Monika Koenigova, 88, is very patriotic and will tell you so in no uncertain terms.
“This is God’s country,” she said. “Anyone can do anything in America.”
Although she has been an American citizen for more than 50 years, Koenigova’s future started out very uncertain in war-torn and Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.
“I am one of the lucky ones,” she said.
Koenigova, who has lived in Northern Virginia for more than 40 years, has now written a book about her life called: Marta, A Czech Girl’s Story of Surviving the Third Reich and its Aftermath.
“I was raised in a convent in Czechoslovakia until I was four or five years old,” she said. “At that point I went to live with the people who I afterwards called my parents, Walter and Rosa Koenig, who came and took me to my home. I was then taken away from my parents at the age of only 12, put into a camp, and then placed with a German farm family as a slave laborer, where I was worked like an animal for five long years.”
Koenigova said that one day as a 5th-grade student at her school in Czechoslovakia, German soldiers drove up in a military bus. The year was 1939 and Adolph Hitler was invading Germany’s neighboring countries.
“It was a beautiful day and we were all playing outside,” Koenigova recalls in her book. “The Germans spoke Czech and talked about how beautiful Germany was. Then they asked if anyone wanted to go and see it. Most of the children put their hand up and then they forced all of us who were twelve and older to get on a bus.”
She was taken to a labor camp and would never see her parents again.
Koenigova spent the next five years as a slave laborer on a German farm. She lost not only her freedom, but nearly her life. Raised by a forester, she knew nothing about farm animals or crops. For her ignorance, she says was beaten on a regular basis and was fed barely enough to be kept alive and productive. She recalls wearing the same pair of wooden heel-less shoes the entire five years of her forced servitude. She remembers that Russian and American planes flying overhead toward the end of World War II were welcome sounds to her ears, and as the Russian army advanced from the east, her German captors fled, leaving her to look after the farm animals.
When they did not return after a few days she, too, left the farm, walking off alone towards freedom and an uncertain future.“I walked toward the American zone,” she said. “But Russian soldiers who slept during the day and got drunk at night guarded it. They would shoot at anything that moved, and often hit their targets. But I was alone and small and made it across. As I said, I am one of the lucky ones.”
In her book, Koenigova’s story continues as one among thousands of displaced people in post-war Germany. Day-to-day life saw her constantly facing and overcoming adversity in order to survive. In Occupied Germany, she interacted with other war refugees, American soldiers and German bureaucrats as she eked out her own survival.
Working as a waitress in Munich, she eventually met the American soldier who would become her husband of 56 years so far, Francis Sullivan.
When the couple was transferred back to the United States, life as a military wife presented a different challenge: adjusting to a land of plenty. Marta reapplied the strengths which had brought her through the toughest of times to new opportunities here. She worked hard to learn yet another language and completed her education, which had been interrupted in the 5th grade.
“I earned two GED diplomas at Annandale High School,” she says proudly.
Decades later, the American woman who as a young Czech girl once lived in fear of uniformed German soldiers successfully completed the Fairfax County Police Department’s Auxiliary Police Officer training. She also worked for awhile as a bank teller and also volunteered as a school crossing guard.
“This was something I loved and enjoyed doing for over 20 years,” she writes in the prologue of her book. “Some of the children who were merely tots when I started have gone on to complete college and establish careers of their own. Sometimes they’d toot their horns at me as they drove by. I did this volunteer work to thank this country, the United States of America, for the opportunities that have been given to me.”
The book, Marta, A Czech Girl’s Story of Surviving the Third Reich and its Aftermath, is available at Amazon.com.