there. And then we had [undecipherable] first off Dutch [undecipherable] what we spoke and Platdeutch.

Sara: Platdeutch. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay. And you spoke that too.

Al: Oh yeah. I still speak it.

Sara: Oh yeah? (gasps). There's a ... (pauses). Up in northern Kansas, there's a town where they have ... (pauses). They teach classes in Platdeutch because there's so many people who still... (pauses).

Al: They do?

Sara: Yeah, and I think some guy from KU teaches it or comes back and forth to teach it. I... there was something in the paper about that. We were talking about that at church too, 'cuz I go to Mennonite Church so (laughs).

Al: Oh you go to Mennonite Church?

Sara: Yeah, to Southern Hills.

Al: Well, when they open this Mennonite Church here?

Sara: Yes, I was going to ask you about that, because I knew that you and Val went there for a little while.

Al: We didn't go to a Mennonite Church. We went to the parish house what they had the church right in that house.

Sara: Yes.

Al: That was on 29,h Street and ... (pauses). What is that now? And the priest or the father, he lived in that house and we met there. But we went three different congregation.


It was a [Brethren], the General Conference and the Baptist. We had them all together. And then when they all were together that was fine. But then each wanted separate hours. Each wanted separate this and other that. And we were never so religious. Since we came back from there we had very little this. They made me even a deacon. I was deacon there for several years, but I didn't like it anymore. We just drifted from one church to another and ceased to find something. And then we went... (pauses). Here on 5th Street is a ... (pauses) Sabbath Church or Advent Church, I think they are [n.b.: the Seventh Day Adventist Church on 5Ih Street was the Sunday meeting place ofthe Topeka Mennonite Fellowship in the late 1950s-early 1960s]. They had church only on Saturdays and we used that church there to go to that church there for a while. It was because it was mostly [conscientious] objectors what came in there.

Sara: Yeah, yeah, right, peace churches. This is skipping way ahead, but since we're on the subject... (pauses). Father Joseph [Longofono, of Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church] said he was ... (pauses). He didn't know .,. (pauses). Our membership rolls show you and Val were one ofthe first members ofthe Topeka Mennonite Church, it was called back then when it was meeting in people's houses.

Al: (interrupts) Ya, ya, ya, ya. They were. We were.

Sara: And then ... (pauses). But you ... (pauses). You were there ... (pauses). You were on the rolls for just a few months ... (pauses).

Al: That's right.

Sara: And then, I had a question. Why did you decide to move on from the Mennonite Church?

Al: We did. Val ... (pauses). You see, Val was Mennonite too, but converted too. She was ... (pauses). We both want baptized already in a [lager?] or a camp in Germany. We were baptized as [certes?] Mennonites. We just had, took the seminar for 'couple weeks and then baptized, you know. We had [undecipherable] Mennonites, it was that way because you had to know why you were baptized or what you were baptized from.

Sara: Right, exactly. Right, yeah, yeah.

Al: Well here, they baptize a child that is ... (pauses) doesn't know anything. [Indecipherable] infant for 'couple weeks old, they're dunk into water, drown at half and then (laughs). That happens, you know here in this Orthodox Church.

Sara: Yeah, yeah. I know. So you just... (pauses). From between the time you ... you left Topeka Mennonite Church, then you just visited other churches in town?

Al: Ya, ya. We went to that church there on 6lh and what's it? ... (pauses). Not Van Buren ... (pauses). 6* and ... (pauses).


Sara: Harrison?

Al: Baptist Church [undecipherable].

Sara: And there's a ... (pauses) there's a... (pauses).

Al: There's a big church there ... (pauses).

Sara: (interrupts) a Methodist church there.

Al: Methodist, ya.

Sara: First Methodist. Yeah.

Al: But they wanted off the bat, right there, they wanted the tithe often percent, and I was making only thirty percent an hour. I mean thirty cents an hour. And then [undecipherable] barely could make our payments on our house.

Sara: Yeah. Yeah.

Al: And so we decided noi to. Then we went whenever there was a big gathering, it usually was at a TPAC [undecipherable] right, now it's TPAC [n.b.: the current Topeka Performing Arts Center used to be the site of the Topeka Municipal Auditorium]? That other [undecipherable]?

Sara: Right.

Al: We went there to that, whenever there was any church thing, we went there ...

Sara: (interrupts) Okay.

Al: You know, but not belonging to any ...

Sara: (interrupts) Yeah.

Al: Particular denomination.

Sara: Yeah, yeah. So ... (pauses). Why ... (pauses). What happened with the Orthodox Church? How did you decide to ... (pauses).

Al: Well, that's another chapter .. . (laughs).

Sara: (laughs) I... (pauses). I'm skipping a whole lot of stuff here (rattles papers), but ... (pauses). Let's get on with ... (pauses). Let's ... (pauses).

Al: Well, yeah.


Sara: We'll skip to the end and then we'll go back to the middle.

Al: We were ... (pauses), well, shopping really, you would call it, you know ...

Sara: (interrupts) And this ... this church started in 1994 or something like that, didn't it? The Saint Peter and Paul? ... (pauses). I think 1994, something ...

Al: (interrupts) No. Nineteen ... (pauses). It originated already in 1993 ...

Sara: Oh, okay.

Al: '93. Before that even.

Sara: Okay. Okay, and . .. (pauses).

Al: And there was advertising in the paper. John Weber, what's right now he sings in the choir there, you know him. He had advertising that they were going to organize Orthodox Church. Well Val said, "Maybe we should join them," because her mother was Orthodox.

Sara: Whose mother?

Al: Val's.

Sara: Oh okay.

Al: Yeah, she was Romanian, she was full-blooded Romanian and she was Orthodox. And her dad, he was ... (pauses) (chuckles). Heinz 57 variety (both laugh). He thought it was a ... (pauses). I think he was actually [zoysa?]. [Zoysa?] means hare ... (pauses).

Sara: Hair?

Al: Rabbit. Ya, [zoysa?].

Sara: Oh, oh okay. Okay. Oh, okay. All right.

Al: [Zius?] and ... (pauses).

Sara: What does that mean?

Al: [Zius?]?

Sara: Well, why would he be called that?


Al: Well usually people got names by different things, you know, when they words were the lots of... (pauses) rabbits were there, they would call him that [undecipherable].

Sara: Oh I see, okay.

Al: Ya, ya. Like Wagner, that was [undecipherable]. But Liebenau. That was Ueeben-ow\. "Au" means to ... (pauses). Oh what would it you call it in English? ... (pauses). It's a ... (pauses). A place, an opening, a ... (pauses).

Sara: (interrupts) Like a field, maybe?

Al: Like an open in a field somewhere.

Sara: Okay.

Al: And in Liebenau, they liked it because it was [liep, liep], what means love, leap, leap [undecipherable]. You can say, love is actually [lieb], but this is liep. \leeben-ow\. Ow is actually ...

Sara: (interrupts) Like a beloved place or something?

Al: Huh?

Sara: Like a beloved place or something like that.

Al: Yeah. Liebenau. Au ... au is actually nothing.

Sara: Okay.

Al: (whispers) How can I translate it?

Sara: But Val's ... (pauses). Val's dad was from a place that was named for a rabbit. Is that what you're saying?

Al: [undecipherable] Now what?

Sara: That her father came from a place that was named for rabbit si

Al: (laughs) Well, apparently.   I don't know where it did, but he ... (pauses). That's when I got to know him, you know really, in the camp.

Sara: Okay.

Al: At that time they said, "Seise Peter langer [unsure of spelling]." Langer means long, but langer is lane, you know, lane.


Sara: Okay.

Al: And Seise is used boats. You'd still use that, seise.

Sara: Okay ... (pauses).   Anyway ...

Al: But, his mother was a full-blooded Prussian, but his father was a mixture and that's why he came this mixture, you know. And he was born somewhere around [Keyo?] in Moscow, way up North.

Sara: So they were a little bit more familiar with Orthodoxy ...

Al: (interrupts) Oh yeah, yeah. Oh absolutely. They did go in [Keyo?], I think. They went as long as was permitted. You see, that was not permitted there already and that's how he did it. But they did it in secret. Even Yeltsin was baptized an Orthodox.

Sara: Oh yeah?

Al: Yeah, and he was a Communist! But secretly, they was [baptized].

Sara: Yeah, okay. So they were ... (pauses). There was an advertisement that there was going to be an Orthodox Church ...

Al: They were ... wanted that here in Topeka. So we said we gonna look into it. So we went in. So we were one of the first... chapter member, what [organizer]. And then Father Powell, Peter. What was the ... (pauses). From the Cathedral ... (pauses). There on Thirteenth Street, what is that Church there?

Sara: On Thirteenth Street?

Al: Yeah.

Sara: Oh, Grace Episcopal?

Al: It's...

Sara: The Cathedral, Grace Cathedral?

Al: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sara: Yeah, on Eighth Street, right.

Al: He came over there to lecture us or keep a seminar. For three weeks, or was it four weeks? I don't know. But we had already ... (pauses). They lecture us and that's how we got to be Orthodox.


Sara: Hmmm.

Al: So original family was the ... (pauses). There was 1 and Val. There were the Presses, and then were the ... (pauses) John, the Webers, and Danita, the Collins. They were all there. And we joined. The men didn't join. The women usually were joined, but many men didn't, you know.

Sara: Oh yeah. Huh.

Al: And so, John came already late or two months already, was almost established, you know.

Sara: Okay. Okay ... (pauses). Well, all right, let's go back ...

Al: Okay!

Sara: Okay, now you are getting out of middle school. Now the war, the Second World War has ... (pauses). How did that... how did that affect your family?

