Johanna Hauer

From WikiMarion
Jump to: navigation, search

"America was everything," responded Johanna Hauer when asked why her and her family came to the U.S. from Europe in 1925. Johanna, a Marion resident, will be celebrating her 100th birthday come July. She has witnessed a century's worth of history, and her story holds true to that. Johanna's account of coming to America from Europe gives personal insight to the integration of cultures that makes America the "melting pot" it is today and also represents the diversity of people that Marion is composed of.

Birth in East Prussia

Johanna was born on July 13, 1909 in Plock, East Prussia (which would become part of Poland after the first World War.) Her parents, Frederick Giergens and Julianna Zemerau had an arranged marriage and Frederick was ten years older than Julianna. He was a farmer while her mother, Julianna stayed at home with Johanna and her two sisters, Wanda and Kunigunda. Johanna's family was very poor so in 1913, Frederick moved to America in search of opportunity for the family. Julianna was pregnant with another girl at the time, Lindja.

Word War I

World War I soon broke out in Europe and Frederick could not contact his family. Johanna has vivid memories of the war. One of her recollections is of the day the Russian soldiers crossed the border and came into her village. "They had such grand uniforms and all were on horseback," she remembers. The soldiers wanted food, but Johanna and her family had none to offer. Despite the lack of food, a dozen soldiers still brought in bales of hay to stay the night, and they slept on the floor. She recalls that the Russians were kind and "gentle with children", but it was rumored that they were going to send the people of her village to Siberia. With that in mind, one night while the soldiers were at a local tavern partying, most of Johanna's village escaped to the other side of the bordering lake. Johanna recalls being woke up with her sisters in the night by her mother. She was told to pack only what she needed into two bags. They walked to the shore of the lake by her village where two flat-bottomed boats were waiting for them. They loaded all their bundles and boarded, but Johanna was left on the shore while the boats started to leave. She remembered she was not supposed to say a word and was obedient. She recalls being very scared, but luckily her absence was noticed and the boat returned for her. The German army on the other side of the lake greeted them warmly and welcomed them all. They stayed the night in a barn and were given food the next day. Johanna, her mother and sisters, along with two other families then moved into an empty house. The farmer who owned the residence informed them they could stay as long as they desired. Later, Johanna was informed that the villagers who had not escaped were taken to Siberia. The German army forced the Russians to retreat, but Johanna and her family decided to stay at the farmer's house over the winter.

They returned to the village in 1915 only to find it devastated by fire. Their home was gutted by the fire. There was no furniture and all the windows were broken. They had to sleep on the floor, and they planted a garden for food. The government supplied them with a few pounds of grain every month.

When the war was over, some people from the village built a one-room house for Johanna's family. This home was not big enough for all of them so Wanda went to live with an aunt and Johanna was placed in a foster home where the people needed help. She milked the cows, gathered wood, did the laundry, and other household chores. She was only six at the time. She attended a Lutheran school house where she learned to read out of the Bible. Johanna eventually confirmed in the Lutheran faith when she was 13. At the age of 14, she lived with two elderly people who needed her assistance. Johanna's mother earned money by farming and weaving baskets.

During this time, Johanna spent much of her youth in Poland. She recalls all the fun she would have with her sisters and the games they would play. During the winters they would walk in the snow in their wooden shoes so it would stick to the bottom and they would become taller. The game ended when one of them would fall over. They would ride in hay wagons to go work on farms to earn money for the family. Johanna remembers picking sugar beets, making plum jelly with some of the Jewish families in her village, and drying fruit out on the farm.

Emigration to America

In the U.S., Frederick had again established contact with his family in 1925. He sent tickets to them so they could come live with him in Chicago. She had spent sixteen years in Europe and was now going to begin a new chapter of her life in America.

They boarded the S.S. George Washington in Bremen, Germany. Her destination was Ellis Island, New York. She was excited to begin her new life in America and to see her father again. She arrived at Ellis Island on July 22, 1925. She remembers everyone receiving physicals before leaving the ship. "They all had bugs from the trip," she recalls. After getting off the boat, she went and climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty. "You could brag about it," she said. Looking out over the New York harbor, she saw an unfamiliar world, full of opportunity.

Johanna traveled with her mother and sisters from New York to Chicago by train and reunited Frederick where they lived in a two bedroom flat. At first, the adaption to the American way of life was rough. She worked cleaning houses while attending classes at night to learn English. It was during these classes that she met her future husband, Albert Hauer.

Husband Albert

Albert was from Mannheim, Germany, and painted signs for the U.S. Steel Corporation. She remembers that their wedding was the "hurry-up" kind. "We didn't have the time or the money for anything fancy," she said. They had two children, Delores and Jacquelyn. The family lived in the south side of Chicago for about fifteen years and then bought a farm on highway 30 near Crown Point, Indiana with the money Johanna's father had left her. Now that they lived in the country, Albert did all the driving. Johanna would never learn to drive a car, but according to her granddaughter, frequently instructs others on how to operate a vehicle. Johanna grew lots of gardens and raised chickens and turkeys in order to send the children to college. She also planted Christmas trees along their long driveway to earn extra money.

In 1973, Johanna and Albert bought a retirement home in Kissimmee, Florida. They would vacation there during the winters. It was in Florida where Johanna would learn to ride a bike for the first time. She was in her sixties. "We could never afford the luxury of a bike when I was younger," she said. Better late than never.

Coming to Marion

After Albert died in 1976, Johanna moved to Marion, Indiana to be closer to Delores. Jacquelyn lives in Marcellus, New York. Johanna began to attend St. James Lutheran Church and still does today. She loves to cook and participated in the authoring of the church cookbook. She provided it with congregationally acclaimed recipes for her glazed fresh apple cookies, honey crunch cookies, dilly crackers, and caramel graham crackers. Johanna also likes to quilt when she can.


Johanna Hauer currently lives at the Sterling House on Miller Avenue. She enjoys the company of her two grandchildren, Pam Atkinson and Tom Sisson. At the age of 99 her eyes have began to fail her, but not her mind. She remembers details from her life that provide a valuable understanding of the mixture of cultures in America. Her firsthand account of immigrating to America is an amazing life story and proves that Marion truly is a fascinating place to live and also learn: you just have to know where to look.

Works Cited

  • "Johanna Hauer-Biographical Essay." Personal interview. 10 May 2009.


This article was written by Matt Cline and submitted to Mr. Munn's IU US History class on May 19, 2009.