Brief Biography That Was Read at the Memorial
by Dan Klarmann
Erika was born Waltraut Müller (pronounced Vahl-trout) in Berlin in 1926, during an economy that made the Great Depression look like a minor setback. She was a middle child, of sorts; her elder sister was 7 years older, and her baby brother seven younger. Her father worked as a calculator in a bank, and her mother told fortunes in the parlor of their suburban row house.
World War Two arrived to town as she entered high school, ending her formal education. She was familiar with air raids and daily reports of casualties, mostly from other parts of town and other cities. Although she was in the Hitler Youth, this was a mandatory activity for young Germans. Her mother had once had to use some fast talking to get out of Gestapo clutches for having been overheard saying uncomplimentary things about the Reich and its leaders.
As the Soviets swept toward Berlin, the children of Berlin were sent away to the relative safety of camps in the countryside. Erika was placed in a work camp in Czechoslovakia, where she taught local children German when she could get out of farm duties. This was still the era of plowing behind a mule and milking goats.
Coming home afterwards, she found her city destroyed, and her father and all her male peers had been killed off. A few years after the war, she left Berlin to apprentice in horticulture in Hannover, Germany.
She moved to the U.S. in 1956, deciding to follow her sister rather than to move to Australia. One reason she admitted for the move was to find a husband; there were very few eligible men left in the Germany of her generation. Although a tomboy, her goal had always been to be a wife and mother.
In Rochester, NY she got work as a lab technician for the Physics department at the University. There, she met and eventually married Joe Klarmann, a grad student on her project. Although he had escaped to Palestine and fought in the war for independence there, he was from her hometown. Eventually, he got over the exile resentment, and wooed the buxom, blue-eyed Berliner with music.
They moved to St. Louis in 1961, just after their first son was born. Erika was an avid gardener and worked for decades with the garden clubs, both formally and informally. Her skill was such that some said that if she laid down a rake, the handle would sprout leaves. Neighbors would hand her kids leaves or fungi to take home for diagnosis or identification as they passed by.