Al: Ya, you know, I will tell you just a brief incident happened. It was only [one week] or so. It was in '41. In '41,1 was still back in the village in Wernersdorf, and we were there in the collective farm, but they had all these meetings, you know, to renounce things. And one day, some kind of [Commissar?] came here and says, "Well, we would ... non-aggressive pact with Hitler." The ... the Russian [Commissar?] say that and everyone have to worry about that Western front. You know, that for us it was the Western front, and that was in '41. And how nice it was that Hitler, you know, was willing to have them together, so ... (pauses). And that was all [undecipherable] thing. Stalin wanted part of Poland and Hitler wanted [part of] Poland. So they [just] made that agreement, and they split up Poland. But Hitler got greedy and thought instead of letting Stalin have it, they would take it. And Stalin wasn't prepared. He had executed most of his big generals and all. They were against that. But they were against him, so they were against him, so it was no go. So that's why there was split. And most of the big, very important generals and so what could lead; probably have a chance to fight against Hitler. They were gone and all this new stuff, they didn't like started in a way, in the first place. So many, they surrendered, just divisions of them surrendered to Hitler. And Hitler thought, "Oh wow, that's good." So he grabbed the whole thing and took part of Poland. So they split up Poland, you know? But then, there was this ... (pauses). That was the western Ukraine, but eastern Poland, so Hitler took half of it, the west and [undecipherable] when they decided to attack Stalin or the Russians, it was in ... (pauses). I think this was in '41.

Sara: Yeah, I'm not sure. We could ...

Al: (interrupts) Well, just before that was, when they made that [undecipherable] or non-aggression pact with Russia and Hitler, Commissar, all over the village, "Oh, how nice


is." And 1 happen to be at that time ... (chuckles). I hate to admit it, but I was a [comsamowitz?]. But that's just like here, you have your Boy Scouts.

Sara: Okay.

Al: So I was ...

Sara: Say that word real slow ... the name of...

Al: Comsamowitz.

Sara: Com-sa-mo-witz?

Al: Yeah, Comsamowitz.

Sara: All right, like the Boy Scouts, all right.

Al: (chuckles). Anyway, and I was scared from the Germans when they would come in, you know. And we had to dig ditches on this side of the front, on the east side of the front, so that Germans wouldn't come them. They cross the big rivers, and here we're digging these anti-tank ditches, you know. On one side, it was straight down and then on other side, it was ... (pauses). You could come in from here ... (pauses). But the tank came in, there were [undecipherable]. We were there, I think, 2 or 3 weeks. And I and another one also [undecipherable]. We had a team of horses and wagon. We had supply this people at that digging. Well, when we came home, they were there, they sent us back to supplies. When we came back, the Germans ... (pauses). One morning, we at [undecipherable] it was all quiet, nobody work, nobody dig anymore and the Commissars were all gone. They disappeared and all that, they ... (pauses). Overnight! And the back, about... oh probably, half a mile, not even half a mile. On the back, there was a dirt road, [Propheroka?], they called it. Pro-fair-oh-ka. It was just a dirt road to [undecipherable]. Nothing on it. On dry weather, they were fine. But when it was raining, were muddy and just [undecipherable].

Sara: Okay.

Al: Columns, columns of [undecipherable], and we didn't know what they were. It turned out, they were Germans. They already were our back and we were still digging this ditch here, you know?

Sara: Yeah. Wow.

Al: So then everybody ...

Sara: (interrupts) They came to your village?

Al: Huh?


Sara: They came to your village?

Al: Not the village. We were away from the village then yet. The village, it was way East yet.

Sara: Oh, okay.

Al: I mean West.

Sara: Okay, so you ... (pauses). The front was pretty far from where you lived.

Al: Well, at that time, yes. But we already heard the tanks and the German machinery. They were right in there. And then eventually see all these camps there and the people were curious [undecipherable]. Well there, we spoke German. Of course, we spoke German. It was all right with them, you know? (chuckles).

Sara: Thank goodness (laughs).

Al: [undecipherable]. And my Dad, he was one of this guys. He was the [burgermeister] [undecipherable] the mayor in the village back home. And here ...

Sara: (interrupts) Your Dad was?

Al: Yes. It was just for a [undecipherable] turmoil. And he and another guy, they work together, they were [undecipherable]. They look at the horses.

Sara: Okay.

Al: They call collective farm? Had lots of horses, but they hadn't taken away. We didn't know that, but they had driven it cattle and the horses. Why some of our people had to do that, to [undecipherable] and load them there but they never made it. They were encircled by the Germans (chuckles). And couldn't go any further.

Sara: Did the Germans take the cattle and horses?

Al: Well they take some of them, yes.

Sara: Now had your Dad come back then to the ...

Al: (interrupts) Well, we went all together ... on that we were in the camp and we went right after the Germans. As soon as they advanced, we went after the Germans. They went [undecipherable], we went to German. They held us. They even build us a [pontoon?] bridge over river.

Sara: Oh yeah?


Al: And we'd ... there were [undecipherable] but our wagon over there. They didn't take the wagons away from us ...If you had some supply wagons, like I say the ... I drove over there and another guy drove over there and [undecipherable] and we try ... it took us almost 3 months before we got to our village.

Sara: Okay. Coming from the west, going east?

Al: Coming from the east to the west.

Sara: Coming from the east going ... (pauses). Okay, all right, okay.

Al: But behind. The Germans went... (pauses). Well, east actually. And [undecipherable] followed them when they took in something. They occupied the territory. You see, they had encircled us so they went around on the back. And there was

a big river____ . They had blown the hydra dam. The Russian blew that up before the

Germans could capture it (chuckles). Flooded the whole lower part and drowned lots and lots of people.

Sara: Wow.

Al: And even their own soldiers there!

Sara: Yeah? Wow. Did ... (pauses). Were any of your family pressed into service to fight?

Al: Yeah, my brother ...

Sara: For the Russians ... or for the Germans?

Al: For the German and they were going to try to get me to the Russian too [undecipherable] when the war actually was over. When I was in Austria, during Occupation. I go a little bit too much ahead.

Sara: Okay.

Al: But this was only when we traveled back to our home. We wanted to get home. And we finally came home, the German had already taken all that occupied. My mom and one brother, they weren't home. The other two, they were with me at here, at this place. Now Herman wasn't, he was [undecipherable] too.

Sara: He was what?

Al: He was home too. But they had been already taken to the railroad station and were supposed to evacuate. But the train never made it because they ... (pauses) what you call it? The Russian advanced at front, it was already later.


Sara: Okay. So they were supposed to be evacuating to the west.

Al: Yes.

Sara: Okay. But the Russians got there first.

Al: Ya.

Sara: Okay. When did you ... (pauses) your family start being concerned about your future in the Ukraine and think about leaving?

Al: [Rest] when the war started.

Sara: When the war started?

Al: Ya, right when ... (pauses). The next day, I didn't tell you that, a week later, this Commistadt came and says, "Oh, we have a real good deal with Hitler," and we were , "Oh [undecipherable] we were fine and safe and all that. A week later -just exactly a week later - on a Sunday, I remember that as clear as could be, a daughter of this Commistadt and says, "They ... (pauses)... damn ... (pauses)" A curse. "Germans they betrayed us and so they attacked us and they advances on rocket thing, you know. And we have to move. All you will have to move," and so on. Well, we were going to, but they didn't make anymore because the Germans already had encircled the whole thing and the Commistadts disappeared.

Sara: Okay, so you were on your own. Your village was on its own.

Al: Yeah, yeah. We were on our own, but... (pauses). I think it was not even three months. Yeah, that was three months, because I was collecting these tractors to bring them in, into the village to for use them for horsepower because we didn't have any horses or anything. And the Germans were gonna give us land back, what you saw (chuckles). Well, it all backfired, it didn't do it, but then the Germans needed translators. And Dad says, "Why don't you get... (pauses). There's a tank division and they need translators." And I say, "I don't know enough Russian yet," but I knew better than the rest of them because I had an extra year. I went a second year at the [undecipherable] that was already Russian. I had teach ... (pauses) learn Russian and Ukrainian and German as a foreign lansuase so, I had a little both of anything. He said, "You can do it!" And they ... (pauses). Big ... (pauses). I don't know what he was, a German ... (pauses). He had big, big, what you call 'em?

Sara: Like epaulets or something?

Al: Yeah, yeah. He was a major, not a major, but a big one. But... what... governed the occupied territory, but you had to go through him, was the other thing. And he said they need some [dolmetscher?], that means "translators." And Dad said, "Why don't you


go? You always wanted to be a mechanic and all that. And at least that's with tanks, you know, then that you might even learn the machine and tanks and that with the Germans." Well, that's how ended up. I didn't end up. They formed a wagon train because it was already in the Spring or Fall and muddy. You couldn't [scut?] stock all over, so the Germans confiscated the wagons, the horses and, of course, drivers. The drivers were usually Ukrainians, but now they needed someone to talk to them. The Ukrains [sic] couldn't speak German, so they took some translators. That's what I was translated at first.

Sara: Okay.

Al: (interrupts) That's why I started translating.

Sara: Okay, excellent...

Al: (pauses) But it was ...

Sara: (interrupts) How about... (pauses). How old were you then?

Al: Phew ... (pauses). I think I was about... (pauses). Let me see, that was in '42,1 was about 18 then.

Sara: Okay.

Al: I just was under the wire. Otherwise, the Russians would have drafted me, but it just was under the wire, I didn't make it.

Sara: Okay.

Al: A friend of mine, he was still drafted. He was couple months older than I. He was drafted the Russian and the first thing, maybe two weeks and he was dead. And the Russians ... the Germans, they ... (pauses) they mowed him just down like the ... (pauses). And they made him a [undecipherable] cavalry. German tanks with cavalry, that was ... (pauses). I almost used a bad word!

(both laugh)

Sara: I know, I read about the Russian front and all that, they ... (pauses) just throwing people at them.

