Friday, May 25, 2012

Father's Day Message Brings Healing for Mother's Day

With the bloom of the trees and flowers in May, so grows the sadness within me. I find myself grieving the loss of the end of another school year. Another chapter ending in my children's lives--coming ever closer to the day when they will grow up and be independent adults. It fills me with sadness that my days with them are growing shorter, and I, too, am getting older.

But for me, May also brings a greater sense of grief over the death of my mom. This Mother's Day marks the fifth year celebrating that special day without her. More than any other time of year I feel the loss more intensely in May -- even more than her birthday, Christmas, and the anniversary of her death in August.

Since her death, I have honored her memory through words. I write about her WW2 era childhood living in Yugoslavia, her internment in a Russian controlled concentration camp in the mid 1940s, their escape, and her arrival in America in 1950 on the Queen Elizabeth.

Two years ago, in honor of Father's Day, I wrote an article for about her biological father Franz Bohn. He was her father in name only. She knew virtually nothing more about him than his name. He deserted his family in approximately 1944 and as a family genealogist, I was woefully unsuccessful in trying to find out about my biological grandfather.

Utilizing message boards and Internet searches and trying to contact family who are still in Yugoslavia have yielded no information about him. With my mom and grandma long since deceased, it appeared that all links to him were gone.

That was true until earlier this month. Through the incredible resource of the Internet, my mom's half sister Maja's family found the article after 'Googling" his name, hoping to find information on the man who was also their father. Because I had posted the only photo I have of my mom's father, they confirmed that Franz was indeed one in the same.

Reading about the sole memory my mom had of a man she hardly knew as her dad, it only further confirmed for my mom's siblings that they had found family.

Although approximately 10 to 13 years younger, my mom has three half siblings living in Sweden, two sisters and a brother. Having grown up an only child, my mom had always desired to have brothers and sisters. I only wish she had been alive to celebrate this reunion with me.

Maja, my mom's eldest sister, had heard once or twice in her youth that she had a sister living in America and had always wondered if it was true.  As an adult my mom had heard that her father had remarried and had two more daughters, perhaps twins, but thought they were living in Switzerland. Only bits of pieces of what my mom Hilda had heard were true.

Maja and I have only begun to communicate between continents; piecing together details of each others lives--still wondering if together we can find out what happened to the man who deserted both of his families.

But for now we are enjoying the commonalities. My Aunt Maja's son is named Adam, as is mine. Adam has a blond-haired daughter named Elise, just as I do. Maja is a gifted gardener of plants and vegetables, just as my mom was. They have been/were both vegetarians for over 30 years. My Aunt Agathe and Uncle Hugo were accomplished gymnasts, just as my son is.

I now have five male cousins and one female cousin to add to my family tree.

Finding Maja and her family does not lessen the grief I feel this time of year. In fact, it highlights how much I miss her being a part of my every day life. This could have been such a joyful reunion between siblings.

Yet, knowing I have aunts, uncles and cousins who share my mom's lineage is such an answer to prayer. And I find the timing to be a great gift to me in celebrating this year's Mother's Day holiday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Passing Along the Legacy Through Art Work

An article appearing in Chicago Tribune.

Written and drawn by my good friend Elsa Walter. She and my mom were similiar in experiences in their post WW2 expulsion from Yugoslavia by the Russian Red Army.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Coming to America: A New Beginning

President Roosevelt delivered an address on December 8, 1941 about "The day which will live in infamy", referring to the previous day's Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese. He was absolutely correct that it would be a historic date that still holds a lot of significance in our nation's history. But for me, February 24. 1950 is the date that lives in infamy for me.  Not only is it the birth date for my great-grandma Anna on my mother’s side — it also happens to be the date that my mom, grandma, and great grandparents arrived at the port of New York on the R/S Queen Elizabeth. Last year marked the 60th anniversary of them arriving on U.S. soil after surviving the Yugoslavian genocide. It’s for this reason that I love this date.

