My mother was Margarethe Hofmann, né Vogl. The Vogl family came, as far as I know, from Regensburg in the Oberpfalz...the Upper Palatinate. It was a region of Bavaria closer to the Czech border, east of Nurnberg. They were poor. The city is on the Danube River. There is an island in the river, and they lived at one point on that island. Some of the kids would play in the river, using a wash trough for a boat. This terrified their mother, as they might have drowned. There was talk, too, of one of the relatives, or the great-grandfather being a lamp lighter in the city.
Eventually, my grandfather on the maternal side made his way to Nuernberg, where he was employed, I think, in a factory in a metal working trade. Nuernberg was an important industrial center. Mechanical objects were a big part of their trade. He was very good to his children of whom there were many, seven or eight. My mother was born in Nuerenberg, towards the end of the long line of children and was close only to her sister, Babette, or Tante Betti, as I knew her. They did look quite a bit alike. My nose...well, that is from her. Tante Betti died earlier this year in her 94rd Year at a very nice and well-run Seniorenheim in Fuerth in Bayern, close to Nuernberg.
My mother liked to work in her Aunt’s restaurant, which I think was off a ways towards the Oberpfalz in Sulzbuerg. Her Aunt had an inn there, a Gasthaus. She was a chambermaid there and worked in the restaurant. She couldn’t wait for school to end to get out into the country to her aunt’s restaurant.
As a result, she had a good store of dishes and recipes right in her mind and hands. My father was good with food, too, and complained if things didn’t taste right. But then, he complained about a lot of things.
My mother was adventurous as far as tastes were concerned. I recall how, after seeing them for sale for a long time at the local German run delicatessen, I suggested to her that we buy some. I was the one who was always sent to the store for local groceries and beer, which the owner let me take home, but only at the back door. She thought about it a while and then one day asked me to buy a small container of baked beans. She and I tasted the beans, a foreign and exotic food for our household at the time. She made some inquiries, experimented and then cooked them herself from time to time. They were a good foil for frankfurters, so my father finally gave in somewhere along the line. Eventually, we even progressed to spaghetti and meatballs, which represented a huge detour from German cuisine.
The deli, by the way, was run by a family from northern Germany. In those days, Delikatessen...literally in German fine comestibles...were almost all German. North Germans were not quite o.k. in my father’s book, being as they were...well, from the north. This reflects the age old enmity among Prussians, the eventual overlords of Germany, and the rest of the patchwork nation that was only established in 1871, quite late in comparison to the other major nations of Europe. Only Bavarians and Swabians were alright overall. Pizza was unheard of in those days. It was something that did not make a dent until after WW II in the U.S.
My mother’s Christmas cookies (she must have had about 30 recipes) were famous far and wide, as were her Sauerbraten. My personal favorite was chicken fricassee in a white wine sauce with lemon over wide noodles that had been tossed with roasted bread crumbs. Great stuff.
One story that I heard was that my mother as a child was an imp. Her mother said that she was more trouble than any of the older kids, like the boys. They lived in a house that was, according to George, her family lived in one of those ponderous old five story masonry buildings so typical of the late nineteenth century in those citys. She would go out the window, and they lived way up in the building, and walk on the wide ledges to scare her mother at the kitchen window.
Tante Betti told me about her knack for sewing as well. She was very good with her hands, knitting, crochet, embroidery, all those crafts that German women used to do routinely. Both my mother and Betti liked to go dancing. They could not afford the latest dresses and such, so they would look at them in store windows, or get a pattern and sew something together at the last minute and head off to dance on Saturday nights. My daughters have examples of her needlework.
My parents were thrifty. They used everything they knew how to use, made do and made it themselves. They did not like to waste things. They had been through the 20's in Germany, after which the depression in the U.S. looked not all that bad.
My mother like music and liked to dance. My father did not dance at all. He was very glum and depressed and drank quite a bit. Drunk, he could be quite surly. His nastiness then trumped any and every other mood. We all had to watch out and stay out of his way. My mother was mercurial. She, too, would get very angry very quickly. As a child, I had to always be on the qui vive.
As to how they met: Here is what I know, or think that I know, a version of the truth. My father was in the U.S. alone, speaking not much English, and moderate social skills. He responded to an ad from a girl in Germany, my future mother. I think he had a male friend in Germany check her out, as to whether or not she was a respectable girl or not. She came to America, and I think, was ready to fall in love and did. At one point, for some technical reason having to do with immigration, she had to go back to Germany, by steamship mind you, stay there a while and re-enter. When she went back it was post 1932, the Hitler era. When one entered a shop, the old greeting, Gruess Gott!, a kind of shorthand for I greet you in God’s name...had given way to Heil Hitler! complete with the raised right hand. She ignored that and continued to use the old greeting. So did her sister, Tante Betti. People noticed, but they did not get into trouble, or people thought them naive. The greeting was made a general rule by the Nazis. Every train or street car conductor used it on entering a train car, every class began with the teacher using it. It was part of the Nazi policy meant to promote loyalty and instill fear. It is likely that they just seemed out of it to the rest of the Germans. The Gasthaus in Sulzbuerg in her youth had Jewish patrons, she told me, who seemed to her like everyone else. The Jews she served there were not observant, drank beer, ate pork, danced, etc.
