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Press Gallery: Savings account of sentimental value

Sept. 3, 2010 at 4:03 a.m.

I had to say goodbye to an old savings account recently.

I usually don't get sentimental over bank accounts, but this one was special. This one had its beginnings in World War II battles between German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps and British forces under Gen. Bernard Montgomery in the sands of North African deserts.

Forgive me for using the "flashback" technique so popular in movies and TV shows, but that's the best way to tell the story of how my bank account got started.

In 1942, 18-year-old draftee Hans Weiss was serving in the German army in North Africa under Rommel when he was captured by British forces. At the time, there wasn't enough room in Great Britain to hold many prisoners of war so Weiss was turned over to Americans. Weiss was then shipped across the Atlantic and to a prisoner of war camp in North Louisiana. He spent about six months in the camp, picking cotton in the fields outside during the day and attending classes taught by fellow prisoners at night.

He was transferred to another POW camp in Memphis, and then sent home a year after Germany surrendered in May 1945. Back home, he married and began a family, got a job as a bank bookkeeper in southern Germany and later rose to the position of bank president.

OK, that's the "flashback" part. Now, let's flash forward 35 years when Weiss returns to the United States on vacation and decides to visit the site of his old POW camp in North Louisiana. I was a student reporter for my university newspaper "The Tech Talk" and got wind of this old veteran's trip down Memory Lane. I and another reporter sat down and interviewed Weiss as he visited with friends of his wife's cousin in Ruston, La. Afterwards, we accompanied him to the grounds of his old POW camp, now the site of Ruston State School for the mentally handicapped.

Some of the old barracks buildings were still there and Weiss could recall barbed wire fences and machine gun towers.

The former prisoner said he was treated well while in the camp.

"When I think of about my comrades who died in Siberia, I am thankful that I was a prisoner in America," he said through an interpreter.

Weiss remembered that at one point he became sick while in camp and was treated by a Jewish doctor.

"He was a very good doctor," the former German soldier recalled.

Weiss' story was written and published in the university newspaper and a copy of it was mailed to him. In gratitude, he sent me a check for $20. Of course, this was back before reporters had to think about ethics and could accept gifts from appreciative readers.

Instead of cashing the check, I mailed it back and asked him to open a savings account in his bank for the German equivalent of $20, which he did.

Over the years, I made one or two deposits into the account, but mostly left it alone. It had more sentimental than financial value to me.

Now, flash forward to the present (this is my last flash, I promise). I e-mailed the bank to inquire how much money I had in the account. A bank official e-mailed back and said I had accumulated 78 euros but the account had been closed in 2004 due to lack of activity.

However, if I will mail the savings account passbook back to the bank and furnish my current bank account information, the German bank would transfer any remaining funds to my present account, I was told. I'm in the process of having this done.

After the transfer, I'll be about $100 to the good, but I'll miss my German bank account that originated with a former enemy soldier who spent a pleasant spring day revisiting a turbulent part of his life.

The Press Gallery is an occasional column in which Advocate staffers personalize the news. Eric Jensen is an Advocate copy editor. Contact him at ejensen@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.



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