Al: Oh, that was terrible. And they ... (pauses). Mistreated this Russian person just like slaves, even worse.

Sara: The Germans did?


Al: Yeah, the Germans. And that's why they all ... (pauses). Many fled, and they went to the partisans, hid in the timbers and [undecipherable] and so on. But I was with this guy and this guy they kept me as translator, and then because they had these columns of horses and so on.

Sara: Were you ... (pauses). Did you stay then ... (pauses). Were you close to home when you were doing this, or did you move about, move around ...

Al: (interrupts). Well, at first we were close to home, but then, they took me to ... (pauses). I told you about that clay fault? [undecipherable]. Halbstadt?

Sara: Yes.

Al: Well, they took me to that clay fault, that's where we going. That's where the Germans already had their [ponnycolona?], they call it. It was columns of horses and wagons, where they would go to the [undecipherable] and supply there. Make the supply lines, you know? But they got so bad that, most of time they got stuck, and couldn't get anywhere.

Sara: So you moved ... (pauses). You sort of moved up and down the lines, the wagon trains ...

Al: Well yeah, well, to the line and away, back to supply. And then this guy decided I needed better German, so he was going send me to [dolmetscherschule]. "Dolmetscher" means "translation school" and that was to ... (pauses). What you call it? And [them]. That was the occupied it, by the Russians ...

Sara: All right.

Al: But my brother had been there and they [undecipherable]. And he came out because he knew it. But I didn't know the brother that was there. I didn't meet him ever.

Sara: Okay. He ... (pauses). Your brother was in Austria?

Al: No.

Sara: Where did you say he was?

Al: Vienna. Well, that was Austria at that time but then, when they took out, Austria spread off. That was an Occupation Zone. And that Occupation Zone, that was at first the French and then the Americans.

Sara: Okay and this is sort of... (pauses). Is this after the war then?

Al: (pauses)


Sara: When did you get...

Al: (interrupts) No, no, no, no.

Sara: (interrupts) When did you get...

Al: (interrupts) Actually, that was in the '40s ...

Sara: (interrupts) You actually got sent in ...

Al: (interrupts) In the 40s, the war was still going.

Sara: Okay, okay. And did you get sent to this translator's school?

Al: Yeah, but I never ... (pauses). Never made it (laughs).

Sara: Okay ... (pauses). How come?

Al: (laughs) Because, that again, they overtook us and we got a ... (pauses). Well... (pauses). It was already, we were in Austria and we stayed there. We didn't want to ...

Sara: (interrupts). Your family?

Al: No, no.

Sara: Just you?

Al: Yes and there were two other guys.

Sara: Okay, okay.

Al: The one was from Poland and the other one from Czechoslovakia, but they were foreigners and they couldn't move from place to place. You had to stay in that village.

Sara: Okay.

Al: And that village, there was a farm lady and I worked for her first. The Pole worked there. And the Pole wanted to go home now that the war ... and I didn't want to go home, so I stayed there.

Sara: Okay, and this was in Austria and ...

Al: That was still Austria, yah!

Sara: Okay, okay, and so you stayed there ...


Al: There from '40 ... (pauses). Actually '42, '43 'till '48,1 stayed in Austria.

Sara: Okay, working for this lady. The whole time?

Al: For that lady, yah. Well, later on in '48, my Dad came, pick me up, I already had driven to ... (pauses). Well, that's another story!

Sara: Okay, well. What was the stream of events that led you to arrive at the Backnang Mennonite camp where you met Val?

Al: (interrupts) Yah, yah, that's just...

Sara: How did that happen?

Al: Because I was there in Austria, that lady. And they were Pole had left and she had a spread of thirteen and half cattle, and they didn't take that away and then she had one horse. And what that... (pauses). The hay was mowed by the scythe, what they had to do, I would mow that grass there. But I couldn't go, but the neighbor lady that was [undecipherable] and that was only about... (pauses). Oh probably, it was 5 kilometers. That's about two and a half miles away. They could come to Austria, the border, you know. They let them through, the local people. The local border people, they could come.

Sara: Okay.

Al: And they come. And there was a lady there and we used to dance a lot. I was an Austria and she was from Bavaria. Actually, that's Bavaria, it was not... (pauses). It was right in Winkle, it's not Bavaria. Oh maybe it was ...

Sara: The town is Winkle?

Al: Huh?

Sara: The town is Winkle?

Al: Winkle. Riden Winkle, that means ... (pauses). "Ride" means actually ride, ridden, you know, like ride, you ride.

Sara: Riding a horse or something.

Al: Yah, but "winkle," that means [core?].

Sara: "Ridenwinkle," okay.


Al: Ride and winkle. That was a winkle because the mountains were going like this and there was a little, well like ... (pauses). That was no river there, there just a little draught something.

Sara: Okay

Al: And she came, they came there to dance and I got acquainted with her and we dance a lot and got known. She knew this, I looking for my parents and I wrote ... (pauses). In the meantime, I wrote while I was still there. I wrote to a guy in the Ukraine. He was then, when I left and the Germans took me, he was then already 80 years old. And I knew his kids. He's a ... (pauses). He had a daughter, but she was, oh a little older a little bit. We dated a little bit but I didn't care for her. And I thought he would be there, they wouldn't have taken him because he was already 80 then. Unless the [undecipherable] would have killed him something, he would be there. So I write, wrote to my village where I was [undecipherable] to Wemersdorf. But that was Wemersdorf; that name was not there anymore. That was called [Hols Natereshaw?]. [Nadershaw?] means "hope" and [Kolholtza?] means "collective farm," you know?

Sara: Okay.

Al: And nothing came. For six months, nothing, nothing. And I still working there with this woman and meantime, the time goes on, mowing and all that, and I got to know all these people there. There were lots of girls there, they were after me at that time (laughs). I was quite good looking (laughs). I don't want brag but I was (both laugh) good looking. And I knew their language and that was a help. And this lady says, "Well ..." (pauses). Then one day, it was about... (pauses). Oh, it was already late ... (pauses). Late, I don't know the exact date; you know, the dates get kinda [sic] mix up when you travel so much ... (pauses).

Sara: Right.

Al: But I was there and she came ... (pauses). Always brought me lunch at the house so I wouldn't waste the time, instead the work in the field! It's hear from far off, she, "[undecipherable]. Alexander, Alexander! I have here a letter that is addressed on you, but I can't read it, that's such funny letters what they saying. What is it?" Then I knew that that would be from Russia, you know, some Ukraine or something like that. I didn't know what it was from. So she came and got me and she knew that I had written, you know. It was no secret because I'd tell everybody where I from and what I ... looking for my parents and we were split up the family and so long. The last that I knew they were in [undecipherable] that was in Poland. My brothers, they got, they were in German army. They let them go for location. They went there on location. But my [undecipherable], they wouldn't let me because I was a translator.

Sara: Oh, okay.


Al: They wouldn't let me go. But the officer, he already knew ... (pauses). Another [undecipherable] sidetrack again. And anyway, this lady came over and show me that letter, [undecipherable] 63 year old. That time, she was antique to me (laughs). Well, 22, 23, that's quite a difference, you know, 60. And I looked at it. That says Kazakh stamp. Kazakh stamp, that's Siberia! I opened the letter and sure enough, that was from Kazakh stamp, Martuke.

Sara: Martuke?

Al: Martuke. That's a .. (pauses). I don't know what call ... maker whatever [undecipherable]. That came from there. And my ... (pauses). The letter, she [undecipherable], "You know that you're alive. The man sent us just your address. He was afraid it started with ... (pauses). Stalin was still alive, in '53 and it was in 40 ... 42, 43 and (pauses). So, she says, this lady then, you know, when she came the next time and I told her this and that and I couldn't go. She says, "Why don't you write your Dad to come to my place, Bavarian side?" Dad could travel on the side but not across the border either. And Betty comes in, the next day, I come over, tell you that he's there and then you go through the mountains. You know, the mountain as you [undecipherable] blindfold, because I got work to do in there. You know, logging and stuff like that [i.e., he knows his way in the mountains blindfolded].

Sara: Yeah, yeah, okay.

Al: So ... and I knew all the trails and what not. [Undecipherable] I had to go over. There's a mile-high mountain and on other side there. And it says the French [dump] and throw that much just at the border. And she could walk too. And she told .. come back down and says When your Dad comes, then I come over and let you know.

Sara: And where ... ? (pauses). Was he in Kazakhstan too?

Al: No! He was already in Backnang [the Mennonite refugee camp in Germany].

Sara: In where?

Al: In Backnang.

Sara: Okay, okay, okay. Your Dad was there first.

Al: The Dad and my two brothers were there. They already had found each other because my other brother, he was in Germany and ... (pauses). One of my uncles, a German, great-uncle or something, that uncle knew my relatives in Manitoba, their address. So he wrote to my uncles in Canada and they in turn wrote ... (pauses). My Mom wrote my address to them, they send me a little ... (pauses). I got three letters almost at the same time. One from Kazakhstan, one from Canada and the other one from Manitoba. All came dead too. You know that was mind boggling.


Sara: Yeah. Whereabouts in ... (pauses). Backnang, was that in Germany?

Al: That was in Bavaria.

Sara: In Bavaria.

Al: Well, [undecipherable], what they call it. I don't know for sure.

Sara: Like Southern Germany?

Al: Yeah, cuz' it was Germany.

Sara: Okay, all right.

Al: This lady come over, told me that your Dad is here. After a while, I'm here. Insist that you come over, that he want to see. I say, "Well, I can sneak over, but I'm not going to go with him because I was here and a local. I was so ... already, I was ready to stay there [undecipherable]. But then the Russian agents came after me. They tried to talk me in the good will that I come back to Russia and they would embrace me with open arms and all that. But they didn't know that I had a letter from my Mom. And Mom wrote "I should [undecipherable]. In between, she wrote few phrases that I knew, "Don't come back. The ones what come back, they disappear, you never hear from them."

