Gerlinde – The Survivor
Gerlinde is an 85 year old woman who has lived through incredible atrocities, yet has seen immeasurable growth through her vast experiences in nearly a century of life. She was born to a simple farm life in Czechoslovakia, yet her life took a turn that she never could have anticipated. This is her story:
As the oldest of four children, Gerlinde always felt in charge as a child. She was the go to person for her parents for help on the farm, whether it was working with the animals or manually plowing the field. Her family has lived in the same small village for over 600 years as the farm passed from generation to generation.
Then in 1943 the world came crashing down all around her. She was only 7 years old when the war came to her in such a crushing and unique way. Gerlinde wasn’t a Jew, she wasn’t a German, she wasn’t a conquered nation and didn’t spend any time in concentration camps, hiding Jews from Nazis or other typical stories many hear about during World War II. Her story with the war came towards the end of the war when Russia took over all of Western Europe and came to wreak havoc on her small village.
She saw some of the worst of human behavior imaginable. To this day she remembers them as “animals, completely lacking any humanity.” Russian soldiers arrived in May 1943 and quickly dismantled the few retreating German soldiers, taking charge of the village and surrounding towns. They stole what they pleased, clothing, bikes, machines, money, and even went about raping the women in these war torn areas. They shot anyone who resisted in any way. Gerlinde had to go into hiding in the barn, with hay for a pillow and constant tics embedding in her skin for months with her mother and sisters to avoid the soldiers.
Once, while out to bathe, she narrowly avoided a drunken soldier’s open machine gun fire. She credits her faith in God and her answered prayers for protection, along with the propensity for Russians to get so drunk they couldn’t see straight, let along shoot straight. Her brother, right next to her during the event, stood frozen in fear as she ran from the bullets. None hit either them and the soldier simply walked away.
Once she was able, her family picked up and moved in cattle trains to Germany with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Life slowly returned to normal, Linda returned to school, and eventually became enamored with an American soldier who was about 10 years her senior. Despite her mother’s strong disapproval, they married. She said he was the first person in so long that treated her like someone who was worth something. After so many years of living in fear, traveling into the unknown and no one able to help her, it was the American soldiers who gave her and her family food, clothing and money. She always remembered that and saw that same kindness in her new husband.
She moved back to the United States, became pregnant and then tragically lost her first husband before the birth of her son. She was alone in a foreign land, where she didn’t know the culture, language or even her way home. She is a survivor though, and continued with her persevering nature to find a way. She remarried and had several more children in her new homeland, raising a big family who would come to share her story. Her posterity now reaches to nearly 60 individuals and lives a quiet life in small town in Utah with her kids and grandkids close by.
Gerlinde’s story shows her ability to live as well as her resilience to evil, injustices and just simply extremities life can throw at people. The fear of death, rape, losing everything, and going into the unknown were nearly a constant threat throughout her life. She knew death, all too well, of those closest to her. Some of her friends, neighbors, and family all met their ends in the most egregious manners. Yet she remains faithful, focused on God, Christ and a new found religion that she feels brings all meaning to suffering and injustice that occurs in the world.
Despite the horrors and continued torments of memories of times in Czechoslovakia, Gerlinda holds to humor, faith, kindness and honesty to help her become a light and a beacon of hope to those who feel life gets to difficult to continue. Her survival has enabled her to thrive and share her incredible story and perspective of resilience, faith and determination to live and thrive in any circumstance.
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