After their first taste of freedom in a refugee camp in Schalding, Germany, they began their new lives. The genocide had taken everything from them. They had been forced out of their homes and had everything taken from them. They had nothing–not even birth certificates or any identifying documents to prove their existence. They were not welcome to come back to Yugoslavia. They were people without a country.

It was while living in Germany that they began to receive packages from America, from my great-grandpa’s cousins, Roy and Helen Andersen. As a young girl of 11, my mom was told that America was filled with ‘streets made from gold. A land of milk and honey.” These packages were just as magical. Gail, the Andersen’s daughter who was a few years younger than my mom, would send gifts specifically for her. In addition to some clothes, she remembered getting a much-cherished doll, some M&M’s and a beautiful, sequined purse.

Fortunately, the Andersen’s agreed to sponsor their trip on the Queen Elizabeth. After guaranteeing jobs and boarding for my grandma’s family, they funded the journey from Germany to Cherbourg, France, where the four of them boarded the ship on February 15, 1950.

When asked about what she remembered about her journey on the famous liner, my mom would laugh. She would have loved to tell stories of exploring the big vessel, playing with the other children–dreaming of what life would look like in America. Instead, the entire family spent most of the trip being seasick and vomiting over the sides of the ship. When she was well enough to explore, she recounted getting lost in the bowels of the ship. Not exactly the exciting adventures one would hope to have on their maiden voyage. It was on the ship that she recounted her first memories of a language barrier between their family and staff. With no one able to speak English in the dining hall, she recalled flapping their arms and saying ‘bok, bok, bok’ to tell them they wanted chicken. It’s that story that always makes me smile. She also remembered swimming in a salt water pool on the ship.

After reaching Ellis Island, they settled in Chicago to work for the Andersens. My great-grandparents Anna and Thomas and grandma Anna agreed to work as indentured servants for three years at the Andersen’s hunting and fishing club in Fox Lake appropriately named the “Wing and Fin Club” During that time, they also gave them room and board on the property. About a decade later, my parents would hold their wedding reception there.

Over the years I’ve wondered about the Andersen’s. There is no record of them in my mom’s phone book, which surprises me. By now, if still alive Helen and Roy would be in their 90′s, while Gail would be nearing 70. Do they ever think of the family they so graciously helped? Was the story of the Dernetz family passed down to future generations like it was in the Olsen family? My mom had referred to them as ‘angels’ over the years. Her family was in deep gratitude to the not-so-simple gesture as to make their journey possible. Without their willingness to pave their way to America, the story of Anna and Thomas, Anna and my mom Hilda might have ended so differently. And for this reason, I too am truly grateful to the Andersen family as well. I think Neil Diamond says it best:


We've been travelling far
Without a home
But not without a star

Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream

On the boats and on the planes
They're coming to America
Never looking back again
They're coming to America

Home, don't it seem so far away
Oh, we're travelling light today
In the eye of the storm
In the eye of the storm

Home, to a new and a shiny place
Make our bed, and we'll say our grace
Freedom's light burning warm
Freedom's light burning warm

Everywhere around the world
They're coming to America
Every time that flag's unfurled
They're coming to America

Got a dream to take them there
They're coming to America
Got a dream they've come to share
They're coming to America

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Motherless Daughter: A Journey of Grief

Reprinted from the original publication at  in August 2010.

When my son Adam’s hamster Little Dude died recently, my heart broke along with his. There was nothing I could do to take away his pain. As a parent, I desperately want to protect my children from the emotional gunk of life. After Little Dude had celebrated his first birthday, I gently reminded Adam that the odds were that he would not live to see another one. Good or bad, hamster life spans are short—averaging two years or less.

Still, when Adam found him lifeless in his cage, my son was devastated. Fortunately, I was surprising my kids later that day by the arrival of a friend’s dog. We were pet-sitting for the week and I had decided to make Bandit’s arrival a surprise. We had watched him earlier in the year, too, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed him. It was the perfect distraction from the sadness Adam was feeling.

