Even in war torn Germany in 1944, a courtship began, four years later the couple was married and 25 years later, Horst and Kitty Pokorra came to the United States. They will be celebrating their 67th wedding anniversary this September.
Residents of Oakhurst for the last 50 years, they were 16 when they met in their village of Lüstringen, Germany.
Life in Germany was harsh for both Kitty and Horst. At 15, Horst was forced to join the anti-aircraft corps and the Hitler youth organization. He was taken out of his business apprenticeship.
At the age of 10, Kitty delivered newspapers from a little wagon. For babysitting, she earned the end pieces of lunch meat.
She worked for the post office from the age of 15 but after the Russian occupation, there was no work so she cleaned bricks which had fallen during the bombing; and she worked on a small farm to have something to eat. She helped an aunt launder and iron her best table linens and napkins so they could trade them to farmers for food.
“At night, we would sneak into the forest with a little saw to cut trees for firewood,” she said.
In March, at the age of 17, two months from the end of the war, Horst was in naval officers’ school.
Knowing the war was coming to an end and preferring capture by the British rather than the Russians, his unit made their way onto a spit of land where a British minesweeper picked them up.
They were told, there would be no food, they would have to sleep up on deck and that the ship would arrive in Copenhagen in two days.
Arriving in Copenhagen, Horst remembers “a barbed wire barrier. On the seaside were the Germans and on the other side were the British.” There was no shooting. The Germans would slide their cigarettes through the fence to the British troops and the British would do the same. Horst’s unit was told to “throw all your weapons into the water” and they became prisoners of war (POWs).
“The British took us back to a POW camp in Germany. We were starving there. There were 16 boys in one room and we were given one can of corned beef and a bar (sleeve) of salt crackers (to be shared),” Horst said. “Each day the British commander would say, ‘Blokes, we need mechanics, cooks, carpenters and electricians.’”
Horst remembers fear but finally, hunger ruled. He volunteered as an auto mechanic.
Kitty did not hear from Horst from May 1945 until January 1946.
After Horst’s release from the POW camp, he settled in West Germany and Kitty was living with her surviving family members in East Germany. Kitty’s father was a prisoner in Stalingrad.
After the war, It took her six years to find out that he had died in prison. Four of her uncles were killed during the war and another was wounded, all on the Russian front.
Movement between East and West Germany was difficult. On her second trip to visit Horst, Kitty and a group of friends were stopped at the border, and their passports taken.
The group tried again to cross the border, this time on foot. They hid in a ditch to escape detection by a passing patrol.
In 1948, German law stipulated that individuals must be 21 to marry. Papers had to be secured authorizing a marriage and at age 20, Horst and Kitty did not qualify.
While working in the British POW camp, Horst had become proficient in English and he often served as an interpreter for the Catholic priest in the village where Horst and Kitty now lived.
The priest became aware that Horst and Kitty were living together, unmarried, and as Horst said, “facilitated” getting the young couple the necessary papers so that they could marry, a process that took five months.
They were married on September 25, 1948. They had just 20 marks (about $6) to spend on their wedding, enough for two big cakes. Their first child, Peter, was born in 1950 and their second son, Gerd, was born in 1957, both in Osnabrück, West Germany.
After months of pleading, in December 1962, Horst’s aunt, Gertrude Clark, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 103, convinced the Pokorra family to apply to the American counsel to come to the United States.
“Peter said he would love to take a real look at Yosemite (where Gertrude and her husband lived) and see what’s it’s really like,” Horst said.
Clark’s encouragement for the family to relocate to the United States stemmed from the Cuban Missile Crisis confrontation and fears of another war.
Coming by ship from Germany, the family landed in New York with just $24.They made the four-day trip to Sacramento on a Greyhound bus spending four dollars on food buying oranges and donuts.
After two years in Fresno, the couple moved to the mountains. Horst worked in Yosemite National Park driving a tow truck and working at Badger Pass.
At the same time, the family managed a chinchilla ranch on Dorstan Drive, and then in 1968, they took $3,000 they had saved along with $2,000 their sons had saved, and purchased the Esso (later Exxon) station at the junction of highways 41 and 49.
They had only $45 after that so Kitty took on cleaning jobs to help support the family.
“We stick together through thick and thin.” Kitty said. “I can calm down and straighten things out. We talk in the evening and morning.”
“What would I have done without you?” Horst asks.