Sara: Okay.

A;: Well I knew all that now, I didn't even intend to go, back that way. But this way, I see my Dad, you know? And then, next day, see Dad. And he is, "Well I have to see the place what you been hiding all these years." (laughs). Say, "I'm not hiding no more than you guys said." (laughs) And he said, "But they're in [Panada?]." That's a Mennonite camp, they, oh, made it up. There were [Bochranlaga?] and [Leiberlaun], they were two camps, lager, you know, together. And he was there. And then, he insists he wanted to see what. I said, "Okay, if you want to sneak back over to Mom's like I did come in, I bring safe word to the other side" and I know that will be alright with the lady, you know, because she already knew where I was because she knew that I was going to sneak [undecipherable].

Sara: Right.

Al: And then I brought him over and he stayed there for tw... (pauses). For a whole week!

Sara: And with you?

Al: Yeah, with me! We got acquainted again. We got to know each other again! And he said, "Come back to me. That will be nice there." I said, "No, I'm not coming back.


This lady took me up when I needed her and she have helped me a lot and I think I will ... (pauses). Until she find another man to replace me, I will not go."

Sara: Wait, I'm going to flip my tape over.

Sara: [tape resumes] ... to the Backnang camp, but you said, "No."

Al: That's right.

Sara: Okay.

Al: He was so disappointed. He says what did he want and he hasn't seen us. Two brothers are there and I says, "Well, I know that but this lady, she helped me through my hard time. I know all these people and they all friends and I'm not just going to cut out, you know? And ... (pauses). Well, he agreed with it, so I brought him back with couple trunks full of junk what I had. I already had accumulated. I was rich compared to them. Cigarettes! I had cigarettes ...

Sara: (interrupts) Oh ...

Al: ... what you could barter. Did you know?

Sara: Yeah.

Al: It was all blackmarket [undecipherable] too ... You know what they paid me, what she paid me, that lady? Two kilo a [hotter?] [months?].

Sara: Butter?

Al: [Botter?].

Sara: Oh yeah?

Al: Barter. For that, I bought me brand new shoe, I bought me a new suit, I bought me a everything ... [hotter!] There was another one, he will go to a ... (pauses) big cities and so on and then, sell them, you know, he's a [traveler], he was a neighbor there. In Austria, he was an Austrian himself.

Sara: Yeah, uh huh.

Al: And so ... (pauses) that's how that was.

Sara: Okay.

Al: And while I was here, then my Dad started writing me letters all the time from [Boddner?] And then he said, "Here's a young lady. Her name is Valentine and she asks


always about you!" I say, "How does she know me?" "Oh," he said, "That is ... (pauses), [undecipherable] the fathers is always proud and they blabber everything out!"

Sara: (pauses) Oh.

Al: 'Cause my two brothers, they were tall, fairly handsome, and not crippled like I was. I had my bad leg then already, but not I could walk. I did limp and everything, but I had to [undecipherable] the bathroom there to [undecipherable] care while I was. I had an accident in ... (pauses). The skiing accident.

Sara: Skiing accident?

Al: Yeah. In Austria.

Sara: Yeah?

Al: In Austria. Already in Austria. I already was in Austria. And then I went to a ...

Sara: (interrupts) What happened?

Al: Huh?

Sara: What happened?

Al: Well ... (pauses). Just know I thought I could ski [undecipherable] Austria. Instead, went down to a hill like this and was 'sposed to go back up there. But instead back up there, I stuck both ... (pauses) both ski ... skis in it, and I was [impaled]. I fell backwards and twisted both of my ankles. And then I went (pauses)... because they (chuckles)... they had to ... I was still (chuckles) ... considered a translator, you know? And they got there and then that guy there, he almost delivered me to the, what they call it? SA or SR, what do you call it? The German-Austrian police.

Sara: Oh yes. Yeah, okay. I think SA.

Al: But, I was ... I think two weeks or something in a hospital.

Sara: Yeah.

Al: And there I got [acquainted?] with other people (laughs).

Sara: With who?

Al: Girls!

Sara: Oh!


Al: (laughs)

Sara: A ladies' man! (laughs).

Al: All the nurses, they wanted me to stay there (laughs). I didn't want to. I felt that I first went out of there, Russians were after me, you know? They came and then ... (pauses). They came and knocked on the door, said "So and so." "Yeah?" And then it was [dumb], you know. "But you're not from here. So what's your business?" "Well, because you're from Ukraine and we need the people back there. So many were killed during the war." They tried to convince me that I would go before I will. No way would I go! And that same thing happened to the Czech and the Pole. So we kind of made a bond of friendship and we stuck together, we wouldn't go. And fortunately they weren't ... (pauses), you know. At that time, when they came, they wanted [undecipherable] and the Americans still owned all of the [undecipherable] air zone. Then the French took over. And when the French took over, they were more strict. We had to report every week at such and such a time. You know, that commandant [undecipherable], what they call it? That was their ... their ... original [undecipherable] occupation. Just like they have on Baghdad now. They have certain Green zones and all that.

Sara: Yeah, right, right.

Al: Something like that.

Sara: Okay. So, what made you decide to finally goto ...

Al: (interrupts) Well, then they started coming back. The persons there. What were Russian person or Poles person or some of the German and Austrian prisoners, they came back. And there was one guy, he came back from there and he had nowhere to go. But I came over to Austria with one of this Austrian ... (pauses). He went, was already in prison when they releases from the prison of the ... (long pause). It was not a camp, but it was a camp just where they gathered all the stray people.

Sara: Okay. Yeah, like ... sort of like a refugee camp?

Al: Like a [undecipherable]. Like they have now, then you hear that the rebels go in and start shooting them all and killing them off and all that. Just to get away I [walked] to this lady there and that's ... (pauses). Well, I stayed there, after that... wouldn't go.

Sara: Oh, okay.

Al: But Dad wrote me there also while I was there. Well, he already see me, then he always warned me, that he said, " Just try to tell me this and lady Valentine and she asked for you." And then when I asked him, "What was it?" and he wrote me back, "Well..." And he was mailman at that camp.

Sara: Oh yeah?


Al: And walked to the office where Val and another two girls were help there. Val spoke English there. That was ... She was in that camp there. In the meantime in Austria, there were other refugees what came there and they ... (pauses). That was a Valentine too, but she was a cross-eyed ... (pauses). You know, not my type, let's put it that way.

Sara: (laughs).

Al: Had more choices there and so I... (pauses). And she was after me like (chuckles) was the last person in the world. And we were friends and all that. And she even invited me ... (pauses). They moved to ... what was that town? That was in ... not in Bavaria any more. She would invited me over to go there, but that was already when it still was in the ... already in [Bakrumpne?].

Sara: Okay.

Al: And I told, "No, I didn't want to ... wouldn't go there." And I and that Pole, well from Poland. We went to [Kitspe?]. That was a bigger city there ... (pauses). To find one of this ... (pauses). I hear you would call them clairvoyants or something like that, to tell the future.

Sara: Oh, fortuneteller?

Al: Fortunetellers.

Sara: Okay.

Al: We went to them. And that was an older lady too, had a [puppet?] eye, like a parrot on their shoulder. The parrot talked.

Sara: Yeah?

Al: Yeah, he talked, yah. She said, "[Sharrup va sendo mos still?]." That's German, you know (chuckles). You know, "Quiet" (chuckles).

Sara: Did the parrot talk German?

Al: Yeah (chuckles). They talked just [brockenweise?], you know.

Sara: So what did she tell you, the fortuneteller?

Al: She says, "You will travel. You will make a long journey over big waters." That [undecipherable] didn't even know that I would go to Canada or anywhere, you know? And to him she tells, "You probably will stay around here somewhere too," the other guy. "But you get married" and all that. And she said, "And your betrothed will be


Valentine." And I told him, "I never marry that Valentine!" (chuckles). But that was that other one what I thought she referred to, you know? (chuckles).

Sara: Wowee!

Al: I mean, that was a comedy (chuckles). I thought, that was comedy (both laugh). That... (pauses). Well we laughed about all that stuff. But that was true. Now she moved away then, this, this lady then. And Val told ... (pauses). Dad told me just, "Her name was Valentine." Hmmm (chuckles). That's a different story. And I said, "How does she know that I am here, that I even exist?" "Well, she asked me ... (pauses). She told her ... (pauses) him that "You are lucky. Mr. Braun, you're very lucky that you have two grown, husky men." They both were bigger in shoulders und ... (pauses). They were ... I was oldest, the youngest, but not dumbest! (laughs). And he says ... he says, "You should see my older son," to Val, you know, at that time.

Sara: Yeah.

Al: I didn't know anything about it. "You should see him'. He is handsome and he is", you know, "more sophisticated or so." "Where is he?" "In Austria." "Why doesn't he come to the camp?" "He doesn't want to." "Why not?" "He likes it there." (laughs).

Sara: (laughs) So when did you go?

Al: Well, about six months later, when that other guy came from prison and needed the job, he took over that job. And then I called Dad again, and he came over because I would have to go through so many checkpoints and I didn't have any German papers. I had this French paper there, what they call that? There it said I was Ukrainian.

Sara: Okay.

Al: Yah. And were papers. And ... (pauses). Then when [undecipherable] that lady come over, took him over again ... took him over there again and we stayed there a couple nights and then we went back. You know, you know, the Austrians were good about these things.

Sara: Huh. Just coming and going.

Al: Yeah.

Sara: Yeah, okay.

Al: And we went over the mountain [over death?] and I ... (pauses). Well, right there we didn't have any problem until we got a bigger city. And there at the railroad station, there were people all over, the ... (pauses). Not [happle?] ... (pauses). The [Iceler?] police or whatever, that was already ... Bavarian police, they were all over the place and


checking, you know. As soon as somebody approached me, Dad walked up to him and asked some stupid question so he got sidetracked (chuckles).