As I walked through the early stages of Adam’s grief this summer, I reflected back on my own grieving process when my mom passed away. Grief was not an emotion I was entirely comfortable dealing with.

Despite losing all my grand parents and various other relatives, it was not something I had ever experienced with such intensity as losing a parent. I was fortunate that my parents lived near-by and I talked with her on the phone and saw her in person often. Yet, after her pancreatic cancer diagnosis, there was sadness with each visit or conversation.

My mom was experiencing her own grief and coming to terms with the terminal diagnosis. She wanted to survive….she wanted to see her 5 grandchildren grow into adulthood and enjoy the golden years with her husband of 45 years. My mom grappled with why God was allowing her to experience such a painful and horrible end. She felt like she had suffered enough as a child. This was supposed to be her time to enjoy life. She did not want her family to watch her die.

There was a lot of sadness for me, too, in her final months—reminders of a life that was going to be lived without her in it. I thought that having a chance to say goodbye and prepare for her to die would make my pain less. I was wrong.

After she died, what surprised me the most was how alone I felt in my grief. Not that my friends and family did not understand what I was feeling, but rather, few people rallied behind me to proactively provide a listening ear and be strong when I was feeling weak. Despite having a large group of girl friends who had lost their mother, only a few regularly checked in on me and supported me. And it was only my best friend of 20 years who rallied behind me on a daily basis.

It was because of the aloneness I felt that I turned to a self-help book by Hope Edelman “Motherless Daughters” that really helped me work through the emotions I was feeling. Out of the book, there have been dozens of support groups created throughout the United States, including one in St. Louis.

Having an intimate group of women in various stages of life to turn to has been invaluable. They span every age group and life experience—some having lost their mothers as a young child, and others, well into their adulthood like me. While I rarely attend the meetings now, there is comfort in knowing that the group is there if I need them.

Still, it is through writing that I have found my greatest healing. As a family genealogist, capturing who my mother was on paper has provided the most comfort to me. One of my greatest regrets is that my daughter, who was only 2 ½ when my mom died, will never know her grandma on a personal level. Even my son, who was 7 at the time, has only faint and distant memories of his grandma. Capturing her personality and life story on paper is truly priceless to me—and sharing her memory beyond my circle of friends is a privilege.

On the cusp of my son’s grief is my own heightened sense of loss as the three year anniversary of my mom’s death is approaching. Perhaps this anniversary is one that will always bring me pain and the heightened feelings of missing her —or perhaps it is one that will fade with time. Grief is personal and unpredictable. What I have found is that it’s not the big reminders of her that are difficult—it’s the unexpected reminders like a song at church, or her favorite flower sitting in a friend’s vase. It is simply a fact of life.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that grief is a process of ups and downs. Grief is not something to ‘overcome’, but rather to learn to deal with when those feelings are overwhelming, as they will be time and time again.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bee-ing Compassionate

Article as it appeared in the Suburban Journal - West County newspaper on June 23, 2010. First of four columns for me to write for the Opinion Shaper commentaries.

Carrying on a legacy of carrying for animals

By Bonnie Krueger

The "getting to know you" ice breaker question� in my women's Bible study was "List one good trait passed on to you from your family, and on the reverse, list one you wish you hadn't acquired and would change."

Compassion for animals was my immediate response for the positive trait. Not that my dad was anti-animals, but it was really my mom and grandma who exuded this from their core beings.

Having numerous conversations with my mom about her love for animals, I knew that this was a multi-generational love. In addition to being an incredible gardener, my great-grandpa Thomas cared for his bee farm where he had a successful business canning honey.

My family is enjoying the last harvested jar, which was canned on June 13, 1954. I treasure each drop,� and will find it bitter-sweet when the last of it is consumed.

I recall a summer day as a teenager watching my mom lovingly rescue a honey bee from our in-ground pool. "He is still alive, poor thing," she said to me. "It is struggling so hard to save itself."   She held it softly in the palm of her hand, patiently waiting for its wings to dry out and for it to reclaim his zapped strength. After several minutes of holding it - meanwhile sharing with me bee stories from her grandpa - it finally reclaimed his strength. The bee walked around the palm of my mom's hand before finding its equilibrium and flying off into the wind.

