12 Jan, 2010 | Posted by: photosource

by Rohn Engh

When I was 26, and living in Maryland, USA, I made a wanderlust trip through Europe, Africa, USA, Mexico and Central America that lasted over 35 months, almost three years. That was in 1957-60. When I returned home I began writing a memoir during 1960 and í61. When I finished, I put it away in a closet and forgot it. I really didnít forget it. I just didnít think I should publish it because there were so many episodes and descriptions in there that would be awkward to people like my relatives and my friends along the way. So I left it all alone. Itís now 2010, almost 40 years later. . Iíll dust off the manuscript and publish it here for the first time. I thought you would like to know how me and my family came to living on a farm in western Wisconsin -RE

My Story


Afton, Minnesota, USA 1960. When I was young, I used to get pretty ugly thoughts. I mean they werenít violent or sadistic or anything like that. They were more like brief bad dreams that popped into my head. Not important, just bothersome. They were confusing me, just like the sentence I wrote above. How can something be pretty ugly?

Well, anyway, here goes. This story starts when I was in the U.S. Army, stationed in Wuerzburg, Germany. It was 10 years after WWII. I thought when I went over there in 1955 that the experience of going to Europe would clean out my brain and turn me around in the right direction. Maybe I would be able to understand how a nation could condone the mass murder of millions. That question really bothered me.

France 1956
(To view larger image, click on picture)

I was 26. My hometown buddies back in Maryland had all graduated from college and had jobs, the kind where you wear a suit and tie. I was still a student. I had just graduated from art school in Baltimore.

During the two years I was over there in Germany, I got to meet and talk with foreigners who invited me into their lives. And how could I do that -?

You probably thought I was one of those G.I.'s that arrives at a foreign Army base and stays for a year or two and then returns to their home without even venturing downtown.

Well, it so happens that before going to Europe, I took a test and the U.S. Army sent me to French Language School for 6 months in Monterey, California. But I didnít end up in France. Through some kind of bureaucratic SNAFU, the Army sent me to German Language School in Oberammergau, up in the Alps.

I got pretty good at speaking both languages, especially since the Army gave me the job of interviewing people from East Germany and Russia and other places who were in refugee camps from WWII. These people were trying to immigrate to the USA.

It also turned out that my Army tests said I would be eligible to sign up for the CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps) and they sent me off to another school. My job was to make background interviews and inspect records of certain refugees to determine if they were good guys or bad guys. With the cold war brewing, we didnít want any communists slipping into the USA.

But funny thing, my superior officer in charge of our section,Capt. Henderson, looked the other way if a refugee happened to be a former Nazi. Turns out, the U.S. government considered the Nazis good guys. They were enemies of the communists, so that was a plus for
us Americans. Crazy, isnít it. ? And later on, when I returned to the USA, I saw Japanese cars everywhere on the highways. I guess the Japanese won that battle too.

And even funnier, the U.S. Army was letting me, a country boy from the Eastern Shore of Maryland do the selection of these refugees. So, as far as going overseas and hoping to clear my brain about the world I lived in Ėthe U.S. Army confused me even more. . .

But as I say, some of the people I met outside the army barracks, in my excursions to interview refugees at the camp, I had the good chance to enter into a different world that I had not known back on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. On one of those occasions I met a Gypsy, Alonzo, who was originally from Romania. He could speak German. We would have coffee together when I made my visits to the displaced persons camp.

He spoke softly. He was in his 50ís and would recount his life back in Romania. And he told me about the time he and his brother were nearly caught by German SS troopers during the war. The gypsies were the next largest group, after the Jews, who died in concentration camps at the hands of the Nazis.

Alonzo taught me how to play the guitar and a few of his folk songs. He also taught me a method he used to quickly ďreplace unwanted thoughtsĒ in his head. This was something that was attractive to me and it came in handy on my trip. Especially when I got into Africa. Later on Iíll explain how his method works. Itís good I sensed there would be more to learn from foreigners who lived in a different culture than me.

As it turned out there was a lot more to learn. -from Arabs, Africans, Americans, Mexicans, Guatemalans, and even from my traveling companion, Rudi Thurau, a German fellow troubadour from Hamburg, Germany.

Wuerzburg, Germany 1956 (To view larger image, click on picture)

NEXT WEEK: Saying Farewell to my German Friends.

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