Dear Willy The True Story of a Life Well Lived
Publisher: Claire Ohlsson Geheb
Dear Willy, is the true story of Willy Oswald Geheb’s life told through journals, letters, documents, and photos found in an old suitcase stored away since 1947. When translated from the old German script, a wealth of information was learned about a remarkable man born in Schmirma, Germany in 1900. In 1923, Willy, the fourth of eight children, left Germany to seek adventure, find success, and provide for the family he left behind. Follow Willy's adventures, endeavors, and conflicts in Brazil, Mexico, and the United States. Get to know the ideals, beliefs, and struggles of his family living in Germany during WWI, the Weimar Republic, Adolph Hitler, WWII, and the aftermath of WWII in East Germany. Although living thousands of miles away, Willy never broke the bond with his German family. He continually sent money and packages of necessities to help them through their struggles. Willy's love of family and strong values were instilled into the American Geheb family which he and his wife, Irma, started in Chicago, Illinois.
Review by Laurel DiGangi, Woodbury University. Dear Willy begins as a coming-of-age memoir about a naïve yet articulate young man who in 1923 leaves his small town of Schmirma, Germany, to discover the world. Willy’s astute observations of life start in 1914 with a diary he kept as a teenager and continue through his military journals. Once Willy moves to Brazil to work as a blacksmith, he details the sights, sounds, and sensations of an exotic land with “cactuses as big as trees” and parties where “frogs and fleas provide magnificent music and diversion.” Next, Willy relocates to Mexico to work in the 1925 oil fields, one day going home leaving “a trail with the oil that ran off my body.” Finally, Willy finds work as a machine fitter in Chicago, during its reign of organized crime and bootleggers. Says Willy, “I am convinced the whole world is upside down with all those bank robberies and killings.” Yet here is where he eventually settles to build his career, marry, raise a family, and eventually become an American citizen. Throughout Dear Willy, detailed communications between Willy and his friends and relatives capture the zeitgeist of several exciting periods of German, American, and world history: World War I, the Great Depression, the Weimar Republic, World War II, and the division of Germany. Willy’s descriptions are vivid, and bring the era and locales as alive as he experienced them. Overall, Dear Willy is a treasure trove for readers who care about history and the immigrant experience. From its humble beginning as an authentic bildungsroman, this lovingly transcribed memoir truly lives up to its subtitle, “A Life Well Lived.”
Review by Virginia Williams, rosepointpublishing.com. It’s a story few of us are familiar with, if or when we read of the life of the Germans following the end of the war under Soviet rule. It’s another whole side of humanity, the story which is somewhat lacking in other war stories. Still, it’s a struggle won by the familial connection never lost of a prodigal son.
Review by Trevor Pateman, readingthisbook.com. This is an unusually interesting compilation of family letters and personal journals, kept in a suitcase by Willy Geheb (1900 - 1988), a blacksmith's and small farmer's son from Schmirma in rural Saxony in the eastern part of Germany. After the First World War, he leaves his home village to make his fortune in Brazil, Mexico and finally Chicago where he becomes an American citizen in 1934. He maintains - and keeps - a correspondence with his parents and members of a large family much of which survived to be discovered after his death.