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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

A Mother Sustained by Her Family’s Love

“You may get me to the altar, but you can’t force me to say, ‘I do.’” That’s what Anna told her parents when they were pressuring her to marry a man of their choosing. This was Yugoslavia in the 1930s, and it was well before society accepted women standing up for themselves. But there was Anna, speaking her mind.
                Because her parents were store owners and considered part of the upper class in their town of Futok, they wanted her to marry someone from an equal class. Instead, the devoutly Catholic Anna liked Paul, a carpenter who was very involved with their local church. Anna got her parents to back down. She dated Paul, and the two soon married in a ceremony literally attended by the whole town because that’s how weddings were celebrated in that place and time.

Anna and Paul led a quiet and humble life centered around work, church, and family, especially their two children, Rudy and Cecilia. But as World War II became a reality, peace and stability became a thing of the past.

The town of Futok had been settled by German pioneers known as Danube Swabians during the 17th and 18th centuries. That connection, along with the country’s complex political situation, resulted in Russian forces sweeping through the area and sending citizens with any kind of German background to slave labor camps as World War II drew to a close. Paul believed his family would be safe because his last name was Yugoslavian, while Anna’s maiden name was French-Hungarian. Unfortunately, he was wrong.

While he was away, Anna and the children, ages four and eight, were put into a camp. Thankfully, when the communists were gathering children to deport them to Russia, a woman wearing a long skirt hid Rudy and Cecilia under it until the danger had passed. For two years, Anna endured a hellish existence that involved hard work during the day, and being awake much of the night to keep the rats away from her kids. She also witnessed acts of brutality that, even years later, she couldn’t bring herself to talk about. The only blessing was that she and the kids did survive, and were reunited with Paul, with whom they had to escape the country as refugees.

They found a home among relatives in Germany for five years before immigrating to the United States in 1952 and settling in Queens, New York. They worked hard to build a better life, but occasionally faced strains of anti-German sentiment despite their hatred of Hitler and the Nazis. 

Anna took comfort in caring for her family and being a homemaker extraordinaire, who would bake pastries, paint walls, cement the porch, and more. When a grandson came along years later, Cecilia said she’d never seen her mother or father happier. They were moments of happiness that Anna needed to survive when Paul was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. For many years, she was his primary caretaker, though the strong bonds that she had helped forge in the family resulted in everyone pitching in to do their part.

After Paul passed away, Anna’s strength and faith allowed her to survive as a widow for more than a decade. But her family was always close by, a fact that had been her light during life’s darkest moments.

Anna passed away in 2004. She was my grandmother, my “Oma,” as I called her. And I remember her with love this Mother’s Day.

 

For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, FINDING THE COURAGE WITHIN, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org