In my last post I shared some of the wonderful photographs I received from my cousin Steve of Sarah Stern and Gustav Oestreicher and their three children, Sidney, Frank, and Helen. This post will focus on the children of Sidney Oestreicher and Esther Siff, Steve’s grandparents.
Their first child Gerald was born in 1916, in Chicago, where Sidney and Esther lived in the early years of their marriage. Their daughter Betty was born three years later in 1919. Sidney was working as a traveling salesman during those years.
By 1930 Sidney’s father Gustav had retired and moved with Sarah to Atlantic City, and Sidney returned with Esther, Gerald, and Betty to Pittsburgh to help run the family store, The People’s Store. Sidney and Esther had their third child Elaine in Pittsburgh in 1931.
This photograph below, probably taken in Pittsburgh in the late 1930s, includes the whole family–from left to right, Betty, Sidney, Elaine, Esther, and Gerald.
After The People’s Store went bankrupt during the Depression, Sidney had a hard time finding work. Steve told me that Gerald would sell apples on the street after school to earn money. Steve also shared this story about his grandmother Esther:
Grandma, Esther Oestreicher, was a homemaker to her three children, but also a very good pinochle player. Twice a week she would sit down at night with friends and earn a living.
Once a week or month, there was a raffle at the local theater after the matinee movie. On one occasion as Gerald and Esther were walking to the theater, she repeatedly announced to neighbors sitting on their stoups, “My son and I are going to the movie where I will win the raffle today.” This terribly embarrassed my Dad, who said he wanted to tuck his head under his shirt. Sure enough after the movie ended, Esther won the raffle. On the way home passing many of those same neighbors on their stoup, she waved the money at them joyfully yelling, ” I told you I would win the raffle.”
Gerald played saxophone in high school. In 1937 and 1938, Gerald was a student at Northeastern University in Boston, where he continued to play the saxophone in the university band.
On October 1, 1941, Gerald enlisted in the US Army Air Corps. Here is his draft registration card and his Army identification card. (Note that his name change to Striker is dated December 5, 1945, while he was in the service.)
Steve shared with me the following story about his father’s decision to enlist. Gerald could see that war was coming, and without consulting with his parents, he decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps. He had hammerhead toes so his choice of which service to join was limited. As told by Steve, Gerald had to break the news to his parents the night before he had to report for duty:
The Oestreicher family dinner that night started with nothing out of the ordinary. Sidney at the head of the table, Esther next to him, Jerry next to his mother on one side, and sister Elaine on the other. Sister Betty on the other side of her father. A roast and potatoes in the middle.
Towards the middle of the meal the war was brought up. There had been little talk from Jerry about it. My Dad told me his mother at one time looked up,and then straight at him, and dropped her fork on her plate. “My God, you’ve enlisted.” Jerry responded. Esther’s eyes teared. Sidney said, “When do you leave?” Jerry announced early tomorrow morning.Sidney became very angry. Jerry announced he needed to pack and get some sleep. Sidney offered to take him to the train station, but Jerry insisted no, “I want to say our goodbyes here”. There was a lot of crying by everyone but Sidney. Jerry announced they should say their goodbye’s that night. Shortly later Jerry then went to bed. He left without saying goodbye in the morning.
The next morning Jerry arrived alone at the train station around 6am. Waiting for him was Sidney, with a sack of food, and advise “stay alive for your mother”.
They waved to each other as the train departed
As you can see from his service record posted below, he had a distinguished record of service during the war. He attended Officer Candidate School in Aberdeen, Maryland, and a Naval Mine Warfare training center in Yorktown, Virginia.
In February, 1944, he shipped out, arriving in North Africa by March 10, 1944, when he wrote the following note to his father Sidney:
What a sweet and reassuring note! Can you imagine thinking that fighting in a war could be an experience one could “thoroughly enjoy”? I certainly can’t.
After some time in North Africa, Gerald was shipped out again, this time to Asia. While at sea, he wrote the following undated long letter to his family. Please read it, especially the last two pages. It is truly a look into the heart and mind of a young man about to face combat.
