Strangers saved Bay-area family from starving after WWII - WFLA News Channel 8

Strangers saved Bay-area family from starving after WWII

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PALM HARBOR - At 73, Werner Haasch has lived a pretty darn full life. The German native ran a successful car repair business for years. He's traveled the country in a Volkswagen van. He met the love of his life. They had two children; four grandchildren. Laughs and smiles fill the Haasch home in Palm Harbor.

But there was a time when Werner didn't know if he would make it to the next day.

It was 1945. He was 6 years-old. World War II was just ending and soldiers forced him and his family off of their farm in Germany.

"The Polish knocked on the door with their guns and gave us 20 minutes to leave our farm," he said. "My youngest brother was only 2 days old."

His mother, Alma, had four sons to take care of now. The refugees walked 130 miles and survived by eating grass for three days.

In the months to come, as the family finally settled in another town in Germany, it was hard to make ends meet.

"You had to beg for food," Werner said. "You had to beg for everything."

There were times when even the leftovers from the farms were hard to come by.

"One time I was so hungry I ate some tulip bulbs which made me very very sick and I almost died [because] of it," Werner said.

From the 15 by 15 house they were staying in, Werner's mother - so desperate - wrote to an old friend in the United States. She didn't know that friend had died. But somehow - call it fate if you will - the post office forwarded that letter to another family by the same name nearly an hour away: The Radtke family on a small dairy farm in Marion, Wisconsin. Ernst and Marcella. They didn't have much. What they did have was blind generosity.

"My parents lived through the depression so I believe they knew what it was like not to have anything," said Jim Radtke, the son of Ernst and Marcella.

Starting in 1947 through 1951, the Radtke family sent care packages to the mother and four sons they'd never once met.

"They sent us coffee; they sent us Spam," Werner said.

Soap came but the family would sometimes have to exchange for food. Material would come so Alma could make the boy's clothes.

"If they wouldn't have done that ... I probably wouldn't be here today," Werner said.

Both families have kept in contact for years. Jim Radtke and his wife were in town this week to visit Werner's family.Ernst died in 1963 but Werner got to personally meet Marcella in Wisconsin before she died in 1985.

"I could only say thank you," he said with tears in his eyes. "They came from heaven. I know there are still good people in this World."

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