Sara: And you ...

Al: (interrupts) I disappeared1, (chuckles).

Sara: Brilliant, brilliant.

Al: And that's how we got through 'till we get finally to Backnang.

Sara: Okay. What did you do once you got to the camp? Did you get a job there?

Al: Well ... no. But in order to get my papers that I could [tootookskaneman?], they call it. The [tootooks?] means that you could also join this or live in this ... (pauses) village or whatever.

Sara: Okay.

Al: And the camp, for instance. And there, I had no problem because [undecipherable] they accepted me there, you know (chuckles), [undecipherable] got there first and I got there, I had nothing to do. But my two brothers and two others from our village, they work at this farmer. But they ... (pauses). My two brothers, they came back to this camp and the other two, they had to leave too. So neither [undecipherable] work so I could work there. And ... (pauses). But before that, that took me to one of those centers there where they checked you, you know, and then they give you a physical, give you checks. A medical physical, but I kept my long Johns on. And the foot was bandaged and they was bigger than the other, you know, it was [undecipherable]. He was a smart fellow! He was only young, he was only twenty-eight years old, but he had all his doctor work what fix broken, amputated bones in the German army. He was there. And here he was in this [lazaretto or lazaret—a quarantine station], was a bombed out school that was underground. On top, when you came out, there was nothing there. That was just like a ... (pauses). Like a lawn, but underneath, they had some sophisticated hospital. And that's where I ended up to be examine and when this doctor see me, he wanted to know what I had. I said, "Oh," I say, "That's nothing. It's just a little bit bandaged." He say he wants see that. He looked at it, he said, "Oh man!" He said, "You have insurance?" I says, "No." He says, "Well, that is too bad." He says, "But, you go back to that farmer where you work." You know, I was working already, like Neil, that farmer there. No, not that lately, what we were in Austria it was over there ... Bavaria side.

Sara: Right.

Al: And he says, "You work there for 1 months and you are automatically get your health insurance. Then you come back here and I will see if I can fix your leg."

Sara: Yeah.


Al: But by that time, I already had an [undecipherable]. Four different so-called professors look at it and what they wanted, they want put a graft on that. I say, "What you gonna [sic] do?" "You gonna [sic] strip everything down to the bone ... (pauses). Cut your slab out here and put this graft in and when that works together and hopes for ..." I say, "What's the chance that I lose my leg?" "Oh," he say. "[undecipherable] you might lose both." He say, "fifty-fifty." Say, "That's not good enough. I'm not going to have that graft."

Sara: Yeah.

Al: That was before I went see this doctor. This doctor never went to this farmer, worked with this [undecipherable] bandage all every time. And they grow around and I had there ... (pauses). Well, if I [make] on something, I might show you the scars there. That hill craters. And he called it "wild meat" what grew there, that wouldn't heal, that would bleed. The doc said, "We're going to take that off and then pull some skin from around it over it. And I think you can heal it." That's what they did. I was thirtv-eisht days on bed and he wouldn't let me get up for nothing. Not to move that legs. He said, "That's so sensitive. Whenever you move, you break a ... and it won't heal." That's what they did.

Sara: Oh wow!

Al: And then I came back ...

Sara: Okay, so you got to Backnang and there she was ...

Al: (interrupts) And there I finally went got Valentine! (laughs).

Sara: Okay, tell me about that. What's the first meeting like?

Al: (laughs). You have ... there's another chapter there! Of course, I have to go in there, you know, to the office. Then I still have my leg and all that, that sore leg, I'm swollen. But nobody could tell because I had [undecipherable] on. And I walked up to her. I says, "You must be ..." "You're Mr. Braun?" [undecipherable]. "You're Mr. Braun?," you know, in German. "Is your hair brown? Hair brown yet, you know. Says, "Yah." And she says, "Oh." And then, she got all a sudden, she got completely red in her face. Red as a beet! I say, "Well, you must be Valentine." "How you not know?" (laughs). I said, "My Dad told me!" (laughs). So we went off. And she got even redder, you know.

Sara: Uhhuh.

Al: But she was ... oh ... (pauses). I could see she was happy. She just smiled all over the place. And she says, "What you do right now?" I just says, "I'm gonna [sic] take this course to be baptizes Mennonite." And she says, "Well, there will be many, many more


there, but you are in the meantime [undecipherable] too." I say, "I gonna work for a farmer So-and-So." And she came me, says "You will be bored while for these three weeks of seminar what we have there, you know?" She says, "You want something to read?" "Well, yah." To read ... "Sure," 1 say, "Yeah sure." And she had this [undecipherable]. You have heard of that?

Sara: Yes.

Al: Yeah? She said, "Hmmmp." And I heard about that story and I read about it. To me, that was nothing new, but then, was something to kill the time. And (chuckles) two days later, she came there sitting down on the step, [reading that]. And I said, "Mr. Braun? You give Valentine [undecipherable]." "Oh," I said. "This is nothing." (laughs). Yeah, you know, she got red as a beet! I said, "We don't hit it off alright."

Sara: Yeah?

Al: But, she gave it, I gave it back and I thanked her, you know, and all that. And then, over the weekend, on Sundays, in the barracks ... I came to the barracks for Sundays. The guys were playing cards and ... different kinds of cards and there came talking about cameras and I said, "Whew! I have a good camera too." And she said, "I have a better camera!" She said, "Oh yeah? She had a Leica, and Leica, they were little better. And I have a ... (pauses). Oh, what you call it? It was a new camera in those days. And I traded it then for a raincoat at the one of the ... (pauses). You know how was used to just trading ...

Sara: Right, right.

Al: So barter. I say, "I have better camera." She says, "Oh no you haven't! Mine is better." I says, "Okay. We go out and take pictures and see which take the better picture." And this was a rainy day and muddy day [tracks], you know, and say ... and I didn't know much about that, where to go. And she says, "Oh, there's a tower there so of all.... (pauses). No, it was a tower for fire, to look out fire and so on. You have to go up steps and went up to the tower, you're at the step. And she says, "Before we back out there, we have to cross a track of muddy things," you know? And she went and she went and she had, was ist los?, cuffs on there. The lady always take them in ... in arm, you know, and she had under arm and a [coat] like that and all of sudden she slipped, fall back. And I say, "[undecipherable ... speaks in German] (laughs). And she said, [undecipherable ... speaks in German] she was got even redder and then she pointed out her heel of her high heel shoe stuck in mud and (laughs). She was in the ... (pauses). And she says ... (pauses). I say, "Oh, that's no problem." And she stood there [undecipherable]. I just grabbed her foot with one hand, pulled it (laughs). She was all ... (pauses). She got even redder (laughs). Probably pressed a little too hard or something (laughs).

Sara: Getting fresh!


Al: And Val put [undecipherable] wiped the mud off a little bit, put it on there, give it a whack with the other fist, and it stick. Stuck, you know? It stuck to the shoe. What... (laughs). She didn't walk in the mud any more (laughs). So from there on, we got a little bit closer, you know.

Sara: Okay.

Al: But I laughed and she was so embarrassed, so embarrassed. I can see that. Later on, we laughed over this incident so many times! So many times.

Sara: Yeah. She and her family came to America in 1948.

Al: Yeah,'48 or'49.

Sara: Did you come ... (pauses). Did you guys leave the camp at the same time? I know you didn't come to America. You went to Canada ...

Al: (interrupts) No, we didn't know each other then. We got to know each other already in that camp. And that's where we got engaged.

Sara: Okay, so you were engaged before she came to America?

Al: No!

Sara: Okay, tell me this part.

Al: She came to America.

Sara: Yeah.

Al: I mean, she came to visit me in America. I was there at Mennonite thing there, what they had it... (pauses). What is the name? They were ... (pauses).

Sara: So you ... you came to the North America before Val came?

Al: Yah! I came from Germany to North America.

Sara: Okay. And what... (pauses). When did you come?

Al: Well in '49 too. And see, that's there was actually nineteen forty ... nine, yah, 1949.

Sara: Okay. And you guys left...

Al: (interrupts) I signed up with the Canadian government...

Sara: (interrupts) Okay.


Al: As a ... as a miner. I worked in the [gimer?] for eighteen months.

Sara: Okay. Did you have to pay your way over to Canada?

Al: For that, I didn't have to pay. If I would stay a year there, they ... the Canadian go on and pay for it.

Sara: Okay. Now, were you considered ... Did you consider yourself or were you considered a displaced person?

Al: Displaced person.

Sara: When you came to Canada.

Al: Yah, yah, yah, yah, yah.

Sara: Okay. And so you went to Canada. Did you go there because you had family there already?

Al: Ah, nooooo. I went there just to get away from Germany.

Sara: Okay. And there was a ... (pauses). And they offered you a job.

Al: Yah.

Sara: Okay.

Al: They ... they ... (pauses). Recruited these people was there. And we come there. My brother signed up too, the elder brother. But his bride was already in Germ ... (pauses). Oh, what'd call it? Berlin. They called it Berlin, [Kitcheners?].

Sara: Okay.

Al: [Kitchener] [Kitchener, Ontario, just south of Waterloo, Ontario].

Sara: All right.

Al: She was already there. Actually it was Waterloo. They called it Waterloo, they grew together. Later on, they moved there.

Sara: Okay.

Al: And I went... came down there to work for a guy in a shop for a Mennonite. His name was Henry Nick Dyck.


Sara: Okay.

Al: Pronounced Dick with a ...

Sara: (interrupts) Yeah, D-Y-C-K.

Al:  ...Dyck,yah. Or [Kim?], for him.

Sara: Yeah. And this is in where'!

Al: That was in Preston. That was in German ... (pauses). Already in ... in Ontario.

