Zofia Andrzejczek Schapp goes for a walk at her Alexian apartment in South St Louis. The native of Poland came to the United States in 1949 as a refugee. During World War II she was arrested and detained by occupying German forces and eventually was sent to Bavaria to work as farm laborer.
"When I was 17 the Germans took my brother. I saw him kiss my mother good-bye and run, but the Germans caught him and dragged him away," Zofia Andrzejczak Schapp said. She never saw him again.
Cardinal Ritter Institute operates or manages 12 independent living facilities for the aging each one with a volume of amazing stories, some of them thrillers. Zofia's may top them all.
When we opened her door, it was dark. Zofia is blind and has no need for lighting. She knows the way around her one-bedroom Alexian Court apartment very well. Various eye problems led to the loss of her sight two years ago. Since then organizations for the blind have been most helpful getting her used to her situation.
Zofia now uses a walker or cane because in early spring, she broke her hip. Asked how it happened, she replies, "Making carrot salad ... Well, I had just finished and I wanted to sit down. I felt for the chair, started to sit, and missed the edge."
Reserved, but friendly, very matter of-fact, certainly independent - that's Zofia now. She was born in Radom, central Poland, in the. '20s and was a teenager when World War II began in Europe. At 19 she was deported to Bavaria in Germany as a farm laborer Her story is in many ways bizarre, and may even be typical of her time and place. But with Zofia it's hard to imagine typical.
Immediately after her brother was taken by the Germans - and before she was sent to Bavaria - Zofia left home knowing her days of freedom were numbered. "I lived in many places," she recalled, "with others who were staying out of the way of the Germans. We spent time .helping the Jews as much as we could. We lived like gypsies."
During one period she worked for a hospital delivering medicine and running errands. "Once, on a delivery, my bike broke down. I left the bike and started to walk. Pretty soon a German Luftwaffe pilot picked me up and drove me back to the hospital. I got out, thanked him, ran into the hospital and right out the back door," she remembered.
Another time she and her friends were chased by the Germans into a ditch filled with mud and nettle bushes. The teenagers dove in deep, into the mud, under the nettles and hardly daring to breathe. Just then a German soldier jumped into the ditch, straddling it just above where Zofia lay; she hoped, buried. "I could read the words on his belt: `Got mit uns,' which means, `God with us,' and I remember he had such blue eyes!" Fortunately, he did not see the color of hers.
After two years of underground war games, she and three other girls were arrested and locked in the basement of a building where they were kept four months. They never did learn where the building was located.
"The others always stayed downstairs," Zofia said, "but I was brought up to cook food in a very big pot ... and then sent back to the basement..." There were only two cots, she remembers, with no mattresses or blankets. Somehow they slept two on a cot. "All we could see out the windows all that time, were feet walking by," she recalls. Then one day they were taken to Bavaria in Germany to work as farm laborers.
The word "fear" must certainly have been in Zofia's vocabulary, but possibly she had lived in its aura so long, it disappeared for her. At any rate, she never hesitated to test new situations.
One day, at the first farm where she worked, a policeman came to check up. He asked the farmer's wife how Zofia was doing. Not knowing that Zofia understood some German, the wife reported that Zofia had killed all the chickens and ruined the onion crop: With that, Zofia ran to the barn, grabbed a dead chick and showed him that the birds had died of lice infestation. She then told him the onion crop failed because it was over watered:
On that same farm, the grandmother and grandfather slept on the lower floor, while the
rest of the family had bedrooms upstairs. It remains light quite late on Bavarian summer
evenings, but daylight or not, folks went to bed early.
Zofia knew the farm where one of her friends worked, and she wanted to visit her. Of course it was forbidden, so of course Zofia sneaked out to see her friend at the first opportunity. Returning later, she found all doors locked, but there was an unlocked window to crawl through. Staying low, she crept past the old people and upstairs to bed. "All the while it was still light," she says with a grin.
The next time she returned from her nocturnal visit, all the doors and windows were locked. Unfazed, she walked to the nearest farm and slept in the barn. Next day, the neighbor farmer helped her get to the nearby village to see if she could find work on another farm. And she did.
The Germans were not all bad.
A week later her new boss called the labor office to report Zofia's arrival and they told him he had enough, help, that Zofia couldn't stay. They told him there was a job in yet another town where she could work in a flour mill. A generous biker offered her a ride 15 miles on the bar of his bike, to the flour mill. "Did you ever ride 15 miles on the bar of a bike?" she asks.
At the flour mill she learned fast, and was soon given more responsibility, but a young German apprentice there mightily resented Zofia's preferential treatment. To make the matter worse, when the miller had to be away, he would leave to pull the clutter away so the mill stream would be clear. He called her a "Polish Pig," and. said, "Do it yourself!"
