Geraldine Kraupner was born in Roudnice nad Labem, a small town about 40 miles north of Prague. Her father was a chemist while her mother was a seamstress who worked with her grandmother. Geraldine says it was her intention to attend business school, but that most schools were closed as a result of the Nazi occupation when she was old enough to attend. Instead, Geraldine began working at a Bat’a shoe store in Roudnice. Although she remembers little entertainment being available for young adults during WWII, Geraldine enjoyed going to the movies each week. Terezín concentration camp was not too far from Roudnice and, at the end of the War, Geraldine spent two weeks volunteering there for the Red Cross. She says the experience, especially witnessing the state of the survivors, is “something [she] will never forget.”
In 1949, Geraldine’s future husband, Boris Kraupner, was worried that he would be arrested and crossed the border. A short time later, he arranged for Geraldine to join him in Germany. With the help of a guide, on the night of July 31, 1949, Geraldine and several other people hid in a farmer’s truck and crossed the border near Aš. She and Boris, who married later that year, spent the next seven years in refugee camps in Germany including Ludwigsburg, Bamburg, and Stuttgart. Geraldine recalls keeping up holiday traditions with other Czech families. While in Germany, Geraldine gave birth to two children, a daughter in 1950 and a son in 1953. In 1956, the Kraupners received an affidavit from their sponsors (a family living near Chicago) and they arrived in Evanston, Illinois, in late November. Soon after, the Kraupners moved to Chicago where they stayed for a few years before buying land and building their own house in Round Lake Beach. Boris began working as a mechanical engineer for Sargent & Lundy, an engineering firm that designed power stations, and Geraldine’s first job was packaging note cards in a shop. She held several jobs over the years, including working in a school cafeteria, selling linens at Carson’s, and sorting mail at Sargent & Lundy. Geraldine and Boris had two more children, a son and a daughter.
The Kraupners met other Czech families and joined the Stefanik branch of the Czechoslovak National Council of America. Geraldine says they continued Czech traditions, especially during the holidays, and brought up their children speaking Czech. Geraldine has been back to the Czech Republic several times, and has participated in Sokol slets while there. Today, she lives in Forest Park, Illinois.
“The situation got so bad, they asked people to volunteer and go to Theresienstadt and help them over there. So there was a group of us – I was working at Bat’a – there was about four of us girls. We decided we’d go there to see the people – I don’t even want to think about it – how they looked. Skinny, laying outside. It was summertime, it was nice and warm. They let them lay outside, they tried to do as much as they could, our Red Cross, for them to get well. People were sending food, clothes, everything so we had to take care of it, open it, and there were people, nurses, who took the food or the clothing to the people. So we spent about two weeks in Theresienstadt helping them. We were more or less in the kitchen, helping prepare the food, the meals. We didn’t get in direct contact with them because sometimes they had a problem that only nurses could take care of. They worried about us not to get the problem, not to get ill too.”
Crossing the Border
“Today, the people that went [with me], I’m still in touch. We see each other. They live in Cleveland; we remember those times. When we went to Germany, we lived in Germany in the same town because the U.S. Army built the buildings for us, so we were in one area always together. We tried to keep our holidays, our football [soccer] games like at home. We tried to do the best we can because ‘Oh maybe we might go home soon, we might go home,’ but it never happened.”
Making Extra Money
“They were selling fabrics – I don’t know if you’ve heard that somebody did this – but there was a guy and he had money, it was a Czech guy, and he had money and he had a car, and he used to go to the factory where they make fabrics, like maybe for suits or coats or whatever. And the remnants, they couldn’t get rid of it, so our people went and they bought it for less money and then they went from one village to another, house to house, and tried to sell the product. They got pretty lucky sometimes. Of course, you put a higher price so you could have money, and another was you had to pay the guy who had the car, you had to pay him for the transportation. So that’s what my husband did for a short time.”
Czech National Council of America
“We always had some program, some entertainment, especially when we had a special occasion happen in the Czech Republic. We celebrated Masaryk or Beneš, or we always had some entertainment to bring us back home. Or, this guy had maybe visited Czech Republic, so they talked about it. It was just culture, we had entertainment too. My husband was very much involved.”