My mom's true character shined for me in that moment. Most people wouldn't have taken the time to give the bee a second thought.

My grandma who lived in a Chicago suburb maintained a large animal farm. At the pinnacle of her farming, she owned sheep, goats, peacocks, chickens, pigeons, roosters, ducks, geese, rabbits - even a few spider monkeys and pet raccoons. Visiting her was joyful. I loved the goats. There was Ginger, Little Gin, Brownie, Cocoa, Bonnie and Clyde.

Despite the plethora of animals to enjoy at the farm, it is still my mom's example that impacted me the most. In the last 20 to 25 years of her life, she lived out her belief system in animals. She became a strict vegan and began using beauty and cleaning products that did not contain animal products, and refused to use products that were tested on animals.

Having grown up with dogs, it was interesting to see her develop a love for cats. She became active in fostering kittens and cats, with literally hundreds of them passing through the� specially designed� living area of my parent's home. On any given week her agenda would also include injured duck rescues. Yes, my mom was faithful to who she was and lived it out fully.

Knowing my mom, grandma and great grandpa's history, I certainly understood their passion. People had failed them - time and time again - but animals were always faithful.

My mom told me something that struck a chord with me that I'd like to pass on to you.� Animals cannot help themselves. They are at the mercy of other animals and the people they encounter.

She often said a person's true character was shown in how they treat animals and how animals responded to them. Treasures in heaven, she said, were stored up for those people who dedicate their lives for the least of God's creations.

Bonnie Krueger of Manchester is one of 12 West County area Opinion Shapers. Opinion Shapers are guest writers who submit a column three times a year on areas of interest to them. Krueger is a homemaker, who enjoys researching family genealogy. She blogs at and

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Father's Presence

Appears as originally published to on Sunday, June 20 on Father's Day

Remembering Fathers, Past and Present

Growing up, I was blessed. Leave it to Beaver’s got nothing on me. My parents provided me as idyllic a childhood as you can ever wish to have. I was raised by a hard-working father and a stay-at-home mom, who stayed happily married until her death in 2007, just shy of their 46th anniversary. While my mom worked a few seasonal jobs, for the most part her job was to take care of the house and us girls.

Now that I am a wife and mother, I am all that more grateful for the values and legacy my parents passed onto me. By all rights, my dad should be an alcoholic; a family trait that is rampant among the Olsen’s men. He made a decision to not allow that generational curse to affect him, defying the odds.

Still, it’s my mom’s legacy that always humbles and awes me. Without a father in her life or a Godly male influence, she still chose an amazing man to marry and raise a family. Again, I am forever grateful. If you were to ask her about her father, my mom would have told you that she did not have much to say about him. She only knew a little about him, and had even fewer memories.

His name was Franz Bohn, an ethnic German man who worked as a butcher. Like a lot of Germans, he was obstinate and strong-willed. Even though she was only 5 when she last saw him, she remembered him being a heavy drinker, probably an alcoholic, who ruled with an iron fist. My mom supposed my grandma Anna married this older man to escape the abuse she suffered at the hands of her own dad, Thomas. Sadly, Franz was a mirror-image of his father-in-law and the patterns of abuse continued for my grandma into her marriage.

When asked what she remembered about him, my mom could only recount one memory—and it was a disturbing one at that. While still living in their small town in Yugoslavia, she was arguing with her cousin, whom she was playing with at the time. It angered her dad and he chased her with one of his butcher knives. She could not have been more than 5 years old at the time.

Between 1944 and 1947 she had been separated from her father when the Russian Red Army invaded Yugoslavia and forced the citizens to evacuate their homes, stripping them of their possessions and belongings. The able-bodied men were taken to fight for the Russians, while able-bodied women were taken by coal car to Russia to work as slaves. For the youngest of the victims, like my mom who was 6 years old, and for the oldest victims like her grandparents, they were imprisoned in camps within Yugoslavian towns, much like the Holocaust. When my great grandparents, my grandma, and my mom escaped the camps 3 years later, they did not reunite with her father.

