From Germany to the United States, Eve Leach shared her story with the Lions Club about her birth into Northeastern Germany the year Hitler came to power and how she left communist controlled Germany.
Leach traveled a distance to get to where she’s at today.
Born with the name Eva-Maria, “it was hyphenated in German,” Leach said.
“When I came to this country, everybody was like, ‘oh Maria’s your middle name.’ No, I have two other middle names. So when I became an American Citizen, I made it one word, that’s it,” Leach said. “Eve is short and painless.”
Leach’s family moved to a province called Saxony Auhault when she was just six years old. At age 10, all girls had to join the German Girl Scouts (Hitler Youth).
Although the war was over when she was 12, the Russians occupied her area and she had to leave school at 14 to enter an apprenticeship.
“After the war had ended, the allies … divided Germany into four different sections,” Leach said. “The American Sector, the British Sector, a small part was given to the French and most of the eastern part of Germany was given to the Russians, or if you prefer, The Soviet Union, as we had to call it.”
Leach said she happened to live in East Germany behind the Iron Curtain. Her family didn’t have a lot of money and even if they did, it was two years after the war had ended and the stores were empty.
“I grew up in a city in East Germany named, Halle,” Leach said.
“Hal,” is Latin for salt. Leach said in this city there were salt mines because salt was a commodity in the middle ages.
“Halle also had coal mines,” Leach said.
According to Leach, even if the farmers didn’t have a lot of money during this time, they at least had a decent food supply.
When her family was able to pick food from farms, Leach said they would fill the big pockets in gunnysack aprons her father had made for them.
“All I want to impress on you is we were very hungry and I’m sure there were a number of meals that my mom skipped so we could get our bellies full,” Leach said.
Leach said her father remembered they had relatives who immigrated to the United States back in the 1880’s to South Dakota.
Leach said her father went begging for a care package now and then and she could imagine how hard it was for him to do that.
“It seems though every four weeks we had a big package coming from one of the families, we had lots and lots of relatives in South Dakota,” Leach said. “It was a tremendous help.”
Leach said they had never heard of peanuts, “much less of peanut butter,” when one of the packages arrived.
Leach remembered a package which contained a pair of army boots.
“I was in hog heaven because they were just a little bit larger than what I needed … with very thick socks,” Leach said. “My kids can safely say, ‘my mother wore army boots.’”
According to Leach, it was forbidden to leave East Germany and “you couldn’t even cross the border.”
Leach said “after seven years of waiting for our visa number to be called, so we could immigrate to the United States, the day finally arrived sometime in the summer of 1954.”
Leach said she was 21 and of legal age. “Everybody, including myself decided I should go alone,” she said.
Leach left her ties to East Germany in October 1954 and traveled from Halle to Berlin by train where she moved in with her aunt and started a job as an accountant for two months while she had time there.
Leach said there was a lot to do as she prepared to enter the United States, beginning with filling out paperwork, getting immunized and seeing a travel agent for a ticket.
“Since East German money wasn’t worth tiddlywinks, my uncle in South Dakota sent over $300 to pay for my ships passage to the U.S.A.,” Leach said.
This would include Leach’s train passage once she got to the states.
Leach made her maiden voyage to the United States in January 1955 on the S.S. Berlin.
She said they were given streamers to wave with as the ship sailed away. She shared a second class outside cabin with a lady around her mother’s age. The cabin had a small porthole.
“We had bunk beds in that cabin and I took the upper one,” Leach said. “Everything was mine … everything that was available on board ship.”
The basement of the ship even ”carried … two elephants” which were headed to the New York Zoo.
Leaving on Jan. 8, 1955, Leach entered New York on Jan. 18, 1955, 65 years ago.
“We were entering New York,” Leach said. “It was a bliss morning. You could see the Statue of Liberty in the distance.”
From there, she was ready to begin her new life, including finding her way to Oklahoma.