A Lucky Man: Klaus’s Story, Part I

Written by Teri on April 12, 2010

Klaus Citterman

Starting today, and in five installments to come, we’ll share Klaus Citterman’s story. The story begins with his escape at age 17 from Nazi Germany; continues as he and his parents flee to Shanghai, China; and concludes in Portland, Oregon, where he marries, builds a new life, and raises four children.

The story was written by Klaus’s daughter, Teri Citterman Bahm, a public-relations consultant, freelance writer, and award-winning wine writer based in Seattle.

Teri, who chronicled the last seven years of her father’s life, was kind enough to share portions of her memoir with Five More Minutes With.

So herewith we begin. . .

Klaus’s Story, Part I

In 2002, I decided I had a book in me, and that my father, Klaus, would be at the center of it. I set out to observe him, interview him, and record his stories. In the seven years before his death, he changed dramatically, and the book followed his lead.

From the outside, it may not have seemed that Dad was lucky. I’m not really sure if he thought he was lucky. But he was able to create lots of luck.

In fact, he was one of the luckiest people I know.

At 17, he was a cocky kid in the throes of Nazi Germany, got arrested by the Gestapo, and, with the confidence of a teenager—or simple naive arrogance—he asked a German soldier to release him. And he did.

He and his parents fled Germany to Shanghai. In 1939, it was the only port that would take refugees without visas. They settled, along with 25,000 other refugees, in the oppressive conditions of the Jewish ghetto.

He told me stories of his father, who would write note cards in his beautiful flowing script. Dad would deliver them to the office buildings in the French Quarter of Shanghai—direct mail, if you will—advertising a “European-Style Lunch.”

And stories of his mother, who made soup from whatever they could salvage, then sold it in order to earn enough bread to survive.

And how he felt more scared of the Japanese when they occupied China than of the Nazis.

After his father died, young Klaus became the family breadwinner and helped his mother survive their remaining years in China.

Somehow, “lucky” man that he was, he always managed to find work when work was scarce.

Dad came to the U.S. in 1948 and chose to build a life in Portland.

Back then, I doubt he knew how lucky he would get.

Tomorrow: A Lucky Man: Klaus’s New Life in Portland, Oregon.

More stories from: With My Dad