Her last memory of her father was a passive one. Before immigrating to the United States in 1950, she recalled someone pointing out that her father was across the street. She ignored him and continued to walk on without glancing his way. When I asked her years later why she chose to look the other way rather than reunite with him, her answer was simple. He had abandoned them after the genocide ended, making a clear decision to not be a part of his daughter’s life.

My parents and grandma returned to Yugoslavia in 1995. They reconnected with family still living in the home next door to where my mom grew up. It was during that visit that she learned a little more about the biological father she did not really know. She was also given a contact number of how to reach him. Sadly, when she called, he had already died a few years earlier. While she had not allowed being fatherless to impact her life, I imagine speaking to him would have provided a peace and allowed their relationship to go full-circle. It was not meant to be.

So as Father’s Day nears, I am eternally grateful for the dad I was blessed to have. He is loving, kind, involved and protective. He loved our mom and was a great role-model. His influence and example lead me to an equally amazing husband. Together he and I are raising our children in a healthy, balanced home. I have a lot to be grateful for—every day.

Bonnie Krueger is a mom, wife and blogger living in West County. She blogs about family, marriage and random musing at Inside my Head. Her second blog is dedicated to the memory and history of her mom who was a concentration camp survivor after WW2 in Yugoslavia. This blog, Heart Speaks, is written to educate people on the genocide by the Russians that so few people actually know about it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Beautiful Reminder

I stumbled upon this today as I was sifting through the hundreds of e-mails in my deleted folder.  The e-mail was from one of my mom's faithful buyers of the Katy Blue collection of glassware. One of my tasks following my mom's death was to answer her e-mails. This was a response I received after notifying Verona my mom had died.

I reprinted the poem for my dad and it is displayed along side a 8x10 photograph of my mom that my dad loved and was displayed at her Memorial Service.

The picture Verona is referring to was a Mother's Day picture taken before she knew she was ill. As I approach Mother's Day this year with dread, as I do every year now, I found this to be a beautiful reminder of the impact my mom had on people around her. God's timing is perfect in finding this precious e-mail.

Dear Bonnie, Roger and Family,

I am your mom's eBay Katy Blue friend. I enjoyed my visits with your mom via the Internet and over the phone. We talked about a lot of different things. I wish I could have visited her in person. I hope I lifted her spirits when ever I could by a note or mailings. She sent me a beautiful picture of her girls, herself and the grand kids. You are in a woodsy setting sitting on a picnic bench and I have kept it by my computer. She sure was a precious and rare jewel. I am deeply sadden in my human heart to hear that Hilda has left us but at the same time, I know that she is resting comfortably with our Saviour--------that she has been called home to a better place. We who are left will miss her and we grieve. Life won't be the same for any of us, but all of us who were privileged to know her have been made better by her sweetness. I thought and prayed for your mom often and sensed lately that things might be not good. I so wanted to share with her my joy in my hummingbirds this summer.

I lost my father in 1997, to Alzheimer's and my brother in law to liver disease in 2005. I know how hard it is to watch our loved ones go through pain, suffering and deterioration. May you find comfort in celebrating her life for she truly was special. May God fill the void from Hilda's absence with hope and special memories shared together.

For me, one source that I found comfort from was Isaiah 57:1-2 and from this unauthored poem, that I share with you.

God saw she was getting tired,
And a cure was not to be.
So he put his arms around her
And whispered, "Come to me."

With tearful eyes, we watched her
And saw her fade away.
Although we loved her dearly,
We could not make her stay.

A golden heart stopped beating,
Hard working hands at rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us,
He only takes the BEST.

Thanks so much for letting me know about your Mom. I treasure her memory and am thankful for my time with her. Feel free to email me anytime. Take care of each other and treasure your moments.

With prayer and love, Verona