Charlotte Sauer Liebig was born to a German family living in Poland. But ask her today what nationality she considers herself, and she has no doubts.
“American. Absolutely,” she said firmly.
The 85-year-old Westlake resident recently published an account of her life story through Tate Publishing, which offers services to authors seeking to publish their books. Entitled “From Firing Squad to Living the American Dream,” the 146-page book details her experiences from the chaos of World War II Europe to the paranoia of life in East Germany behind the Iron Curtain to a prosperous family life in America. The book can be purchased from Amazon or Tate Publishing’s websites.
Liebig said the inspiration for writing the book was her four sons – Reinbardt, Thomas, Christopher and Juergen.
“I told them all the stories of my life,” she said, “and they said, ‘Why don’t you write them down in a book?’”
Nine-year-old Charlotte spoke no German, only Polish, when Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. In the months leading up to that historic date, some of her Polish friends began treating her and her family differently, she recalled. Some boys called her “You Hitler.”
When her village was ordered to evacuate and head east toward the Russian border, the wagon she and her mother had been on just moments before was destroyed by German fighter planes.
Later, while visiting her uncle’s house, Polish soldiers burst into the house and accused her relative of hiding German soldiers.
“They took the whole family, including us, outside and lined us up at the wall,” she recalled in her book. “I will never forget standing at the wall, hearing the whistling sound of bullets flying through the courtyard.”
But a few moments later, a larger number of German soldiers arrived and forced the Polish forces to surrender.
Liebig attributes her survival from numerous brushes with death to the grace of God.
“I cannot believe at times I’m still here,” she told West Life.
Toward the end of the war, Liebig and her mother were forced to evacuate westward into Germany as the Russian army advanced. She credits her mother’s steadfastness and determination for their survival during the difficult postwar years.
Liebig said she received a good education at Martin Luther University in Halle, where she studied medicine and also met her future husband, Hans.
“Otherwise, it was very depressing to grow up in East Germany,” she said.
“No freedom,” she replied. Education isn’t worth much if one can’t say what one thinks, she explained.
An uncle who was living in the United States helped the Liebigs move across the Atlantic. First, her mother moved to West Germany, then America, in 1954. “The East German government was pleased when elderly people left their country,” Liebig wrote in her book. “They were considered a financial drain because they were not productive anymore.”
In 1958, Charlotte and Hans defected to East Berlin. To get past the East German police, they traveled separately, each with one of their two young children they had at the time. Nearly a year passed before they received permission to emigrate to the U.S., where Hans had a successful career as an architect.
Liebig had earlier abandoned her goal of becoming a physician to raise her four boys.
“I chose the best for the family, not for me,” she explained, adding that she has no regrets about her decision. She said she admires working women but adds they shouldn’t look down on homemakers.
Liebig said her book also offers some pop psychology insights on parent-child relationships. During her childhood, she was a tomboy, she recalled. She explained that she was often rebellious at times because she sought attention, which sometimes came in the form of punishment, from her busy mother.
The lesson of Liebig’s life story, she said, is this: “Don’t ever get discouraged. Believe in yourself. Strive and don’t give up.”