This project was an unusual opportunity to work for one of America’s most respected institutions, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Captain Dean Horn, retired from both the U.S. Navy and the post of Director of the Sea Grant College Program at MIT, had written an impassioned biography about an MIT scientist he greatly admired. But Horn’s original manuscript needed much professional help. I’m proud to have provided it.
Dr. Alfred H. Kiel had been, reluctantly, a leading researcher on naval armament for Nazi Germany. Plucked from Germany by America in the fog of post-war competition with the Soviet Union for top scientists, he was set to work at first in positions that required little trust. However, he continually and repeatedly proved his loyalty and great value to the U.S., and eventually made our Navy the best-protected in the world against underwater explosives. Then he went on to become Dean of Engineering at MIT, where he revolutionized the institution’s approach to educating future engineers by drawing numerous women students and students from the humanities into engineering studies. Their infusion brought fuller and rounder perspectives to fields sorely in need of those human attributes. He also created the world’s first curriculum in Ocean Engineering and made MIT a leading participant in the National Sea Grant Program.
Horn was held in high esteem by MIT’s faculty. But he had worked a long time on this, his only book, and frustratingly had not succeeded in getting its publication green-lighted by MIT Press. In about a month, I shaped it up enough that it not only got published but was also made the foundation of a major fund-raising campaign. In gratitude, the author insisted on adding my name to his on the cover.
This passage tells how Kiel’s wife escaped Russian troops with her children in order to be reunited with her husband.
The farm where Ursula and the boys had sought refuge was now in the Russian Zone of Occupation. Russian soldiers raided the farm and slaughtered most of the livestock for fresh food. Women with small children were threatened but seldom physically abused as long as they responded to demands for food and drink. Girls and young women were frequently raped. Resistance was hopeless and survival became the ultimate goal.
By late summer, the British had completed their interrogation of most of the internees and begun releasing individuals to return to their houses in other sectors of occupied Germany. Alfred learned that an engineer, a casual acquaintance of his, was being released and was determined to return to his home in Silesia and find his family. The engineer’s route would take him near Osterburg and the farm where, he hoped, Ursula and the boys were still living. Alfred had heard nothing from or about her, nor she from him, in more than three months. He asked his friend to find Ursula and give her a letter and a few hundred German marks – all he had left from the special monetary award he’d received in September of 1944.
A few days later the man appeared at the farm. He gave Ursula the news that Alfred was still fine and still at CPVA, now a British internment camp. When others were not watching, he quietly slipped her the envelope with the money Alfred had sent. All of it. He would take nothing for his efforts. Encouraged and emboldened with these resources, and the good news about Alfred, Ursula was determined to get to the British Sector by any means possible. She had already sewn her rings and gold watch into the hem of Michael’s overcoat. She asked a nearby farmer to take her and the boys to a point near the Russian-British border where she could make her swarze Grensubergang, an unauthorized border crossing. The farmer insisted on a price that required most of the money Alfred had sent.
One dark night in mid-October, Ursula and her boys, carrying the few belongings she had left, including the battered baby carriage for Juergen, lay hidden under a big canvas cover in the farmer’s wagon along with some hand tools and a couple of baskets of produce. Slowly they made their way to the Russian guard line on the border separating the Soviet and British sectors. Only two hundred yards of open field stood between the wagon and their escape. No one was in sight. Ursula gathered her boys and their few possessions. She silently prayed they would make it to safety without being seen by the Russian guards, but such was not to be. A Russian guard stopped them as they neared the line. Ursula pleaded to pass, but the language barrier made talk useless. In desperation she tore open the hem of Michael’s coat, extracted her gold watch, and offered it to the Russian. He smiled, looked at the watch, and held it to his ear. Disgustedly, he shook his head an angry no and thrust the watch back into Ursula’s hand. Realizing what was wrong, she wound the watch and set it to the approximate time. With a pleading look and another silent prayer, she handed it back. Again he pressed the watch to his ear and listened. It was ticking! Continuing to listen, the guard casually turned and walked slowly away. Fiercely gripping Michael’s hand and pushing Juergen in the carriage, Ursula rushed into the British sector.
British soldiers took them into custody immediately, transporting them to a nearby refugee feeding camp. Living conditions there were cramped and dirty, and her boys suffered from the October cold. She feared that Juergen was coming down with bronchitis. Within days Ursula and the boys escaped from the British camp and made their way into the nearby town of Lunenberg. There she found an open boxcar in the rail yard already occupied by other German refugees, since the British curfew permitted no Germans to be on the streets after 9 p.m. Next morning, Ursula and the boys struck out for Hamburg, a city in absolute ruin. She was able to find her way through the bombed-out city to the northern suburb of Bramfeld, where Alfred’s great uncle had lived for many years. The uncle was at home. Now they were safe with family. Ursula counted it as nothing less than a miracle.