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Chronicling a friend's return to Germany

May 28, 2004

Imagine yourself playing a word association game with me.

I say, "Quark."

What's your response?

Someone with a strong science background might recognize "quark" as a quantum physics term.

If you've used a certain computer program, you'll reply, "express." Only a few respondents will say, "cheese."

Dairy farmers in Germany produce quark, a soft cheese, for homemakers and commercial bakers. A fresh cheese product with a short shelf life, quark would not travel well to America.

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I first tasted quark a few days after my son's first birthday. At the time, we lived in a tiny one-bedroom basement apartment in a German farming village. A very special house guest, Ida Linder, came from America to celebrate Nathan's birthday with us.

Born and raised in Berlin in 1920, Ida Lindner married a college professor who was many years her senior. Although her family respected the academic achievements of Ida's new husband, they frowned on his political involvement with Chinese nationalists. When Ida insisted on accompanying him to China, they were dismayed.

At first, Ida found life in China to be an idyllic adventure, but as the years passed, her husband travelled extensively with Chiang Kai-shek, leaving Ida alone with the servants. His final journeys took him deep into the civil war raging in China between the Nationalists and the Communists. His letters to Ida indicated he would continue to follow Chiang Kai-shek. He indicated no desire to have Ida join him. Her marriage effectively ended, Ida packed for a return trip to Germany. She was interrupted by the arrival of both the Japanese army and the Chinese Communists. A German national, Ida was considered an ally by the Japanese conquerors, but Ida's husband had been proclaimed an enemy of the Communist state. Unwilling to turn Ida over to the new Communist local government, the Japanese devised a compromise; she was held under house arrest.

Captive in her home, cut off from her husband and her family, Ida's small savings disappeared. Her life became more and more precarious.

By the end of WWII, she was a penniless refugee, living in a Red Cross relocation camp. She'd survived freezing winters, meager food, bouts with tuberculosis and a perilous long march through the mountains. In the relocation camp, Ida considered her limited options. She chose to board a ship to America.

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