WAYLAND — Imagine setting off across the ocean to meet family you have never known, only to become a prisoner who is tormented for years.
Marlies Adams DiFante, author of "Queen of the Bremen: The true story of an American child trapped in Germany during WWII" is coming to the Wayland Historical Society on April 28 at 2 p.m. to talk about her brave seven year trial in the heart of a war torn country.
DiFante talked with Genesee Country Express about the famous autobiography that tells her story along with her parents John and Elizabeth, big brother Peter, and little brother Johnny. The parents originated from Germany and moved to Naples, N.Y. The children were born in America, and had never met their German family members.
DiFante said that the happy memories are the ones she tends to hold onto now, but when she was small her memories were not so happy.
“What happened to me in 1939 is a time I would not wish on anyone. I never intended on turning my story into a book. I was planning on making tapes for my kids to show my grandkids someday,” she said. “I had a daughter-in-law who wanted to use my story for her college paper. She asked me one Christmas if she could use it for her college thesis. I told her no since it would be put into a public library, and I would lose the rights to my own story. I would not allow that to happen.”
The story did not come out until after both of her parents passed away, and this was because it would break their hearts.
“When I was forced to live with my aunt in Germany for a whole year my life was hell on earth. My parents had sent me there, and I thought they did not want me anymore,” she said. “I wrote letters to my mother all year long, and my aunt had hidden my mother’s letters to me. My mother wondered why I was not writing. My aunt took me outside one day and told me I was not getting letters, because the planes that flew over the village had dropped bombs on my parents and brother. She told me they were dead.”
By the time DiFante ended up with her aunt, she was just eight years old. She had been five years old when the family went on a ship to Germany. This event took place in 1939 since Elizabeth was pregnant with little Johnny, and was very homesick for Germany. The doctor told them to go back to Germany for the sake of the mother and her child. The last time Difante was happy was on The Bremen when her brother Peter and she were named the King and Queen of Bremen. What would happen after that until she was 13 years old would be a living nightmare.
Hitler had made orders to take the food from the farmers to feed the Nazi Party. That meant that the farmers could only have one pig a year to feed the family. If they joined the Nazi Party they could have all the food they wanted, and this was a strong incentive to many to join. They were offered meat, bread, butter, and all the best foods.
“I knew the first time I saw my aunt that she was like a witch, and she intended to destroy me. She hated my father for giving up his citizenship to Germany. She belonged to the Nazi Party and was an informant in the village,” DiFante said. “She would inform on all the people in the village. That is why everyone in the village hated her. She kept me in the barn, and my only friend was a cow. I was only allowed to eat fried potatoes and sour milk. She would take leftovers to the pigs, and they would eat better than me.”
DiFante finally left that horrible aunt a year later, and wanted to take the cow with her. She couldn’t take the cow, and always felt bad leaving it behind. She went back to her grandmother’s place, and was with her big brother again.
When they came back to Naples it was a sad time for the family, because they had to leave Elizabeth behind in Germany for a whole year longer. They did all they could to raise money to bring her home. Difante and her brother, Peter, would work picking berries for money.
DiFante talked about saving enough money to buy her mother a nice pair of shoes from a catalog, and when she got the call her mother was finally back home she ran all the way there with the box of shoes.
“I am so proud to be American. There is no place on earth like America. I love everything about it. There is freedom to say what you want here. The German people had no freedom to do anything. Freedom is a true gift, and when I hear anyone say anything bad about America I get so angry,” DiFante said. “You don’t understand that what you have here is so special. You don’t get this anywhere else in the world. The freedom we have here is worth more than gold. You can go to school where you want, church where you want, live where you want, love who you want, and it is truly unbelievable what we have. We can’t let it be taken away.”
DiFante lives in Rochester with her husband Dominic DiFante, and they have four children, Kathy, David, Tony, and Tommy.
DiFante has added another section to her book on forgiveness after she learned to forgive her evil aunt for all the pain she caused. She has her latest edition available for $20. You can email her for a signed copy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Her book without the extra chapter is available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.