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Hospital volunteer remembers struggles
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Still having a longing for the country of her birth, Elizabeth Wilson shows magazine pages of present day Germany that contrast the war-torn country she knew as a girl and young woman. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Elizabeth Wilson is a special, caring person - just ask the patients the 93-year-old serves one day a week at Doctors Hospital of Manteca.

She never saw the need to learn to drive and is picked up at her home every week and taken to the hospital by another senior volunteer Richard Norwood.  As any true gentleman would, he makes sure she has a ride home at the end of her shift.

A native of Germany, she is something of a walking history book recalling the war torn years when she was in her early 20s. She was born in Munich in a small room in her home and because of that she is without a birth certificate.

She remembers her father buying a couple acres some 12 miles out of Munich where she labored every day after school as a young girl.  They had about 60 rabbits that she cared for daily along with working in their garden, cutting wood and helping her mother with chores.    

Every Friday her dad would kill a rabbit and that would be the main course of their weekend meal, she recalled.  After finishing the seventh grade, she was transferred to a convent school run by nuns where she studied bookkeeping, shorthand and Oxford English.

Elizabeth – as she is fondly called at the hospital – clearly remembers the start of the war when Germany invaded Austria in 1938 and two years later when German troops took over Poland.

She said she was employed by the government and worked with a good friend who asked to be transferred to Krakau in Poland because of a secret pregnancy. Wilson said once her friend was familiar with her new job she asked her to join her saying she liked the area and her new employment.

It was within a couple months that Wilson made the move. She felt it had been to her good fortune to find a job that she enjoyed even though it was far from home. 

“But one day I saw the Nazis looking for Jewish people.  They took them and hanged them up on light poles in the city for a day for people to see.  After I saw this I wished I had stayed in Germany,” she recalled.

The woman she was living with in Krakau was a Jewish doctor who had sent her husband out shopping one day and he never returned home.   He was believed to have been lost at the hands of German soldiers.

Her friend she had followed to Poland added to the complexity of her memories after she had become pregnant and finding a “nice couple” to give her lodging.  She noted that a boyfriend expressed his devout love for her and wanted to marry her friend – but he was already married with a wife and seven children.

After being turned down, he visited her early one morning while she was sleeping and shot her in her bed and then turned the gun on himself.  They baby was sent back to Germany to be cared for by her mother.

Three months later she was transferred to a school position in the Ukraine.  She said the jobs in the government were soon non-existent, because of the war but she made it to Holland and found another job.  Soon after the office where she worked was bombed and the staff got out just before it collapsed and they moved to another building.

The war was not enough of a negative in her life as her tonsils became infected and doctors said they had to come out.

“They sent me back to Germany to a hospital where they told me to sit down in a chair and open my mouth.  They gave me a shot – told me to open my mouth – and they took them out just like that,” she said.

Wilson moments later overheard an office worker tell an officer how to get to the train station where a train would get him to Munich.

“I told him,  ‘me too, ’ and he said there was a train leaving that night at 8 p.m.  So we got to the train but for only 60 miles,” she said.

All of the rail lines had been destroyed by bombs and the two of them had to walk about 150 miles, she noted. 

“It took use 13 days to get to Munich.  He slept in our house for two days but he had to go 30 more miles to get to his home.  He told me he would write me but I never heard from him again.”

She said it was a long time before she could find another job near her home. That was in a military dining hall for the soldiers where she went to work cleaning the facility every day.  Later she got a job in a military post office and yet later in a claims office.

She met her future husband while she was walking home in the rain one evening.  An American Jeep stopped the driver asked her if she wanted a ride with one of two soldiers promising to take her wherever she needed to go.  At first she declined the offer, but the soldier told her she didn’t have to worry.  

Wilson said she accepted the ride and a month later the soldier came back by her home and then every Saturday that followed.  He finally proposed and they were married six months later.

Her husband was transferred to a post about 20 miles north of San Francisco.  But after a year he was reassigned back to Germany for three years. 

“We had a wonderful time,” she chimed.  “He retired after 24 years in the Air Force.  It was the best time for me.”

Her husband passed away in 2003. She now spends her quality time at the hospital and with her daughter and granddaughter and great-grandchildren.

Wilson’s father was a musician with some seven or eight violins that he had collected.  He had given her one that bore the inscription of England, 1885, on the inside of the body.  It was stolen from her home in a burglary in Manteca a number of years ago but she still hopes that someday it might be returned to her.

She is confident that the violin is in someone’s hands in the community – a keepsake that was very important to her.  The value is unknown but it was definitely an antique, she said.  The 93-year-old member of the hospital auxiliary still continues to play the organ in her family room for her own entertainment.