Monterey’s Trudy Star survived several narrow escapes
She was living an idyllic life in Freiburg, Germany — an ancient and picturesque university city in the Rhineland — until Adolf Hitler came to power.
Trudy Star, a longtime Monterey resident, speaks proudly of the day she stood alongside college students and threw rocks at his parade vehicle.
she was Gertrud Flach then — the teenage daughter of Friedrich “Fritz” Flach, a railroad engineer, and Carolina Barbara Flach.
she and her parents were staunchly anti-Hitler from the beginning, feelings that intensified when World War II began and Freiburg became a target of Allied bombing missions.
In fact, the bombs fell with such regularity that Trudy and her sister thought it was all but inevitable that they’d be killed — a belief that caused them to go to a nightclub in nearby Karlsruhe one night to forget about their fears.
That’s where she met Ernest Gottschalk, a civil servant who had been drafted into the German army and was headed to war.
they dated a handful of times before he left for battle. He sent her letters from the battlefields. they married when he had a six-day liberty. He was 26, she was 24. the war prevented their relationship from growing any deeper.
As a young woman, Trudy spoke German and French, and taught herself to understand English. she surreptitiously listened to Allied radio broadcasts, a practice that brought the Gestapo into the delicatessen she managed on Aug. 22, 1944.
“The Gestapo walked in at 11 o’clock in the morning and said, ‘Are you Mrs. Gertrud Gottschalk? Follow us to headquarters,’” she recalls.
When she walked into the Gestapo’s commander’s office, he looked up and said, “Oh, no … not you.” In a time of food rationing, Trudy had regularly slipped the man extra treats whenever he stopped by her deli — only because she thought it might someday help if she found herself in a situation like this one.
“You know, I like you very much,” the Gestapo officer told Trudy, “and I have no choice but to arrest you … but I do not have to arrest you until 6 o’clock tonight.”
the message was clear. Trudy was being granted a five-hour head start to run for her life. she rushed to her apartment, packed almost nothing and fled on her bicycle.
she went alone, telling no one — not even her parents or younger sister — with a goal of disappearing deep into the Black Forest and reconnecting with a young married couple she had met only briefly through her husband. they were communists who shared her anti-Hitler feelings and had given her their address, specifically for a moment like this.
“I rode my bicycle into the night, toward Bavaria,” she says. “I wasn’t crying — I had to be strong — but I was terrified.”
her bicycle broke down about 9:30 that night, leaving her with no option but to seek help, and she made her way to a small railroad station where her father, a former train engineer, was well-known.
her father’s railroad friends put her on a train that took her over the border, into Bavaria. she made her way to Munzingen, a tiny village where German troops underwent six-week boot camps before they were deployed. she moved in with her husband’s friends, found a job, and skied to work during the harsh winters.
on the day the war ended, Trudy recalls peeking through her blinds at American tanks that were rolling toward her house, then fleeing to her basement as U.S. soldiers shot open her front door.
When they discovered she spoke English, they recruited her to help them identify the corpses — American and Nazi soldiers — in the village.
“Nothing could have been more scary to me, but I did it,” she says. “I had to reach into their pockets for their identification. When I saw photos of their families — wives and children — it was devastating. It didn’t matter to me that they were American or German. they were just dead people who had left loved ones behind.”
With the war over, Trudy, having no legal papers, paid a man 600 marks (money earned by washing the uniforms of American soldiers) to smuggle her back over the mountain passes, under a canvas on the back of a timber truck, to reconnect with her family.
“When I walked into my mother’s home, she was dressed in black,” Trudy recalls. “It was may or June, and Papa had died the previous Christmas. the French had mistaken him for a Nazi and arrested him after the war. my mother had gone to his railroad friends, who helped get him released, but he collapsed and died two days after he got home.”
A short time later, the German military informed her that her husband was missing in action — information she later learned was a lie. Ernest Gottschalk had been accidentally shot and killed Oct. 8, 1944, by one of his own officers.
A new job with the U.S. European Command led to a chance meeting with an American soldier named Peter Star, the man who would become her second husband.
“He invited me out, and I told him, ‘No, but you can come over and I’ll cook you some sauerkraut,’” she recalls. “He loved my cooking, and we had so much in common. we both loved nature, hiking, taking a bottle of wine and a loaf of French bread, going to movies. I could always tell what he was thinking, and when he was going to call. I was so fond of him.”
A Canadian officer stationed in Germany helped her obtain a visa, and she crossed the Atlantic in 11 days on a wooden ship, arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on April 4, 1952. she reconnected with Peter the same year.
the following year, she learned she was pregnant — something she considers a miracle, considering she had lost an ovary during an appendectomy and Peter had a vasectomy. Michael Patrick Star was born March 17, 1953, in Rome, N.Y.
Peter’s military career took them to New York, Vermont, Washington, Hawaii, and, finally, Oakland and Monterey. He retired after 20 years in the service, then was employed at the Monterey Post Office until he died in 1982. she worked at drug stores, jewelry stores and other jobs until she was 88.
Nowadays, she enjoys reading the opinion pages, watching the Giants, playing bingo, online solitaire and the piano. She’s a grandmother and hopes for a great-grandchild someday.
Michael, a Seaside resident and 28-year Budweiser employee, calls or visits every day.
she remains fluent in German, French, Swiss and English, and has a near-photographic memory for telephone numbers. At 94, she just had her driver’s license renewed, but says she would never drive a German-made automobile.
“When I came to America, I thought I had come to heaven,” she says. “When I think what a beautiful country we have here, and how much people take this nation and their freedom for granted, I get very angry. that type of thing bothers me very much.”
Dennis Taylor can be reached at email@example.com or 646-4344.
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