TRAVERSE CITY — Erika Stefanie (Turkl) Neumann, 85, passed away on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, at Cherry Hill Haven for Dementia Care in Traverse City.
Erika was born Sept. 19, 1928, in Brno, Czechoslovakia, to the late Armin and Herta (Stern) Turkl. She had a wonderful childhood growing up in the countryside of Brno, playing with her cousins and friends, attending school and celebrating holidays with relatives. Her family owned a textile factory that is still in operation, and Erika and her sister would sometimes skate to school on the river that ran through the factory grounds.
Erika was very athletic and an accomplished tennis player. She and her cousins learned the sport on the family’s tennis court, where her parents and other relatives played at every opportunity. This idyllic life came to an abrupt halt in 1939 when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia.
Armin and Herta were Jewish and in the months preceding the start of the World War II, no country would allow Jews to immigrate. There was only a small window of time when the borders of Nazi occupied countries remained open and Hitler allowed Jewish children to leave. Fortunately, Britain opened its borders and allowed the Jewish children to enter. Armin and Herta made the extremely difficult decision to place Erika and her sister, Suzanne, on a train to London, England, where they were met by relatives who escaped Nazi occupied Vienna. Erika and Suzanne were part of the Kindertransport rescue movement and were sent to England to await the end of the war. Sadly, their parents were murdered in Nazi concentration camps.
Nicholas Winton, a compassionate, 26-year-old British stock broker, was responsible for raising the funds and making the arrangements for the Kindertransport of 669 Czechoslovakian Jewish children. Similar to other Kindertransports in Germany, Austria and Poland, the Czech children had to travel without their parents or adult chaperones. Approximately 10,000 children were sent to England in 1939 and the vast majority of their parents, who remained in their Nazi occupied countries, were murdered in Nazi concentration camps.
Erika attended schools in Cornwall, England, and after the war ended she and her sister remained in England; Erika became a midwife. She planned to stay in England but changed her mind after her sister left for the United States. Their aunt and uncle, Hans and Marianne (Stern) Schindler, were the legal guardians of Erika and Suzanne. During the war they worked tirelessly to bring the entire family to the United States. After the war, as legal guardians, they made all the arrangements for the girls to come to the United States, and they provided the same love and support that parents would provide for their own children.
When Erika arrived in the U.S. in 1952 the practice of midwifery was severely limited in most states. As a result she prepared to take the State Board of Nursing Examination for Licensure, which she passed, allowing her to become a registered nurse and practice in the U.S.
She worked in the obstetrical department of the McGhee Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh and then at the Louis A. Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
In early September 1954 a mutual friend arranged a blind date for Erika to play tennis with Karl Neumann, a resident in hospital management at Weiss Hospital. Even though she soundly beat him in the tennis match they became engaged in November and married Feb. 11, 1955, on a cold and snowy evening in Chicago, Ill.
Together they affectionately raised four children. Erika was a devoted, creative, loving mother and grandmother with a delightful sense of humor. She was the timer and cheerleader at all of our sports events, the biggest fan at the dance recitals and the plays. She attended every parent teacher conference and enthusiastically celebrated each birthday and holiday. We could look up from a stage, a field, a tennis court, a swimming pool, a classroom, and she would be there - smiling at us, encouraging us and willing us to do our best. Erika never sugarcoated or minced words; we all knew exactly how she felt, where she stood and what she thought on just about everything in her world.
She taught us how to cook and bake; she taught us how to drive; she taught us how to relish the big moments in life and also the small ones. She taught us how to persevere in everything we do and how to survive. She was the embodiment of strength, determination, beauty and love.
Erika’s happiest moments were in the sun on Siesta Key in Florida, playing in the sand with her children and later in life, her grandchildren, all of whom she adored. In her later years she described this as the “fun times” and “the best of times” in her entire life. Her favorite place in the world was on her chair, at the beach, on Siesta Key. It was there that she truly found her peace. When we think of Erika we hope that she is in some way back there on that beach, collecting her shells, walking with her sister, soaking up those eternal rays of warmth and feeling at peace knowing that she brought joy and love to our world.
Surviving Erika are her husband of 58 years, Forrest Karl; children, Tracey (Dennis) Neumann Liberson, of Delaplane, Va., Karen Neumann Kruger, of San Mateo, Calif., Scott Neumann, of Traverse City, and Lisa Neumann, of East Lansing; grandchildren, Daniel, Hanna and Alexa Liberson, Erika and Maximilian Kruger and Matthew Neumann.
Erika was predeceased by her sister, Suzanne Daisy Purdom; her aunt, Marianne (Stern) Schindler; and her uncle, Hans Schindler.
There will be a memorial service for Erika in the spring.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent to Northern Michigan Regional Alzheimer’s Association, 1040 Walnut Street, Traverse City, MI 49686; (800) 272-3900; www.alz.org/gmc; or to any of your favorite charities.
Please sign Erika’s online guestbook at www.reynolds-jonkhoff.com.
The family is being served by the Reynolds-Jonkhoff Funeral Home.