By Becca Maag
For the Enterprise
Rudolf Trenkel immigrated with his family – his parents, a brother and a sister – to the United States in 1951. He is the lone survivor.
Rudolf was born in the Ukraine, which was opened up to German immigrants under Catherine the Great, empress of Russia. Rudolf’s ancestors were among those who chose to move there. However, in the 1930s, the German people were told to leave the Ukraine or become Russian citizens. Rudolf’s family choose to leave and settled in Poland.
In Poland his father managed a village store and had a small farm. Rudolf remembers going with his father to a larger city to get supplies for the store. Many times on the way home, they would both fall asleep, but the horses knew the way home.
This lifestyle changed when World War II began and Rudolf’s dad was drafted into the German army.
His mother, brother, sister and Rudolf remained to manage the store and farm. It wasn’t too long before everything they had was confiscated, and the family was split up. His mother and sister were sent to a camp and Rudolf and his brother, Walter, were placed on separate farms. Rudolf was just 6, and his job was to keep a few cows in a pasture. He ate his meals with the farm family, but slept in the barn.
The Trenkel family was separated until 1949. His father told them that he had been a prisoner in a Russian camp, and was released because his health was bad. He wrote to a Polish family who had taken over the management of the store.
Rudolf, his mother, grandparents, brother and sister decided to leave Poland and head for Germany. After traveling by wagon for about a week, they were overtaken by the Russian army. They were told to return to Poland. The grandparents were too weak to continue and were left on the side of the road – never to be seen again.
Rudolf and the rest of his family were reunited in West Germany in 1949, and his father began paperwork to immigrate to the United States or Australia.
Rudolf’s uncle, who lived in Ontario, Oregon, vouched for the family. Traveling by ship, they landed in New York in 1951 and boarded a train to cross to Oregon.
Rudolf was 13 years old. He was looking for cowboys and Indians along the train tracks.
In Oregon, he was enrolled in Lincoln School, a small country school between Ontario and Vale. He was placed in the first grade. He did not speak any English and today he laughs when he tells you he started first grade three times.
Rudolf dreamed of being a soccer player, a game that was not played here then. The family worked for Rudolf’s uncle for two years, and then purchased a small farm in Payette, Idaho. They milked cows and raised strawberries.
Rudolf was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1955, and he served in occupied Korea. After his service, he attended diesel mechanic school in St. Louis, Missouri.
He returned to Payette and worked as a mechanic for a short time before going into farming with his brother.
Rudolf still lives on the farm where he and his brother began their careers. He is married to Roberta, his wife of 54 years. They have raised five children and are the grandparents of 11.
Through it all, he said, he wanted to be the best US citizen he could be.