Sara: Ontario. Preston, Ontario?

Al: Yah, yah, yah.

Sara: Okay, alright. Okay, a work in the mine?

Al: Yeah.

Sara: Okay.

Al: Yeah, but I worked in a mine before that.

Sara: Okay.

Al: I went to the mine first and then came down to Ontario.

Sara: Okay.

Al:  ... Because then ... by then, we ... Val came visit me in Ontario already, in that Mennonite place where I was there.

Sara: Okay. And she ... and her Mother and Dad had gone to Newlon in Kansas.

Al: Yes.

Sara: Okay.

Al: Now she was there ...

Sara: Right.

Al:  ... and she worked there.

Sara: Right.


Al: And...

Sara: And you were engaged at that time.

Al: That time we were already engaged.

Sara: Okay.

Al: Yah, yah.

Sara: Okay.

Al: No, wait a minute! We got engaged in Germany ... that's right, in [Relada?], where she went to Newton and I went to ...

Sara: All right.

Al: ... to north, to the mines there.

Sara: Okay. Did...

Al: (interrupts) I'd say there's complicated.

Sara: Yeah, I know. Is the ... Now, so the Mennon ... (pauses). You ... You get into North America. The Mennonite Church, did they have anything to do with that? Did they help hook up ...

Al: (interrupts) No.

Sara: ... Mennonites and Canada with ...

Al: (interrupts) No ... yah, they did, but...

Sara: (interrupts) ... people at the camp?

Al: They would send them to Paraguay, to Uruguay, or this places and I didn't want to go there.

Sara: Okay.

Al: We heard so many, they wanted to come back ...

Sara: Yeah.

Al:  ... from there.


Sara: Uhhuh.

Al: See, didn't want to get...

Sara: Okay.

Al: But that was a good chance to go, you know?

Sara: Yeah.

Al: To go to this mine, work off the year, and then you could go wherever you wanted to.

Sara: Okay. But the Mennonite Church did help Val and her family get to Newton.

Al: Oh yah! Newton, Kansas, yah.

Sara: Yeah, yeah.

Al: Yah, oh yah!

Sara: Okay, let's see. Did you go to ... Did you go to Canada all by yourself or did you ... Did some of your ...

Al: No, in a group. We were a group there. There were some ...

Sara: And were some of your relatives with you in the group?

Al: No, no. No, my brother! I and my brother went together.

Sara: You and your brother went together. Okay, okay.

Al: Yah, yah. The [undecipherable].

Sara: Okay. And about how old were you then?

Al: Well, let's see. '49 and that was in '50. '49 and '50 and I was born in '23, so I was what? 17 years old, a little bit older.

Sara: Yeah, okay.

Al: [undecipherable].

Sara: (interrupts) Where ... How ... How did you ... When you got to Canada, how did you live there? How ...


Al: (interrupts) Well, that's farmer. That's farmer lady. I lived there.

Sara: Okay. In Canada.

Al: Yeah.

Sara: Okay.

Al: In Canada. All that was already after the mines.

Sara: Okay.

Al: At the mines, I work up ... up north for a year.

Sara: Okay.

Al: Actually, 18 months.

Sara: Okay.

Al: Then after 18 months, I came down. Then I already was engaged.

Sara: Okay. So ...

Al: (interrupts) You see, we were engaged in Germany at that camp.

Sara: Okay, okay.

Al: (interrupts) Then, she came to Canada later on and I came ... down to ... down to Kitchener, Waterloo. She came there to visit. She did it. And then we decided we're going to get married, may it would be help for me quicker to come to the States.

Sara: Okay.

Al: Because she didn't want Canada, it was too cold for her.

Sara: Okay.

Al: (chuckles) She didn't like it at all!

Sara: (laughs)

Al: I have walked up to my [belt] for a mile and so on, to work in there!

Sara: In snow?


Al: In schnee. Yah, in snow! Just like a plow (chuckles).

Sara: Okay (laughs).

Al: Yah, that was ...

Sara: Okay. All right, [undecipherable].

Al: [Shoot?].

Sara: And ... How ... Where ... Could you speak English when you came to Canada?

Al: Did a what?

Sara: Did ... Had you learned how to speak English when you came to Canada?

Al: No. That's another thing, you see. I asked Val for a date. While at that camp yet, you know?

Sara: Yeah.

Al: Asked her for a date. And she says, looked at me first and [undecipherable]. Her Dad [undecipherable] or really her Mom. I played with his Dad chess anywhere. With her Dad. And she says, "Maybe yes, maybe no, maybe rain, maybe snow. I don't know." I says, [German phrase] (laughs)

Sara: (laughs) Okay, that was German}.

Al: Yah! But she spoke German, she spoke English and she spoke [German words]. Understand but not...

Sara: (interrupts) Yes, I understand (laughs). I have a teeny little bit of German, a tiny little bit (laughs).

Al: Yeah.

Sara: (laughs). Okay, so you [undecipherable] ...

Al: (interrupts) So, then we got married there.

Sara: Okay.

Al: But her folks...

Sara: (interrupts) in Kitchener.


Al: [undecipherable] Because they couldn't stay to the wedding.

Sara: Okay.

Al: They had ... They had the [undecipherable], you see, for inner city ...

Sara: (interrupts) Aahhh.

Al: ... which just is a temporary permit.

Sara: Right, right, right.

Al: And that was in Niagara Falls where they came across. Now, we were all smart, all we married, and now couple, we would have our honeymoon there and all that, you know. And ... But we take the folks back to_ the station, American side. Well I didn't know that they couldn't go even the bridge. But we went... drove off to middle of the bridge and there was a sentry there, a Canadian sentry. He said, "Where you going? [Show] the paper." I showed him. He say, "With this, you cannot go there." But she could go. She wanted [to help Dad]. Okay, she would go. So she went over there on American side. She didn't go actually to the station, she just went to the ... (pauses). How do call this? Oh the post, the ... (pauses).

Sara: Like the border crossing place?

Al: The b-b-border station there on her side.

Sara: Okay. Okay.

Al: She got to there, and they said, "Do you have the passports?" "Yeah, I'd like to show you the passports." They took the passports, looked at 'em, hand her passports and handed another passports. They took off on foot. They could walk to that... they knew how to go to that station. And she came back] And she came back! In the meantime, here the check ... the check the post came here. He says, "What is this man doing here? You're not supposed to be on this branch." He just said, "Well, this lady, she just went across and he couldn't go across so he stayed here. She will going to come back when she's through there." And guess what? He looked at my passport, say, "No, that's not good enough." And I had this [undecipherable] passport that says "Ukrainian" and I said I was a German. I was Mennonite. "No way!" Like this. And ... and my papers said it's just a ... piece of paper, that's all, and I'm not 'sposed to hear. So that guy got really chewed out and he took me in, then Val came back. She came back. And guess what? They gave her the wrong passport! (laughs). Yeah!

Sara: Whose passport did they give her?

Al: Yes. Her mother!


Sara: Oh.

Al: Where they open it. "That's not your picture. That's not you!"

Sara: Uhoh.

Al: Val looked at it. They didn't look at the border when she had ... the border patrol said to her.

Sara: Oh man!

Al: I tell you, that was ... (pauses, voice breaks). I hate to go through that again!

Sara: Dear me!

Al: Yah. Not know the language, and not know [taken], and not know this. And here this guy, I just... nothing, you know? And ... now this guy took us in, this big shot, you know? And took the wife in too? And they kept us there for four hours.

Sara: At the car ... at the border crossing?

Al: At the border, the Canadian side.

Sara: Umm hmmm.

Al: Yeah.

Sara: To try and get this sorted ...

Al: (interrupts) Well, she had to go back

Sara: (interrupts) Oh my ...

Al: ... and she ... luckily she found him. And they at the border, they recognized her then, American side, and she had that passport there.

Sara: Oh my goodness me.

Al: That was lucky.

Sara: Wow! No lie!

Al: And she could go and then she found her parents and they tried the passport, and she came back with them.


Sara: So she came back and stayed with you for a while?

Al: Well, right and that... Yeah!

Sara: Yeah. Oh ... that...'cause you ...

Al: (interrupts) And that.. .No, they ...

Sara: (interrupts) That was before the war.

Al: ... They asked both of us a ... (pauses). Well, you know, they had interrogated us.

Sara: Hrnmm.

Al: And that took us very hard to convince them.

Sara: Yeah.

Al: That they were ...

Sara: (interrupts) Just like now]

Al: Luckily, they didn't have any [undecipherable] operating or things like that (chuckles).

Sara: Yeah, no lie! Wowee! So ... So when you came to Canada and you couldn't speak English ..,

Al: (interrupts) Very broken.

Sara: Yeah. How did that... How did that make vou/ee/? Were you excited for this adventure or were you scared or ... Coming to this brand new place and not knowing the language ...

Al: (interrupts) I... I really didn't know. But I was so ... Been to so many checkpoints and so many interrogations, that... (pauses). I shrug it off.

Sara: Just another one, huh?

Al: Another event, that's all.

Sara: Uh huh, uh huh.

Al: But I was kind of scared too, anyway, you know? You could put me in jail and sit there for years and months before they would let you go.


Sara: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Al: And they called, and they couldn't get that... You know, I give their number ... phone number for a mine ... (burps). Oh, excuse me ... where 1 was at the mine. They had a phone number but... (pauses). They had my number just and they knew about me. Just recently, my brother went back to see. He took his wife to show where we had been working and they ... barracks and they were already gone. This was another place where they had it and ... They couldn't remember him. Couldn't remember him at all but he said, "How 'bout Alexander Braun? He was later here." And they looked at Francis now and then they look to the old files and says, "Oh yah, he was here! And he was here for so much longer." And that... and that found it. They found it and they ... the papers, they still had my name and everything! My number and everything.