Fighting words. "With that," Zofia says, "I grabbed him, threw him down and rubbed his face in the weeds." When he got up still protesting, she knocked him down again and sat on him.
Of course, the constable came. During questioning, Zofia somehow drew his ire and he started to strike her. Zofia raised her arm to ward off the blow and knocked the constable's hat off. He screamed for the miller's mother to find a certain feared instrument of punishment so he could beat Zofia. The lady returned saying she couldn't find it, so the constable took out his pistol and threatened to hit Zofia. For some reason he didn't: Soon after the apprentice was drafted.
Then, the miller was able to get a whole family of POWs to work in the mill and Zofia lost her job.
Asked if she was ever paid money, Zofia laughs. "Where would I have spent money?"
Pretty soon, she found work on another farm, this time near a munitions factory hidden deep in the forest. "But you could see train tracks going in," she says, and in time the Americans did, too, from above. They began to bomb the factory. "The ground shook and the flames rose high ... to the sky. I saw a whole train get blown up," she says. By this time, the war was winding down. Zofia knew things were bad for Germany when one day she saw the farmer's wife take the picture of Hitler from the wall and tear it up.
She also remembers Bavaria as an escape route. A farmer had once pointed toward-the tall border mountains and warned, "Don't even think about heading that way. You will be caught long before you reach them." But Zofia knew Americans escaped. Once a soldier came up near her and as he passed, put his finger to his lips saying, "Shhh!" Then he was gone.
After the war, with Poland under Russian rule and believing her family to be dead, Zofia went to a displaced persons hospital and infirmary to work. From there, through the refugee organization, UNRRA, she was brought to America in 1949. The Ursuline nuns from Kirkwood sponsored her. She was assigned to help Sister Antonia, a nurse. "I lived there seven months," she says, "and I studied English every day!"
Romance came into her life, amazingly through the St. Louis Review, then then known as the St. Louis Register. One of the Stygar undertaking family read an article about Zofia in the paper in the spring of 1949.
The Stygars were about to celebrate their 25th anniversary and planned a big celebration. Mr. Stygar thought it would sister had died when Zofia was small. black limousine came to pick us up ... Later, her younger brother, John, and and off we went." twin sisters also died. Later at the reception, as soon as the host's aunt saw Zofia she exclaimed "Have I got a fellow for you!" The fellow was Eugene Schapp. Within three months the two were married, he at 34 and Zofia at age 27. The nuns gave her the wedding, made her gown, and at first wanted the ceremony to be at the convent; but Zofia felt it better to marry in the Polish church; St. Stanislaus Kostka. "Eugene was a very religious man," Zofia says. When she met him he had a secretarial job, but most of his working years were spent at Hussmann Refrigeration. He died about 14 years ago.
The two had six children. To daughters live in California. One son is in Texas, the other three are nearby, in Ferguson, Barnhart and the youngest lives in Zofia's old home on Ohio Street.
It seems that, for one reason or another, Zo fia was always on somebody's list. While still with the Ursulines, she remembers there were two German girls who did not like her. One of them told her, "I'm going to get you out of here!
Meanwhile, Zofia had noticed a candle was always burning by the statue of St. Joseph. On her wedding day, the German girl announced that she would now blow out the candle because Zofia was "out of there."
In recent years, Zofia returned to Poland three times. She had learned` nothing of her family until her first visit back when she met her cousin and her sister's children. At the time the war began, Zofia and her brother were the only remaining children. Her married
Zofia was told her mother lived until age 85 and that her father died suddenly at her cousin's wedding. The brother reportedly died in prison after contacting typhus. Zofia doesn't believe that. On later visits, she stayed with a nephew who had 2,000 geese. These were to be plucked and sold to the Germans, "who always have goose for Christmas."
Back to the present. You may wonder how Zofia makes carrot salad without seeing. "By feel," she answers first, she cleans and shreds the carrots and the apples. She also shreds horseradish .. adds sweetener, pepper, salt and sour cream. Nothing to it.
Zofia moved to Alexian Court because she wanted company: She walks around wearing a cap with a very large bill... I was always bumping into walls, she explained.. "The cap keeps me from hurting my head."
She walks slowly because of her hip. She explains how she has "hardware from here to here..." indicating from above the knee to somewhere above her hip.
To see her get out of her apartment door, lock the dead bolt, walk around the corner to the elevator, push the down button, get in and push the first-floor button -you'd never know she is blind except for the white cane. Voices in the lobby call out to her She seems to recognize all of them.
One day, Zofia wants to visit Poland again. Who could presume that she won't?