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Family Letters Tell A True Immigrant Story

By: Claire Ohlsson Geheb

When cleaning out his father's apartment, John Geheb found an old suitcase filled with letters and a box filled with photos and documents. When John and his wife, Claire Geheb, examined the contents, they found that all the letters were in the old German script. This is very difficult to read today even by fluent German speakers. After attempting to get the letters translated with no success, the letters, documents, and photos were once again put away. In 2013, Claire decided to make a final attempt to find a translator. Using the internet, she found a translator in Houston, Texas who was willing to take on the project. The translations unlocked the past as they took John and Claire back in time from 1914 to 1947 in Germany and in America. Teen journals were also translated and told the story of a 14 to 18 year old German boy who longed for adventure and also loved his family. The photos with no names on them eventually were coordinated with the letters and gave faces to the storytellers.

John's father, Willy Oswald Geheb, was born in Schmirma, Germany in 1900. In 1914, he graduated from grammar school, started his blacksmith apprenticeship, and started a journal. In the journal, Willy wrote about his impressions of the First World War, his apprenticeship as a blacksmith, and his longings for adventure. 1923, Willy, the fourth of eight children, left Germany to seek adventure, find success, and provide for the family he left behind. Through letters, sent to and from family in Germany from 1923 to 1947, a true story about a devoted family unfolded. The story told of Willy's immigration to Brazil and Mexico and finally to Chicago. The German Geheb family wrote about their struggles through the difficult years in Germany during the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazis and Adolph Hitler, World War Two, and the aftermath of the war.

Although living thousands of miles away, Willy never broke the bond with his German family. He continually sent money and packages of necessities to help them through their struggles. Willy's love of family and strong values were instilled into the Geheb family which he and his wife, Irma, created in Chicago, Illinois. Willy's legacy is a growing family of fifty-three Gehebs. Willy also left a rich family history for the American Gehebs and gave them an understanding of their roots. They can now step back in time and understand how dates may change but our human spirit and desire for a better life never does. This is actually a story for all Americans.

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