Sara: Yeah. Wow, interesting! So how ... Did you ... Did you start to study English ... (pauses). While you were ...

Al: (interrupts) Oh, at once it started! And English before even did any others. I ... I could have French, but I didn't want to French. I learned to ... (pauses). First English I learned from a French lady ...

Sara: Yeah?

Al: And she didn't speak any Enelishl I mean, she spoke English, but / didn't speak any English. And I didn't speak French and she didn't speak Russian or German. But she brought me by.

Sara: Wow.

Al: And when I came to Canada, first day, that first shop, I took in a body shop. "Where you from? From Ukraine?" "Yah." "Where you from? You have a accent." "No." I didn't know. And then said, "You said you from Ukraine, you work in Canada in a French province, you worked in Ontario in that province. How come you speak a French accent?" But the French accent, my English was a French accent.

Sara: Oh. 'Cuz there's a French lady teaching you? Al: Yah (giggles).

Sara: Oh (laughs). I don't... I'm not detecting any French accent now, so you must have grown out of it! (laughs).

Al: Oh, I grew out of it long ...

Sara: (laughs) How interesting, wowee! So, you got ... How was ... How ... (pauses). How was your ... How do you ... How did you feel about your long-distance engagement with Val?


Al: It was difficult, difficult and that. I was couple times ...

Sara: (interrupts) Did you ever ...

Al:  ... to give it up ...

Sara: (interrupts) Yeah, I was wondering if you ever doubted ...

Al:  ... and I tell you. Because I sent it all the money what I made. I sent it to her ...

Sara: (interrupts) Oh really?

Al: ... So she could go to school...

Sara: Ohhhh.

Al: To college. And I tell you, it was more important than me learning another language still. And it... it all worked out okay. But I think it meant, but toward the end, I could send only $35. They wouldn't let me send more.

Sara: Yeah, yeah.

Al: That was ... the Canadian government didn't want it...

Sara: (interrupts) She was going to Bethel College, wasn't she?

Al: Bethel College, yah.

Sara: You finally did get married in 1951.

Al: Yah, that was already in Kitchener.

Sara: Okay. And ...

Al: (interrupts) That was the ...

Sara: (interrupts) She had come to ... Did she come up there and said, "So, you still want to do this?" or how did that go?

Al: Well, my Uncle was a priest and then there ... We, my brother and ... their brother ... sister-in-law, they got married because ... (pauses). How this his name? He's a young priest, he worked in a ... (pauses). He spoke German.

Sara: Up there in Canada, in Kitchener?


Al: Kichener, yah, yah, yah. [Undecipherable] that church and ... (pauses). They talked me into it and then most... (pauses). My sister-in-law and her sister, they all talking me and I didn't know it but the one sister was already in love with me (laughs). Already after we got married, I and Val, we walked on a walk and I talk to her and she ... (pauses). You know, I have been off with them before I even got married with Val ...

Sara: Yeah.

Al: Got married.

Sara: Yeah, yeah.

Al: Oh, it's all a tangled work! (laughs)

Sara: (laughs). What was the ... Do you remember what the ceremony was like? Was it a church or ...

Al: Oh, that was a nice wedding! I have wedding pictures there, some there [the big ones], there, there, there.

Sara: Was it in a church or a single ...

Al: Yeah, the church where my brother and sister-in-law was married.

Sara: Okay, and what was the ... What was your Uncle's name, the preacher?

Al: Ah, Uncle... Uncle Hans [Yoshackly?]. [Yocka?] Braun.

Sara: Okay, all right.

Al: Yocka Braun.

Sara: Okay.

Al: But... (pauses).

Sara: After you got married, you still couldn't come to America.

Al: No, no!

Sara: (interrupts) So how ...

Al: (interrupts) We thought it would be! But I wanted to and they wouldn't let me. I had her coat and she came over, we had another honeymoon and she went back to the Slates. That's right, we went to Niagara Falls. They had a good time there, [seeing] Niagara Falls real good.


Sara: Yeah.

Al: Went Toronto even.

Sara: Yeah. But you couldn't...

Al: (interrupts) Toronto, we went together because went to the American Consulate there.

Sara: Yeah.

Al: [To get the] (mumbles)

Sara: And was it... It was because there were quotas, immigrant quotas and ...

Al: There were quotas at that time.

Sara: You just were ... there were just too many already?

Al: Yah. But then they had that... (pauses). Quota, so many from Russia, so many from there. But I was born in the Ukraine. So there were so many from there, but the [undecipherable] become with the Consulate. I was arguing with it. I wasn't shy. I... just head that was hot, you know.

Sara: Yeah.

Al: And they says, "You were born in the Ukraine, then you 'Krainian!" And that what in mine paper. I says, "No!" "I'm not!" I says ... I say, "If you take a horse and a cow barn and that horse happens to have a foal in that cow barn, is that automatically a calf?" "No!" I say ... I say, "Oh, that's different!" I say, "Well, that's a ... might be different to use of language, but I didn't... I can see the point." And they say, "No, that's all circum ..." (pauses). All wrong, you know? If you're born there, that's ... that's the nationality!"

Sara: Yeah? So, did you consider yourself German?

Al: Huh?

Sara: Did you consider yourself German or Russian or ...

Al: Well... no, actually Prussian.

Sara: Prussian.


Al. Prussian Dutch, [undecipherable] really because they are ... (pauses). I speak Dutch and that Dutch ... Platdeutch ...

Sara: There's lots of Mennonites. That was very typical Mennonite migration, from Freesia to Prussia to Russia.

Al: Yah, yah, yah, yah. And that's a ... Kitchener or Waterloo, they understood perfectly. There many people they spoke the same language and all that, you know.

Sara: Yeah, yeah. Right, right, right. But you finally did get to America.

Al: Huh?

Sara: You finally did get to the United States.

Al: Yah. And that was under Eisenhower already. He put the law and the people, they were torn apart, during the war and after the war and are separated now. But they wanted to go either to Russia or to the Ukraine or wherever they wanted to go. They should go ... able to go there, you know? With [undecipherable] ...

Sara: (interrupts) To bring the families back together ...

Al: Back together. And since we were already married and all that, then they says, "Well, there's no reason why you can't go over to ... to America. And then on April the ZS"1... I think it was April the 25lh, that they finally let me come over ... to ... to the States.

Sara: Okay. And how? ... How did? Did you come? ... Did you go to Newton? ... to be with Val or did she ...

Al: (interrupts) That was another thing! This Dyck, Dyck, he had to go to Bethel College, take one guy to the college there, to study there. A Mennonite.

Sara: Right.

Al: Well (chuckles). He says, "You can drive with me and then save a little bit money, you know?" "Just pay me." So that scoundrel, he took $300 from me just to take me, but then he took me there. I thought... (pauses). Ah, finally I'm in Topeka (chuckles).

Sara: So you went to Topeka.

Al: Yeah

Sara: Not to Newton.

Al: No.


Sara: Okay. Val had already come to Topeka to live?

Al: Yah, just a year before.

Sara: Okay. And what was she doing here?

Al: Oh, she was working at a brass shop. She and her Mother and her Dad, they worked all together, they got the job in the brass factory ...

Sara: (interrupts) Brass, okay.

Al: Where from there ... From there on, she go to the Kansas Medical Socie ... or Shawnee County Medical Society as a clerk.

Sara: Okay.

Al: By that time, she knew how to type, she know shorthand and all that. And they needed one and she ... (pauses). Well, I don't know how she met that lady. Somehow she met that lady and they went together and that lady was going to go on her own, on a business. I did some electrical work for (chuckles).

Sara: So you had ... You had electrical... learning ...

Al: (interrupts) Already got that experience from radio television school. I had taken correspondence school course radio and television.

Sara: Oh yeah? In Canada?

Al: In Canada'. Yah. And I graduated on it but of course I did (chuckles)... looked all in the dictionaries and all that. I did ... I couldn't build [sentences] all sudden ...

Sara: (whispers) Wow.

Al: But the questions were sound so ... As long as it had the answer right, you know? What does this resistant do and what does this resistant do and how to set.. .(pauses). Uh, what's that thing?

Sara: No, just a clicking.

Al: That's a clicking now. That's a [undecipherable] there. And so, that's ...

Sara: Okay. So when you came here, you ... Did you start to work as an electrician when you first arrived in Topeka?

Al: No, no, no, no. I worked in a body shop.


Sara: Okay.

Al: Because I knew better body shop. Because I did some body work in Canada, in Preston and a shop ... (pauses). And that was an accident too! (chuckles). I learned to paint, how to paint. And they had always painters in that shop. They usually were drunk. That was a dealership.

Sara: (interrupts) Uh huh.

Al: They did just fix things they were in transport damaged or something like that or dropped off the transports [undecipherable] ...

Sara: Right.

Al: Then came a guy what wanted a pick up. A truck pick up. A Ford truck pick up. And I already worked in that shop as a helper. But and then ... in reality I did service this filling station ... and grease monkey, they called me because I had [undecipherable] tough guy and a... and a grease [undecipherable]. 'Cause I learn very quick, I know how to do it and then they let me do the grease job and the gas and all that at the same time.

Sara: Yeah.

Al: But anyway, there ... And this was, Dyck was the boss. He owned the station and he owned his paint shop and owned a dealership. And he knew all that... that I... I could paint. But I ... you know, I never had paint professionally. And now this guy came in with a truck and wanted to paint it. Well, he started painting it and didn't get it right or something like that. And I didn't know it either. I didn't know how to think about silicone and so on. But there in ... those days, they covered the new cars with silicone to protect the paint and then leave a bit of shine.

Sara: Yeah.

