Last week the Fallon County Times ran part one of her story, of one family’s journey to America. Reini’s story continues from last week with her family’s move from Germany to England.
By Angel Wyrwas
Reini Martin is a Baker resident whose life began in Germany during World War II. Last week the Fallon County Times ran part one of her story, of one family’s journey to America. Reini’s story continues from last week with her family’s move from Germany to England.
“My parents had employment in a dockside hotel in Dover. There was no room for children however,” said Reini. “My brother and I stayed with foster parents down the coast. At age ten I became the “surrogate mom” for by brother. He was four, and very homesick for our mom.”
In England there were no more checkpoints, no more armed Russian soldiers. “We stayed in Dymchurch, on the southern coast of England, until the following summer, when my parents found employment closer to London,” said Reini. “Before we moved, I was allowed to audit classes at the local school, in order to learn English. Then we moved to Buckhurst Hill, Essex, outside of London. Mom and dad were still employed as “domestics” for an English Sea Captain and his wife. Dad was a chauffeur, gardener, butler and all around handyman. Mom was cook, maid, laundress, general housekeeper, seamstress and nursemaid to the couples four year old. My brother and I were taken in by another foster family. We saw our parents on their half-day off on Sundays.”
Some rationing was still in force in England but conditions were so much better than when living in Germany. “Meat was still a rare commodity. Captain Will was determined to maintain his status, however, with colleagues and friends. Once my dad bargained with the butcher for horsemeat to serve at a dinner party. My mom cooked it in her excellent way and neither Captain Will nor his guests were any the wiser,” said Reini.
“By and large, people were kind and helpful once you got to know them but this soon after the war, you didn’t flaunt your nationality. We did our best to assimilate and learn the local customs and language.”
By April of 1953, Reini’s dad had completed the required paperwork and made the arrangements to go to America. He had been corresponding with relatives in Minnesota who advanced him the money to travel. The German family crossed the Atlantic aboard a French ocean liner, the Flandre.
“It was perhaps a bit rough, weather-wise,” said Reini, “as I spent most of the seven day journey in the cabin. I did make it up to the deck to see the Statue of Liberty as we entered the New York Harbor though. More paperwork, processing, etc – but no soldiers and no guns!”
The last leg of their journey was by Greyhound Bus from New York to Chicago to Minneapolis. Friends of their relatives took them to their new home in Arlington, Minn. “Not the end of the journey – just the beginning of our new life in America,” said Reini.
Arlington was a small farming community about 55 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Settled by people mainly of German ancestry, many them still spoke various dialects that Reini’s parents could understand. “My dad used to say that you could see home in the people’s faces and hear it in their voices,” said Reini, “only they were happy and smiling in America.”
Her dad found various jobs, always looking to improve their situation. “One family, in particular, took us into their family circle – the Martins,” she said. “That is important because eventually one of the boys became husband.”
“My brother and I attended parochial school through 8th grade – religious instruction, catechism classes and confirmation, eventually graduating from the local high school,” she continued.
Reini married ElRoy Martin in 1959 and they moved to Northern Minnesota. Eventually the couple would make the move to Montana to raise their family and add many more chapters to her life.
After Reini’s family lived in the United States for five years, Herman and Gisela Wehnert applied for citizenship. “My brother was young enough when we immigrated that he fell under my parents citizenship,” said Reini. “But I was without a country. I was too young to apply for citizenship and too old to fall under my parents’.”
“I didn’t think about it too much until I got married,” she continued. “ElRoy and I went to Canada for our honeymoon. It was a good thing we had our marriage certificate with us. We talked our way across the border.” Reini applied for citizenship after that, took the test and the oath to become a naturalized citizen.
“It is hard for people to understand how the things that happened in Germany during that time could have happened,” said Reini. “What they don’t realize is that it didn’t just happen one day. Those ideas and beliefs happened slowly, over time. Germany was in a severe, severe depression after World War I. People were starving to death. Then Hitler came into the picture, bringing jobs and food to desperate people. It’s true that if people don’t learn about history, they are doomed to repeat it. We must never forget!”
Reini only returned once to the country of her birth. “In 1984, after Deb’s wedding, my parents and I traveled to West Germany and Hamburg to visit some relatives. It was a good trip but I would never wish things different,” said Reini.
“Sometimes leaving Germany seems like a million miles away, sometimes it seems like yesterday,” she continued. “It was really through my Dad’s perseverance and foresight and God’s grace that we were able to make it to America.”