Local revisits WWII
MONTEZUMA – Old timers might remember Alf Tieze as a hotdog skier who worked at Arapahoe Basin from 1961 to 1971.Others might remember him as an instructor on the Willy Schaeffler/Gart Brothers/Rocky Mountain News ski school.But many of those who have known him for years might not know the details of his early life, a life fraught with danger and the unknown in war-torn Austria, and an experience Tieze says he’s amazed he survived.It’s those stories that are penned in “Minefield of Memories,” written by Tieze’s daughter, Karina Wetherbee, who, by culling the nightmares and sad remembrances from her father, hoped to help him face his past and honor the lives of those who touched his world.”For many, many years – for 25 years – people would ask about certain things, and I’d give them little excerpts, and I always would get the shakes,” Tieze said. “I figured I’d better write it down for my family and (in doing so) I finally was able to get it off my back, my soul.”
Tieze, now 72 and living outside Keystone with his wife, Sunni, grew up in Jagerndorf, Austria (now Krnov, Czechoslovakia), on a farm with his Oma and Opa, Uncle Alois, mother and sister Gerti. He and the neighborhood boys, Franz, Gerle and Otti, among others, spent their better days in school or down on the banks of the Gold Oppa River, not knowing how their lives would dramatically change in the months and years to come.One day, his grandfather hustled him into the house where the adults were talking about the Germans and their impending advance on the town. Posters appeared all over Jagerndorf. Airplanes dropped leaflets from the skies.Adolf Hitler was coming to town to tell them about his New World Order.As the years advanced, life began to deteriorate for the city. Food rationing began, men were called away to the front lines and women were forced to work additional hours in the factories supplying woolens for the war effort. Trains rolled through town.And the family received notice that Tieze’s father and Gerle’s father had died.
Finally, the troubles of the world around them struck the city. Tieze’s mother and Gerti were sent west to an unknown future. The family takes Gerle under their protective wing after his father’s death, promising him safety they’re not sure they can deliver.The days blended into night, the nights into day, with little more than sleep, hunger and the constant stench of latrines to fill them.In one of the first camps, Alf was overcome by the temptation to challenge gunfire and dash across the road to a bombed-out store where he twice retrieved food for those at the camp. At another camp, he apprenticed with a brewer. At another, he tended to the horses and plants and harvests food.He lost his friends along the way but not his faith that he would find them.Wetherbee weaves an emotional, personal story from her father’s memories, many of which were painful to bring to the surface of his mind. He scribbled notes to her, each one welling up another part of his difficult childhood.
After the war ended, Tieze eventually mades it to New York City, then Denver, where he worked as a dentist tool manufacturer.He fell back in love with the mountains that look so much like the ones he left behind. He smuggled his sister out of East Germany and years later, met her for the first time in 18 years.Wetherbee’s book is compelling, particularly for those who are interested in historical pieces. The words wrench at one’s heart and amaze the reader with horrendous tales of war and its aftermath, physical and emotional.”It certainly is a reminder that we shouldn’t have any more wars,” he said. “But did we learn anything? We still keep having more. What does it solve? At the end, it’s the innocent people who take the brunt of it.”Tieze continues to search for family members and friends whom he spent time with in orphanages and camps.”I’m not done by any means,” he said. “But I’m mellowed out; I’m more relaxed now. I finally have closure.”
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