It was the greatest human migration in history, 60 million Europeans who fled World War Two making their way home after Germany surrendered. Countless stories of hardship and misery and fear, nearly all forgotten now. Nearly all.
“I went through a lot had a lot of trauma but I'm really blessed and I'm really grateful for that,” says Doris Rahden Mirwaldt.
Doris Rahden Mirwaldt was one of those 60 million immigrants displaced by war and in her Fort Wayne home she has written a book about it, 'Four Bags and a Buck' recounting her family's journey from their war torn home to America and safety. In 1945, her father in a Russian prisoner of war camp, Doris's pregnant mother set out on foot with her children walking hundreds of miles toward her father's ancestral home in Germany. Along the way her mother went into labor and the family took shelter in a refugee camp where Doris was born. They would remain in that camp two years. Doris remembers it vividly.
“I just remember the anger,” she says. “People were angry I was afraid to speak I was afraid to say anything it was just angry and crowded, dirty and nasty. I had diphtheria and whooping cough.”
Two years later her father reunited with his family and took them to his mother's home in Pferden, Germany. Doris remembers that vividly as well.
“I have wonderful memories of my grandmother..getting the treats and the hugs and the warmth..all the warmth I didn't have for the last four years,” she says.
Eventually Fort Wayne's Bethlehem Lutheran Church sponsored the family and brought them to America. They settled in the summit city where Doris faced another trauma, a physically and emotionally abusive mother embittered by war. Doris graduated from New Haven High School, married and raised a family of her own and has recounted her story, the hardship and the heroism, in her book. It was difficult reliving the past but Doris says her life in America redeemed it all. A lesson, perhaps, for America's current immigration crisis.
“Welcome people,” she says, “you never know what they are going through and it's difficult and it's hard and I think you could never put yourself in somebody else's shoes. I'd love for them to have the opportunity that I had.”
Eric Olson reporting, out in 21 Country.