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Life’s Journey of a Refugee

Synopsis

"Life’s Journey of a Refugee" is a unique voyage from the cauldron of early 20th-century ethnic cleansing to the melting-pot of the mid-century American Dream, from the wrong side of World War II through the gang wars of 1950’s Brooklyn and the triumph and tragedies of postwar America.

For six hundred years, the Catholic Land of Gottschee has endured as a remote outpost of the House of Austria, the outermost point of the Holy Roman Empire, a “linguistic island” of medieval German in present-day Slovenia. It has withstood the Bosnian Warlord and Napoleon, but German catastrophe in World War I brings ethnic tension with the local Slavs to a simmer, hastening the exodus of educated Gottscheers.

Edwin Stalzer is born at the boiling point, the moment of Gottschee’s final tragedy. Deluding themselves that they can escape persecution by “reuniting” with the Third Reich, Gottscheers are multiply betrayed by Hitler, who trades their ancestral farms away to the Italians while resettling them not in Germany, but on stolen Styrian land.

Forced to be both robbed and robber, Ed’s people must defend themselves as long as they can against the rage of Tito’s partisans and the Allies. His childhood intermingles harsh realities of rural life, Nazi politics, air raid and guerrilla war with sacred moments of idyll and holiday, until Gottschee is driven into penniless exile. Ed’s life is spared only because of his father’s extraordinary empathy with the wronged Slavs, braving the punishment of forced conscription to the Russian front.

Gottscheers are ordered to Austria on the last days of the Third Reich, on a nightmare wagon train delivering them into the hands of incensed Yugoslav fighters. Ed and his mother and brother witness atrocity and nobility as they escape through the Russian zone of Austria into the grim world of the refugee camps.

Only the strongest can both survive and escape the hellish winters without resources of privacy in this parallel universe outside the Austrian mainstream, where at the age of seven, Ed must play co-breadwinner by hustling scrap metal and fruit. The conquest of shoeless poverty will eventually prove the key to American triumph.

Ed’s father masquerades as a Slovenian to gain release from the Siberian mines, miraculously reappearing to found a master cooper’s shop in Camp 5. Ed must become salesman and bookkeeper while winning over his Austrian schoolmates. Moving ever closer to integration within Austrian social and church life, the family gains the self-sufficiency to attempt emigration to America, the magical sylvan land Ed has come to love through the works of Karl May.

Barely making the last cut, the family endures a nauseating ocean crossing. Ed falls in love with America for life, but the family is stuck in the home of the pigheaded Uncle John. Discovering that prejudice and suspicion are part of the New World, too, Ed must combine superior achievement with the will to fight.

Fooled by Uncle John, the family moves to the mean streets of Brooklyn, where Ed is to learn the facts of American life and business, from gang etiquette to love to sales management. From a refugee childhood he has forged an identity as the first American graduate in his family.

Love of America takes Ed into the US Army and back in triumph to occupied Germany, where he flirts with the demimonde and the black market, finally meeting his bride in the social whirl of his role as interpreter to the colorful alcoholic base commander.

Returning to New York for the sixties, for business a-go-go and the Human Potential Movement, Ed achieves his greatest triumphs yet. But clouds are mounting for the new marital and spiritual wars which will make him a kind of refugee old Gottschee never knew.

Five stars on Amazon.com! "An historical gem"!

"Laugh and cry as you face unimaginable horrors through Stalzer’s eyes—from the other socio-political side of World War II. Revel in the grace Gottscheer refugee’s held fast to, as they were: starved, attacked and relocated—repeatedly. Experience history, and the horrors we human’s perpetrate against each other through the eyes of seven year old Stalzer, whose first person accounts are both chilling and uplifting as you experience his unique and intrinsic compassion and strength."
--Reviewed by Kate St.Amour at BookReview.com