One local citizen’s journey from the Coal Mines of Germany to America
The Statue of Liberty stood gleaming in the harbor, a sight for sore eyes. The year was 1959, and Baldur had finally arrived in New York after several weeks at sea, as he journeyed to America, the land of opportunity. Lady Liberty was a symbol of hope, a beacon of light, after a period of hardship.
He had survived a difficult childhood. Born in Europe at the beginning of WWII, his earliest memories were of air raids and bomb shelters. The bombings in his city were frequent and intense, and once the neighbor’s house was destroyed, the family packed up and moved to the countryside. His mother made the best of the circumstances, giving the kids a special treat of potato pancakes on their birthday and a piece of fresh fruit on Christmas. Tragically, his mother died of cancer at the age of 46, leaving behind her husband and their five children. Baldur was only 11 when his mother passed, and his younger siblings were only 5 and 8 years old. The family struggled over the next few years. As the eldest son, Baldur was required to work to help pay the bills and support the family. So he packed up and left for the coal mines. He was only 14 years old.
Baldur left home and went to the Ruhr Valley of Northern Germany, to work as a coal miner. The working conditions were dangerous and extremely difficult. It was hard labor. The men worked in a crawl space, hammering blocks of coal on their knees. Deep in the mines he worked, hour after hour, day after day. Hundreds of feet down in the earth, far from heaven, and too close to hell. No blue skies, no fresh air. One time, there was a collapse, and he and four others were trapped for several hours. Fortunately, they were rescued.
Baldur worked in the coal mines for a total of four years. Encouraged by his older sisters, he left Germany and joined them in the U.S. So he hopped on a ship and left for New York, hoping to start a better life for himself. His sister and brother-in-law put him up for a short while. First, he tried to join the U.S. Air Force, to serve his adoptive country, but was ineligible because of a minor medical condition. He soon found steady work as a busboy. At Luchow’s Steak House, he impressed the manager and was quickly promoted to waiter. He got a job at the newly built Hilton Hotel in Midtown, where he would eventually work for a total of thirty-five years. He moved up the ranks and became a senior banquet captain. He was very loyal and dedicated. The hotel named him Employee of the Year, and Employee of the Corporation – rewarding him with a trip to Hawaii all expenses paid.
He enjoyed his job immensely. He oversaw the elegant parties attended by New York’s elite, movie stars and presidents. He was acquainted with Grace Kelly, Joan Collins, and Elvis Presley to name a few. He met each President from John F. Kennedy to President-elect Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump even offered him a job at Trump Tower, noticing his efficient and diligent work ethic. Although Baldur was proud of his accomplishments at work, he is most proud of his marriage and his family.
He met the love of his life, Ruth, at a dance club on the Upper East Side. They shared a connection, both coming to America from war-torn Europe. Together they have made a wonderful life. They had three daughters, who have blessed them with seven grandchildren. They have lived in Middle Village for a total of fifty years.
In addition to their primary residence in Queens, they have maintained a country house in Sullivan County for over forty years. Ruth tends to the flower garden, and Baldur mows the six acre spread himself, to this day. Their girls, and now their grandkids, love the park-like property, and the entire family spend lots of time there over the summer. It has been quite a journey.
As Helen Keller once said, the world is full of hardship, but it is also full of overcoming of it.