By David Schriemer, MD
MaryAnn Stratman has some very vivid memories of her childhood in Germany:
She remembers going to bed with her clothes on so when the air raid sirens blared she could immediately run to the air-raid shelter with her mother. There, “packed like sardines” they would stand until the “all clear” sounded.
She remembers her mother holding her very tightly as they stood in bread lines.
She remembers her mother being scolded by a soldier because Mary Ann gave an improper salute.
She remembers her mother pushing her down in a ditch and lying over her, spilling the rationed milk they had just picked up, as an enemy bomber suddenly flew low overhead.
She remembers stopping with her mother to help another mother whose baby carriage had fallen over, spilling out two children as they all rushed to the air-raid shelters.
She remembers having all the lights turned out and blankets over the windows, and navigating by the light f the oven at night.
She remembers bodies covered with sheets or blankets in the street and wondering what they were as her mother hustled her away.
She remembers watching American GIs march down the street, watching them and waiting for them to hand out “Juicy Fruit” gum.
Mary Ann does not remember her father. Her father, a tailor, was conscripted for the Army and never returned. All but one of her uncles died too, leaving only her uncle Willy surviving as a male role model.
Mary Ann Stratman was born in Cologne, Germany right at the beginning of World War II. Life was difficult. After the war, to support herself and her daughter, Mary Ann’s mother used her father’s tailoring equipment to make ties and bowties.
In 1954 at age 13, her mother arranged for the two of them to come to America, “the land of milk and honey” as the Germans said. On the nine-day cruise from Hamburg to New York City on the Olympia she bought lemonade and learned how to make change with American money. Every day she looked for the Statue of Liberty.
Her first impressions of America were of wonder. The trains had cushioned seats not benches. She saw people eating watermelon on their porches. She had never seen a watermelon and had no idea what it was. And McDonald’s… oh the smells from McDonald’s. She loved to eat there. Food was rationed when she lived in Germany. Now she could eat and eat.
Her mother remarried and they moved to Cincinnati. There she went to Catholic school, knowing only how to say “yes” and “no” in English. ”I said ‘no’ most of the time because I figured I was less likely to get in trouble than if I said ‘yes’”. She learned English after school and proudly made the honor roll as a senior.
At age 19 she went to citizenship class and coached her mother on American government and history. They proudly became United States citizens in 1960.
After high school, Mary Ann worked in food service at the local hospital . She met and married her husband, David. She worked as he earned his master’s degree in Psychology. They moved to Kalamazoo when he went to work at the Allegan County Mental Health Clinic. David died in 1996. Mary Ann worked at Bronson hospital for many years. She raised three daughters, including Trischa Carr who lives in Vicksburg with her husband, Shelly, and son Jacob.
Mary Ann feels so grateful to live in America and enjoys her life here. In 1997, she made her first trip back to Germany. She had a joyous reunion with her cousins. She returned to Germany in 2007 and hopes to return again.