Memorial Day 2019 was the first for Fred Rathfelder at his new address.
Fred, who I knew as Sigfried, was my Dad’s cousin. Sigfried immigrated to the United States along with Erna Rathfelder, my aunt. Aunt and nephew left war torn Germany and wound up in Minnesota, both sponsored by my Grandma and Grandpa Wurzer. Sigfried lived for a time with my Dad and grandparents in south Minneapolis as he made a new life in the U.S.
I attempted to contact Sigfried several times over the years to tell him about the deaths of both grandparents and more recently my Dad’s passing. There was no response. I had ulterior motives. I wanted to know about the Rathfelder (my grandmother’s) side of the family but it felt as though Sigfried didn’t want to be bothered much less questioned about the past in Nazi Germany.
A part of my past died with Sigfried.
The name at the top of the brief funeral notice in the Star Tribune last fall came with a jolt of recognition that was underscored with a bright line of regret and wistful sadness. Sigfried “Fred” Rathfelder had died. According to the obituary, there were “no known survivors” except, at least in this country, me, my brother and sister…Fred’s cousins.
It’s too bad Fred took family stories to the grave with him and what appears to have been an interesting personal history. He was a well liked and excellent translator for the U.S military. He was buried with full military honors.
“There are no known survivors.” It’s a chilling sentence. None of us wants to be forgotten. Everyone has a story and those stories matter, especially at the end of life. Don’t let your story die with you.
Cathy’s advice: For ideas on how you can record your story or a loved one’s check out https://storycorps.org/