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Ellis man describes life in Nazi Germany

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Most people have seen movies depicting World War II, but few have heard what it was like growing up in Germany during that time.

Fritz Kramer, Ellis, told 15 students at The Learning Center of Ellis County about being held at gunpoint five times, being beaten and eluding capture as a teenager in eastern Germany in the early 1940s.

Kramer's speech Friday morning was part of the "Victory in Europe Day" and honor flight presentation facilitated by teacher Sondra Hickert.

In the years immediately after the war, Kramer lost contract with his family -- his father, mother and sister -- for weeks at a time as he traveled the country looking for a safe haven.

His introduction to the war came one morning in 1939 when he was 10. While playing in the yard, he and his sister heard what turned out to be dive bombers flying to Poland.

"Hitler was already pretty powerful," Kramer said. "We were always told the Germans are the greatest, the super race. ... Every time we opened a newspaper, we were told that."

However, Kramer said he quickly learned he was just like the rest of humanity.

He didn't know about the Holocaust as a child, he said, and didn't think most Germans, including his parents, knew.

"If they did, they were scared to talk about it," Kramer said.

Though he suffered at the hands of the occupying troops, he was quick to point out he harbors no ill will toward any group.

"There are good and bad people all over the world," Kramer said. "I hope this helps you learn that people are people."

While The Learning Center students earned extra credit for attending the event, Kramer brought the history books alive for the students.

"There's a lot to take in," said Lauren Schulte, a student. "It gave it a little more meaning."

Theresa Ehrlich agreed Kramer gave her a lot to think about.

"I hope I gave you a little picture of what it was like," Kramer said. "It was hell."

Kramer's parents were Seventh Day Adventists, and that organization helped refugees emigrate to the United States. Kramer came in 1951, his sister in 1952 and his parents in 1955.

"They didn't let us come together. I don't know why," he said.

Kramer worked on a farm near Nekoma, south of La Crosse, for a few months before coming to Fort Hays State College.

After two years of college, he taught for a year in Liberal.

He was drafted into the U.S. Army shortly after returning to college. He served in Germany for three years as an interpreter in the American headquarters in Frankfort.

"I really enjoyed it that time because I had American money and spoke both languages," Kramer said.

After his Army stint, he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees. He taught music in Hutchinson and Hays before retiring.