Ulrich Ernst August Scheunemann, 90, formerly of Spring Hill, passed away on June 2, 2019 at Olathe Hospice House.
Ulrich’s life is an amazing story. Ulrich’s family never tired of hearing the stories of his life growing up in Germany, surrounded by many extended family members, the adversity all of his family members endured during and after the war, and his dream of coming to America.
Ulrich was born July 24, 1928 on a farm in Kordeshagen, Pomerania, Germany to Gerhard and Martha Schroeder Scheunemann. Pomerania was located in what is now northern Poland, bordering the Baltic Sea.
Kordeshagen was a small village with a school that Ulrich, and his three younger brothers attended, a bakery that he and his brothers often frequented after school, a grist mill, and a church where the boys were baptized. He walked the short distance to school, attending school four hours a day, six days a week. From an early age, he worked on the family farm after school each day.
In 1933, when Ulrich was five years old, Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany which forever changed the lives of Ulrich and his family. Some thought that Hitler would be their “Saviour” and times would be better. Instead, a totalitarian police state was established. This meant that new laws were put into place and strictly enforced, which impacted everyday life.
At the age of ten, all boys and girls were required to join the Hitler Youth Organization. Ulrich’s Father did not want Ulrich to join as he was not supportive of Hitler. Word got out that Ulrich was not a member and a local official came to visit Ulrich’s father to discuss this. Shortly afterward, Ulrich joined the Hitler Youth Organization. The boys wore brown shirts and black pants. They were required to attend several meetings each week. The youth learned about the political system and how to handle firearms. They participated in drills and maneuvers in the forest. This was all designed to prepare the youth for military service.
In December, 1944, at the age of 16, Ulrich left home as he was required to go into the army. His group went to Denmark for two months of basic training.
In March, 1945, the men in Ulrich’s village were notified that they had to register for military duty, bring food for three days plus two blankets and warm clothing. Ulrich’s Father and the men from his village were marched to a town 200 miles away in Germany to work on government farms.
In April of 1945, Ulrich and the members of his troop finished their basic training and boarded a train to return to Germany. Their train engine was strafed by gun fire from English airplanes, disabling the engine. The disabled engine was replaced and they continued on until they arrived at their destination in central Germany. He and his fellow soldiers had no food and raided farmers’ chicken houses at night, eating raw eggs, sleeping in barns and in the forest. Ulrich and his fellow soldiers knew they could be captured by the Americans or by the Russians at any moment. They heard many stories about the ill treatment by the Russians and preferred to be captured by the Americans. One day, Ulrich and his fellow soldiers were in the woods and discovered they were surrounded by American troops. They made a makeshift white flag and surrendered to American troops which ultimately saved their lives.
They were marched to a marketplace where they spent the night out in the open. The next day they were loaded onto trucks and taken to another marketplace. They were then transported by train to a large American prisoner of war camp. When they walked off of the train, they found themselves in a barbed wire enclosure, with 12-foot-high fences, in a farmer’s huge potato field. There were 120,000 prisoners in this camp located in western Germany, close to the Holland Belgium border.
Ulrich and his fellow prisoners slept out in the open in holes they dug in the ground with their bare hands. There was no shelter or dry clothes to change into after it rained. Their water supply was from a tank on stilts. If they were lucky, they received one meal a day of stewed tomatoes to prevent scurvy. Local villagers would sometimes try to sneak bread to the prisoners through the fence. Once in a while, the American soldiers guarding them would share their food with some of the prisoners
The war ended on May 7, 1945. The prisoners who had agriculture, street car or railroad experience were released in June, 1945. Ulrich was one of those released and chose to work on a farm in western Germany. He worked there for several months, then boarded a train, hoping to return to his home in Kordeshagen where his Mother and brothers were still living. He soon learned this was impossible as this region of Germany was given to Poland in the aftermath of World War II per the Potsdam Conference where the post war borders were determined and the border was closed. As a result, he traveled to his aunt’s home in eastern Germany where he was reunited with his Father following his release from the military.
Ulrich then got a job tearing down a liquid poisonous gas factory. The parts were sent to Russia. He and his Father also cut firewood for his aunt.
In May of 1946, after Ulrich’s Mother and his brothers tried for more than a year to leave their village, they finally received permission from the Polish government to leave their home in Kordeshagen. They packed a few items, went to a nearby rail station, and got on a cattle car to Koslin, a larger town west of Kordeshagen. After a few days, they boarded another cattle car that took them to West Germany. His Mother had learned that Ulrich and his Father were staying at an aunt’s house. Ulrich’s Mother gave a note to a train conductor to give to Ulrich’s Father, explaining that they were headed for West Germany. Ultimately, Ulrich’s Father received the note which was amazing given the breakdown in communications in Germany at that time.
Ulrich and his Father devised a plan to join the rest of the family. They took a train as far as they could go in East Germany and walked to a small village near the guarded border of East and West Germany. There was an open space with two large poles one eighth mile apart. This was called “No Man’s Land.” When the guards went to lunch, someone yelled that the guards were gone. Ulrich, his Father and other people who were in hiding in the forest ran across the border. The English guards on the West German side did not try to stop them.
From there, Ulrich and his father walked to another town, and took a train to St. Margaretin where they joined his Mother and his brothers. The family eventually moved to a 300-acre farm owned by a farmer in Bockum, in northern West Germany. Ulrich, his father and brothers worked on this farm where they lived in one room of a farm house.
Conditions were very poor in Germany and as a young man, Ulrich was anxious to move forward with his life. He wrote to an uncle who lived near Olathe to ask if he would sponsor him to come to America. Sponsorships such as this had been a tradition in the Scheunemann family for several generations. His uncle agreed to provide work for him on his farm and paid his fare to travel to the US via ship across the Atlantic Ocean.
After four years, Ulrich finally received his visa and passport. On July 31, 1950, with a ticket and money for his fare, he began his much-anticipated journey to the United States, starting in Rotterdam, Holland. He arrived in New York City 12 days later. Ulrich did not know any English words except hot dog and water. He took a train to Kansas City and began his new life in America. He lived with his Uncle Ole Scheuneman and family and worked on their Olathe farm for two years.
His cousin, Ruth, helped him to learn English by reading the newspaper. Everyone who knew Ulrich understood his determination to become an American citizen.
In 1952, he landed a job with the terminal railroad at the Kansas City Union Station where he worked for 15 years.
In 1953, Ulrich and Joy married following her graduation from nursing school and over the next seven years, welcomed three daughters to their family.
In 1955, Ulrich proudly became a United States citizen. It cost him all of $25.
In 1960, Ulrich and Joy bought a farm near Spring Hill which they lovingly owned for 55 years. They raised beef cattle for over 40 years.
In 1967, he began working for the Delco Battery Plant in Olathe as a millwright. He was a member of the United Auto Workers union and retired after 25 years of service.
His beloved homeland of Pomerania was very dear to his heart. He helped his family understand how difficult it was for the German people and his family during and after the war, with little food to eat, money that held no value, and few jobs to be found.
It was very important to him to own his farm, which could never be taken from him as his Father’s farm had been taken from the family during the war.
(Submitted story)