Ernestine Pieper, 90, recalls fleeing Russian bombardments in WWII
I had the opportunity recently to chat with 90-year-old Ernestine Koller Pieper of East Wenatchee and she told me about how she fled from her home in Budapest, Hungary during World War II to escape from the advancing Russian Army’s bombardment. It’s quite a story.
Ernestine’s family was split up in three groups. Ernestine left her home in November of 1944 with classmates from her school headed by train to Austria by way of Czechoslovakia in November of 1944. At one point, she said, they had to disembark and hide in nearby fields for fear of an air attack. Ernestine’s mother and two sisters left Hungary in early December and headed to Austria.
Her father stayed behind in Budapest to look after the family home. Against his will, he was forced to entertain Russian troops, she told me. He discovered he was to be shipped to Siberia, and he was able to bribe a guard and make his escape.
The family was reunited in Zell am See Austrai in early 1946. The family also brought an orphaned 10-year-old Romanian boy with them on the journey. Her folks started a knitting business and her father was an entertainer, playing the harmonica and accordion. She said so many families were torn apart during the war that she feels extremely fortunate that her family was able to reconnect so easily. “God’s been there working his miracles,” she told me.
While she was working for the U.S. military in Zell am See, she met her future husband, who was a soldier attached to an engineering company. Later she found a family in Baltimore to sponsor her move to the United States and later she joined her husband-to-be in Florida. She looks back at her flight from the war zone and says she didn’t have any idea of the danger. Ernestine moved to the Wenatchee Valley in the 1960s. At one point, she was the president of the local Newcomers Club and she was a long-time member of the Wenatchee Swim and Tennis Club.
Ernestine is the last of her generation that fled from the fighting during World War II, but she remembers it as vividly as if it happened yesterday. The last of her schoolmates who fled the Soviet advance passed last year.
In the 1990s, Ernestine took her granddaughter, Jenni Hakensen of Wenatchee, to Hungary. Hakensen, who described her grandmother as a “total spitfire” said during the trip she was reimbursed for the land that was confiscated during the war. “It wasn’t much, but it gave a little closure to her,” Hakensen recalled.