Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
After nearly 10 years in Belgium, Frieda and her small family were still struggling. They heard of the wealth to be made in the North America and she and Leopold decided to uproot their family to try and make a go of it overseas. They originally wanted to emigrate to Canada, but Leopold was too close to 40 to be accepted. In 1956, they found a sponsor family that helped them emigrate to America. At the time the children were 9 and 7 years old.
Frieda honestly believed the stories that the streets in America were paved in gold, and that money was just lying in the streets. She recalls being sorely disappointed when this was very far from the truth.
They were flown over from Brussels to New York City in a military cargo plane. It had no seats – all the immigrants had to huddle on the floor of the aircraft, swaddled in blankets. There was no meal service, bathroom facility or other such comforts on the long flight. From New York City they took a train to Chicago, where they were greeted by their sponsor family.
They spent their first years in America in Evanston, Illinois, where their sponsor family lived. They found a small apartment and Leopold set out to find work. He had a background in mechanical engineering, music, and musical conducting. He also fluently spoke 4 languages, and set out to add English to that list. He mostly tried to find work using his mechanical engineering skills.
Frieda recalled her early years in America with amusement – being confused over all the “gift” shops (in German, “gift” means poison), and what were Americans doing with all those may flowers (she thought the trucks from the Mayflower Moving Company were filled with actual may flowers and did not know that they were named after a ship named the “Mayflower”).
Settling into life in America was overall not that different than Belgium. There was again a new language and customs to learn, and struggling to make it here was not that different than struggling to make it in Europe. However they made their choice and they were not going back. They hoped with enough time they could also achieve the success that other Americans seemed to have.