Wilhelmina ‘Mina’ Spahr 91, WWII concentration camp survivor

By on January 23, 2014
Wilhelmina (Mina) Spahr

Wilhelmina (Mina) Spahr

Wilhelmina “Mina” Spahr, 91, died Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 at Luther Acres in Lititz.

She was born Dec. 24, 1922, to Christian and Elizabeth (Göttel) Kemle in Mramorak (Southern Banat) in the former Yugoslavia (now Serbia). She was preceded in death by her husband of 65 years, Wilhelm (Willy) Spahr, also from Mramorak, who she had known since early childhood.

She was an exceptional student who loved school and valued learning. World War II interrupted the course of the lives of her family. Their village was occupied by Serbian Partisans under the Yugoslav Communist Marshall Josep Tito. They confiscated their property and possessions and turned the village into a concentration camp of ethnic Germans, mostly children women and the elderly. Mina and many of her siblings were forced into work camps. This brutal retribution against the Germans (known as Danube Swabians), most of whom had lived here for generations, resulted in the death of a quarter of the 400,000 Germans in the region. Mina lost her brother Johann and her mother during the war.

In 1947, at age 25, Mina led a month-long flight on foot with her father and five of her siblings, escaping their concentration camp in Yugoslavia and finding refuge in Linz, Austria. There they met other refugees and lived in a Displaced Person Camp for nine years. In 1948, she married Wilhelm and both of their children, Irene and John, were born there.

They emigrated to the U.S. in 1956 with sponsorship from the ConestogaChurch of the Brethren in Leola. Like many immigrants, they sought a better future for their children. It was difficult to part with many family members in order to seek a better future. Mina left behind all of her seven of her siblings.

They spoke no English and adapted to their new country and culture with the help of the church community and their own hard work.

The family moved to Lititz in 1957 and they bought their home on South Cedar Street, occupying it for nearly 50 years. She worked as a kitchen assistant at BrethrenVillage and later as a housekeeper for several families in the area. After her retirement, she volunteered at Moravian Manor. Mina and Willy had been at Luther Acres since 2006 and remained there until her death. During their later years, Willy and Mina enjoyed reminiscing about the happier times in their village of Mramorak.

Mina was a hardworking woman who displayed remarkable endurance, resourcefulness and courage. She always wished she had the opportunity to continue her education and was very gratified that her children were able to complete theirs.

She loved gardening and took pride in the flowers and vegetables in her yard. She was an excellent cook, enjoyed reading, dancing to live German music, going for walks in her neighborhood and singing German hymns. She enjoyed traveling, especially trips to the ocean and the Rocky Mountains.

One of her greatest joys was her grandchildren whom she cherished and enjoyed spoiling. She will be remembered as a very generous woman who freely shared whatever she had whenever she could.

She has two children: John Spahr of Staunton, Va. and Irene Spahr of Arvada, Colo. She is also survived by four grandchildren: Erik Spahr of Nashua, Vt. and his sisters: Heather Wilgenbusch of Tallahassee, Fla. and Heidi Roberson of Mechanicville, Va., as well as Marika Emerson of Portland, Ore., (daughter of Irene). Mina also has four great-granddaughters, children of Heidi and Heather, plus a new great-grandson, Eli John Spahr, son of Erik Spahr.

Born to a farmer and vintner, she was the fourth of nine children, and is survived by younger brothers, Jacob and Michael Kemle of Germany. She was preceded in death by siblings: Johann, Heinrich, Christian, Elisabeth, Christine and Susanne. She is also survived her beloved niece: Friedlinde Ebersole of Lancaster and many nieces and nephews in Germany.

Services will be held at the convenience of the family and burial will be in LongeneckerBrethrenCemetery, Lititz.

Memorial donations may be sent to: Hospice and Community Care, 685 Good Drive, P.O. Box 4125, Lancaster, PA. 17604-4125. To send online condolences to the family, visit richardheiseyfuneralhome.com.

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