by Judith Willis, Guest Columnist - Lexington Progress October 16, 2013

The M.S. Gripsholm - A Swedish Vessel with a boatload of refugees
Realizing the "American Dream"

Mrs. Vera Wulfert was born October 18, 1918 in a Greek Village in Ukraine. Surviving a tragic childhood losing her Mother at the age of six and her Grandparents at nine and her Father at twelve and being separated from her older siblings, she stayed in an orphanage and made to work. She was determined to make a good life and wanted to be a nurse. Mrs. Vera made entrance into a nearby nursing school at a very young age and soon found herself assisting in a small hospital in Ukraine.

That is where she met the love of her life! Mr. Nick Wulfert had seen his share tragedy and was working in an office as a bookkeeper at the hospital. He saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and was waiting at the door as she left for the evening. Although he spoke German and she spoke Greek, he soon had her looking "at something in his eye". He found out she was working at night as a chaperone at the local dance on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. It was during a polka dance that he made his move and told her "I'll never let you go". o Though she might not have understood his words, she never danced with anyone else. They dated for a year and a half and were married on July 3, 1938 and their journey together started.

Their first son, Nick, Jr. was born in May 1939 and second son, Anton, followed in 1941.

The family was living in Felsental in the Ukraine. In 1942, Nick, along with dozens of other men, was taken from their home by the Soviet troops as prisoners and on their way to Moscow on trains when they were bombed and left to die. After two days locked in the box cars, the Germans found them and Nick was allowed to return to his home. Having been told of a battle planned where his family was, Nick managed to find a wagon and loaded up his family and fled. They traveled 300 miles in the wagon in the bitter cold. The wagon was seized by Russian troops and the Wulfert family was boarded on a train bound for Poland. While living a refugee camp there, the oldest daughter, Anna, was born-October 1943. Six months after that, the family was allowed to enter Germany.

Arriving in Dresden, Germany, Nick was made to serve in the Army. With the war still all around them, Vera was desperate to get out of the war-torn town and the sound of falling bombs and fearing for her children's lives, she wrapped Anna in a tablecloth tied around her neck and 'holding her two sons hands, she left all their possessions. Nothing mattered but escape. She managed to get her children on a train bound for Hanover, Germany. Not knowing on which train his family had escaped on, Nick was terrified to learn one had been bombed. He was forced to be one of the troops to clean up and had the horrifying task to clear the bodies, thinking every minute that the next one he turned over would be one of his own children-Nick, Jr., Anton, or little Anna. He later learned that they had been on another train and were safe. Two days after Vera's train left, it could go no further because the tracks had been destroyed and Vera and her children had to continue alone on foot where they ate tree bark for survival.

Once they got to Hanover, Mrs. Vera and the children found shelter on the second floor of a five story convent sleeping on straw and army blankets with only 3 pieces of bread a day for all four of them. Missing her precious Nick desperately, she wondered if she would ever see him again.

After the war, Nick frantically searched for his beloved Vera and his precious children taking him almost a year to find them. It was a miracle! After a while of staying there, a man offered Nick room and board in Duderstadt in exchange for work. The room was an attic and they were confined to it as the man was not supposed to be boarding them. The quarters got even more cramped as their second daughter, Olga being born in 1945.

Nick starting looking for better accommodations, and soon found a house where they eventually had two rooms and an upstairs! Vera said it was "heaven". The family worked for the owner during the day in exchange for the room and board and at night, they pulled sugar beets by the light of the moon.

Mrs. Vera had a dream-to come to America! They worked odd jobs for cash to save for the day she could make her dream come true!

It would be nine years until the United States would accept refugees with children, but Mrs. Vera never lost her dream. That morning in 1954 when she read in the paper that her dream could be a reality, Mr. Nick was not as excited to leave, but to no avail-the family would start their journey to America!

The Wulfert Family boarded a Swedish Vessel with a boatload of refugees. It was a perilous and sickening 14 day sail. Storms, cold, sea-sickness and Mrs. Vera prayed "God please do not let us drown at sea. No one will ever know my beautiful family".

One morning at 4 am, the sirens began to continuously wail and fearing the worst, the family went to the deck and in the distance through the fog; they could see the Statue of Liberty! They cried and cried. The dream had come true-they had made it to America!

The Wulferts spent two days in Grand Central Station just getting their bearings. The interpreter was supposed to meet them never showed up, but they knew they were supposed to be boarding a train for Milan, Tennessee. Their sponsor, Mr. Lois Kelly from Henderson County, Reagan, TN met them at the train station. They worked for Mr. Kelly for room and board, share cropping and waiting for the five years until they could be citizens. They did odd jobs in addition to their duties to Mr. Kelly. Mrs. Vera applied for a job at Salant and Salant at Parsons but the manager did not hire her because of her poor English but she told him she did not come there to talk but to work. She got the job and worked there for 20 years!

Mrs. Vera and Mr. Nick soon gained friends from the area because of their kindness and strong work ethic.

In 1956, their 3rd daughter, Lisa was born.

In 1959, Nick, Nick, Jr. and Anton became United States Citizens and Vera waited until the girls were old enough so they could all be together to get theirs. And finally in 1971, Mrs. Vera began a United States citizen fulfilling her dream since a young girl!

Continuing to work hard and buying their own farm was dream come true! Many a night the family would work after dark in fields to get their work done and make their farm prosper even winning a "Plant to Prosper" award for the highest degree of efficiency and improvement in the Southeastern United States. "America gave us life" a grateful Nick would say.

Enjoying their family, their farm, their faith, their friends and each other, they lived their lives always remembering the bad times, but thankful for the wonderful times they had together. They were much revered as a wonderful example of hard work and determination as well as their pride in being an American and a citizen of this community.

In 2010, Mrs. Vera faced another hurdle, her precious partner of 72 years passed away.

But showing her strength and determination and her strong faith in God, she continues to live life to its fullest. She now lives with her oldest daughter Anna and her husband Glenn Kirk, but all of this close knit family helps with her care. Her family of 5 children, Nick, Jr., Anton, Anna W. Kirk, Olga W. Turnbow, and Lisa W. Davis, has grown to 53 including spouses, 24 grandchildren, and 20 great grandchildren.

It is with great admiration, respect, and love that we wish her a HAPPY 95th BIRTHDAY!

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