George writes that, he met the man Dad sent to meet Mom - he was a police sergeant, or some other sort of official, therefore reliable. She passed muster, I guess, and was sent fare and tickets. She traveled to Wurzburg to meet the relatives, then to America. This was exactly at the time of transition for Germany, and when she went back, for visa reasons, everyone was a Nazi. Remember, our uncle Adolf was a gymnast, and a local hero, and was made mayor when he returned from the Olympics in 1936, and crowned with laurels. He probably had to join the party to remain in office. Part of that was proving your Aryan heritage; what an embarrassment when it turned out that his wife's father was illegitimate. Our grandfather, Tante Rosa told me many years later in Germany raised his hands, and asked, well, what can I do about it? It was indeed very embarrassing at the time. It meant that maybe our heritage was not purely Aryan: there might have been a Jew or a Gypsy in the woodpile. Adolf Roehr, Rosa’s husband, on the other hand, could prove his ancestry back to the 14th or 15th century.
George comments that it was clear to him when he was in Germany that Mom's love was a young student at Regensburg; I met the man and his family - and I could see from his wife's looks that she was clear what was what. So both our parents didn't team up with the loves of their lives.
After we were somewhat older, my mother went to work. She liked to work, and liked going to work. Her first job was busing tables in the United Nations, which at the time was housed on the old site of Sperry Gyroscope Company in Lake Success, N.Y. somewhat farther out (eastwards) on Long Island, near Hempstead. I think she took busses to get to work. Then she worked in a plastics factory in the ‘50's. Plastics, as in the movie, The Graduate, but at her level that meant tending a molding machine. Later, she worked in Dugan Brothers Bakery, the same huge baking complex that my father worked in, except that she worked in the cake department. It was hard work. For years, they both got up early and went to work together, as I recall. Later, they bought a car, an English one, a Hillman-Minx, a cute little thing, but not very reliable. It was not he who drove, but my mother, the more adventurous one. For years before the car, he either walked to work, or rode a bicycle to work, which was about five or miles off. If the weather was bad, he walked in the rain or snow. Later, a friend who had a car picked him up and brought him home if the weather wasn’t good, all this, before the Hillman-Minx of course.
The bakery, as I’ve said, was a big enterprise. My mother worked in the bakery for many years. She had some accidents there. Once, her nose was broken. Her hands became somewhat deformed, too, as I recall, over the years. That was all evident to me when she lay in her coffin in Worcester in 1974.
(I worked there as well, getting up early on Saturday to work in the cake shop, cleaning the hardwood and tile floors with scrapers and a then very early on Sunday to work in the breadshop, loading racks, turning muffins or stacking the hot pans when they came out of the oven. There is even a memory or two posted about Dugan Bros. on the internet. People remember their products. Their white bread wasn’t spectacular, but neither was anyone else’s. I recall often, working there, that the bakers would wipe spilled coffee off the big steel lunch table with two or three slices of the white bread used as a sponge, which they then threw away. George recalled that they had a fleet of electric trucks during WWII that used to come zipping up to the houses to deliver bread and cake. They whizzed up, and there was a click or two when they started up. They worked fine, I think, and I’m wondering why we don’t have them now.
My father retired in the early ‘60's. I remember him standing in the kitchen, smoking a cigarette, looking a bit lost. I congratulated him on his retirement. Some years later, in ‘66, the company went out of business. Everyone was stunned. They had sold out, it was claimed, to Chicago gangsters. I didn’t believe it at the time, but after a while, I accepted that explanation as probably being on target. My mother and father sold their house in Bellerose and moved upstate to Worcester, New York, where they lived for eight years. My mother died in 1974, just as Nixon was about to leave the White House. Hannah and Gretchen and I flew back East to attend her funeral. Daddy died in our shed in 1976. He never expected to outlive her. I think he thought she would be there until he died. Her heart failed her.
We went back East with Hannah, when she was about six months old. I recall my last real conversation with my mother, standing in her kitchen. She said, ‘You know, Adi, I would like to work with machines.’ I had to think about that for a long time, but it finally came clear to me. She liked working with machines because something was made, produced, created. There was action and change and that is why she wanted to work with them. She was restive and not one for sitting around and being static. She would also say things to Gretchen and the young women I had brought home before marriage, like: ‘you know, us womens have to stick together.’ She would have understood the feminist movement quite well, and had she been younger, would have taken up the cause.
My father did not automatically like people that he met. His complaint about Americans was that they were hypocrites, and in large measure, I have to agree. What is the best party? I once asked him: Sozial Demokraten, he replied, social democrats, meaning of course, the ones in the German mold, far to the left of our democrats. Another thing he told me was that if I ever got into a war, to shoot into the air, not at people. He had been on the front lines in WWI, and probably saw his share of horror, bodies blown apart and stacked like cordwood when the battle was over. During WWII, both parents disapproved of my playing with any sort of war toy and my mother refused to let me join the Cub or Boy Scouts because she distrusted uniforms. She did not express it, probably because she found it difficult to express, but thinking back, I know she sensed that they were proto-military. She was right.
Return to the top of this page Part IV: Marriage to Margarete Vogl
or return to Part III: Emigration to U.S.
or return to Part II: Schernau, Zell, WW I
or return to Part I: Reaching Back, Zell am Mainor return to Index