Al: And they had done that on this what was this yellow truck. And that guy wanted the orange peel color.   I had no idea! "Oh, there's nothing to it. You can do it!" And Dyck told me, I started working late Saturday, cleaning it all up and sanded it everything nice and fine. And that was in a ... in a ... Actually, it was a paint booth, where the paint is [called?] in it. But they had a fan there that blew the air over, that to keep the dust out and so on. Well, I put the first coat on it. Man, did I have oh ... (pauses). Orange peel, they call it. It look like, you know, the water has this little [dents], peeling there and that

Sara: Uhhuh.


Al: And that's what that whole car looked like! Oh, I tried to get it off and washed the whole thing off and did it again and the same thing. I even put the sealer on, that still was the same thing. But, the car was shiny as can be, looked just like orange [what] peel. And I spit in that thing. I had a mask on but still, just breathing all that stuff, you know? And I had also some [undecipherable]. And in the morning, Mr. Dyck he comes and first thing, he comes and looks at the car and I was filling the station and [undecipherable]. He says, "Alex, what you did? You ruined that brand new car! You made a [undecipherable] look like an orange!" "An orange peel," I says, "Mr. Dyck, I tried my best. I work for 30 cents an hour and I work my ... end off." I says, "I just couldn't get it any better." It was nice and shiny and all that. In the meantime, while he was chewing me out and all that, the owner comes in and he already went to the paint shop and looked at it. And he says, "Mr. Dyck, how could you do this? It's just exactly what I wanted!" (laughs). The guy just looked at me and ... (laughs).

Sara: Wow (laughs).

Al: I got a dollar raise! (laughs). That was a big job to me.

Sara: Wow, wow. Cool!

Al: And he was happy. He wanted ... he wanted it should look like orange, you know? And that was orange peel and shiny!

Sara: So you and Val lived in Topeka from 1953 about 'til ... 'til now! (long pause) Never lived any place else.

Al: No, we ... we didn't live together at all. Just honeymoon and she got back to [undecipherable]. The next year, she came over and then I already had worked in the body shop there.

Sara: Right.

Al: Dyck, with the Dyck shop.

Sara: Right, right, right.

Al: And she come visit me and I took a vacation there, but I had to pay .. .(pauses). I got $30 a week. I had to pay $16 room and board. You know, that didn't leave much over.

Sara: Right, no.

Al: Yet, I accumulated over 3 months, 4 months, or something like that, close to $400.

Sara: Yeah.

Al: That $400, we spent it on our [wedding].


Sara: At the what?

Al: Our wedding.

Sara: Oh okay.

Al: That was different one. I've worn the [undecipherable] off. I'm probably going bring it in. But that wedding ring. That was the same size that... (pauses). That was the last $40 that I spent.

Sara: Wowee (laughs).

Al: I say, "Never from hand to mouth."                               . ■

Sara: So when you did come to Topeka to join Val, finally ...

Al: (interrupts) No, I didn't... (pauses). She come to Topeka to join me.

Sara: Oh. She wasn't here already?

Al: No. Yah, yah, yah, yah. Oh, Topeka.

Sara: Okay.

Al: That's right, that was already ...

Sara: So you rode down to ... from Canada to Topeka.

Al: To Topeka.

Sara: And Val was here.

Al: Yah, yah.

Sara: And then ... and you were already married.

Al: Yah.

Sara: So is this the house that you lived in to begin with?

Al: Oh we had already house. I paid ... made a down payment. That's where sended [sic] all the money. She put the money, almost paid off at that time. And, we mortgaged everything in order to pay that house off. Had the refrigerator was one. Just, the old Chevrolet that could go only 30 mile an hour and shimmy and all that. That was


mortgaged. But everything! Even the air conditioner was mortgaged. But, we made it, when 1 come in there were [undecipherable].

Sara: (laughs).

Al: (laughs) I went the first night. See, I was ... wants to use a condom. She says, "Oh don't! You don't have to use condom." I says, "Well, there, you almost made me ruin a [undecipherable] thinking you was so mad at me because it broke."

Sara: (laughs) But now you don't have to worry about that! Did you ... did you have a family?

Al: Yeah, we had a daughter but the daughter ... (pauses). Died.

Sara: Oh, I'm sorry.

Al: In birth. She was fifty ... 58 hours in ... in labor ...

Sara: (interrupts) Ohhhh ...

Al: ... And the doctors ... It was already in Topeka.

Sara: Yeah.

Al: Yeah.

Sara: When was that?

Al: Well that's a separate. This was'51.

Sara: '51. Yeah, okay. Oh, that's too bad.

Al: Yeah, well.

Sara: And no other children since then.

Al: No. That was doctor's fault. I don't excuse anyone anymore because I got to the point where I took it as consequence. With a grain. Because she was pregnant. Normal pregnant, you know, when she went in labor and [undecipherable]. But that day and all that, in labor ...

Sara: Yes.

Al: She went, but the baby didn't come and didn't come.   Then the water broke, didn't come. At 5:00,1 was working in a body shop. At 5:00 I got off. I brought to the hospital but I were not induced. Nobody was permitted to go in and ...


Sara: (interrupts) Right. The men didn't go in.

Al: No, nobody was.

Sara: Right.

Al: Not even the husband.

Sara: Yes.

Al: And I was outside the door, sitting there at the door. They said they would tell me. Three doctors came in. There was Doctor Tapt, Doctor ... (pauses). Oh, what was his name now? He was a Navy ... Navy doctor. But he smoked a pipe and he was ... (pauses). He sewed off this [undecipherable] I had injured later on and I ... (pauses) three stitches and they're all puffs. I took it off, put my ordinary tape on there, [lesser tape that and Lisa could use it but?] ...

Sara: Hmmm.

Al: They were supposed to meet at 7:00, the doctors said. If the baby wasn't there by that time, then they would make Cesarean. In those days, Cesarean was a very serious thing. Well, 7:00 comes, the doctors are not there. The nurse was supposed to be in ... with her all time. I don't know when she leave or if she leave. She didn't. And around 9:00 that evening she came storming out of that emergency room. "Sign, sign!" That's all she could say. I say, "Sign whalT I couldn't even speak English yet good enough, you know? "Just sign, sign, sign!" and ... (pauses). Well, I signed it. What could I do? There they come already with a ... (pause). What you call this cart where they put the people on when they [undecipherable]?

Sara: Like a gurney ... with the wheels?

Al: Yeah, with the wheels on it but...

Sara: Yeah, a gurney?

Al: But that was a ... (pauses). To first they would put her to the surgery room.

Sara: Oh.

Al: The surgery was on a [undecipherable]. It's on ... (pauses) St. Francis Hospital.

Sara: Yeah.


Al: That's why I never went back to St. Francis Hospital. I... I was so [undecipherable] that time that... (pauses). Then, I set down there 'til 12:00 at night! Finally, a nurse already ... (pauses). They're not nurses, they what you call them? Nun.

Sara: Oh yeah.

Al: Nun came over, down. And says, "Mr. Braun, your wife is okay." I say, "What about the baby?" "Well, you have to talk to the doctor." "When will I talk to the doctor?" "Well, in the morning when he comes in." "When will he come in?" Well, she didn't know. I say, "What about the other doctor?" "That doctor didn't show up 'til 9:00 and then they hauled her up to operation and cut her open. Cut her clear across and cut her down across to take the baby out."

Sara: Oh my goodness.

Al: But to take the baby out, the baby was strangled on the natal cord ... (long pause).

Sara: Oh man.

Al: (voice breaks) Yeah ... (long pause). And [undecipherable] ... (long pause). That's why I not like talk about it (whispers, then voice breaks).

Sara: I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

Al: Well, next morning at 11:00, they finally let me see Val up the hospital. She crying and says, "Al, I miss you again." I say, "No you didn't miss me at all. It wasn't your fault, you couldn't help it." (long pause, crying). You know, we talked about it. We wouldn't have as many children as my family were, but we would have at least two. Was supposed to be (voice breaks). Then they "Oh", "You know, you can ... try, two years you can try." Let me see. We tried, nothing happened. Tried, nothing happened. And they send me in check my semen. The semen was perfect. We had 99%, more than I even needed. But she still didn't get pregnant. They tried her and they say it was okay, it was okay. But... something was wrong.

Sara: Was it surgery?

Al: Procedure.

Sara: Maybe.

Al: Yeah, that was it. And then she couldn't even go to the funeral. That was the bad part. Some of her friends, they went with me to the funeral. I think I even have a ... (pauses) picture of that. They brought her, the babies. Actually at that time, they didn't have anything where to go. But we transferred her to [Grace Hart? Sacred Heart?].

Sara: Where ... (pauses). Is she buried here in town?


Al: Huh?

Sara: Is she buried here in town? ... (pauses). Is she buried here in Topeka?

Al: Yah, who?

Sara: Your baby.

Al: Yah. Yah, she's buried right now in our plot.

Sara: Oh, okay. What was her name? Did you name her?

Al: Nancy Diana.

Sara: Nancy, that's pretty. It's an American name (laughs).

Al: That was Val's idea. It was actually her dad ... this was one of her aunts, Diana. Nancy, it was ... I don't know what [undecipherable]. Decided before [undecipherable] we had established a name. Nancy Diana.

Sara: Pretty name.

(Al starts to cry)

Sara: I'm sorry, but that's a ... (pauses). I'm very so ...

Al: You don't know. You don't know (cries)

Sara: You have helped so many other children, though, in the meantime.

Al: Excuse me, I shouldn't cry ...

Sara: Oh, it makes me cry too. That's horrible ... but... anyway ...

Al: I have there somewhere ... oh, that's on this side.

Sara: Actually ... You know, we're about done with my questions and I'm almost done with my tape here.

Al: Well, I tell you, there's so much more to tell.

(Sara laughs)

Sara: I've been wondering. I will look at these pictures a little bit.


Al: Want you to see some of the pictures? (tape ends)


Item Description

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