“Somewhere at Sea”
It has been sometime since I last wrote a letter of any length to you, and will attempt to do justice to this one.
While I was in Africa I had my first taste of what will be in store for me during the duration. I can honestly say that it is not too bad. Militarily there is nothing I may write, however I can tell you that living conditions were most primitive. We slept on the ground and lived out of cans. And speaking of cans—even the toilet paper was rationed out to us. We get plenty of cigarettes, but candy is very scarce.
I had the opportunity to visit Oran, North Africa, and found the living conditions most interesting. I was surprised how much of my high school French held me in good stead. I also picked up a little Arabic. My knowledge of the foreign rate of currency exchange
has been added to my general knowledge. Among the strange things that I saw were rest stations located in the middle of streets, natives without shoes, and automobiles drawn by horses, and I saw the Kasbah which was built in 1501. I drank champagne at $2.00 per bottle until it poured out of my ears—cognac at dinner time—and ice cream in the afternoon!
Since I left the states I have been to Italy which I found not as beautiful as the travel booklets make one believe—perhaps that is due to friendly and enemy bombings. The natives fight for American products. I could have bought a horse for 2 cases of soap! Of course I had no need of a horse, but it does give you an idea as to what the natives are like in this part of the world.
While on ship I gained back the weight
I lost while in Africa, I have felt very well at all times and can not complain of anything. I had my head shaved and after 5 weeks time I finally have grown about 3/4 of an inch back. I did notice that on top it is getting “a la Sidny.” Also, it is getting slightly gray.
I suppose by the time I get to my destination there will be plenty of mail for me. If there is—I’m going to ration myself several letters every day.
I think I did tell you that I got my promotion to “first”while in Africa.
I have an insurance premium due in May or June, so just draw the amount out of my account. I could use some Bond Street tobacco—so you can send me some when you again see Harold Powell. We can’t get that kind, and I’d rather not smoke a piple than smoke the stuff they sell us here.
There is so much more I would like to say—but somehow I do not wish to reveal everything.
No, you did not raise your boy to be a soldier nor did he wish to be a soldier. But we can not control all factors.
I am not a soldier. I am merely a chap who is doing as directed, and to some extent doing what I believe in. The German boys too are doing what they believe in. It is a game of life—death really has no part. The dead can not play.
Yes, I am going in there fighting—I’m fighting for you and folks like you, I’m fighting for myself, my friends—and I’m fighting for what I know is right!
Thanks to you my life has been almost complete. I can face the worst of it and still smile for I know there is happiness ahead.
And so I’m saying “I’ll be seeing you”—and it won’t be long.
Just remember—if I can feel that you are all good soldiers at home, I can be the best one abroad. Well I guess
there is little else I can think of to write at this time.
I hope you are all well and brave. Also, if at any time you do not hear from me for even a months time do not get alarmed as the mails may be late or I am in such a position that writing is impossible or of little value.
My love to all,
You can see in this letter that Gerald was still struggling with his parents’ reaction to his enlistment, and despite his brave words, his statement that his “life has been almost complete” seems to suggest that he did worry about being killed in the war.
As his service record indicates, after leaving Africa Gerald served as an ordnance officer in the China Burma India theater of the war and received several commendations for his service. Here are a few photographs of Gerald while serving in World War II. Steve told me that his father considered his time in the service the best and most exciting time of his life.
Steve also shared this story of his father’s return home from the war:
Four plus years after leaving the U.S, Jerry sailed into New York. He did not tell anyone when he would return. He got to his parents’ apartment and entered a phone booth to call his mother Esther with the intention of announcing he would be home “shortly”. But his little sister Elaine arbitrarily came bounding down the stairs. But he said she was not his little sister, but a grown young woman. Then Elaine also spotted him. Yelling Jerry! Jerry! she leaped at him. They both went upstairs to see their mother.
Shortly after the war, Gerald was invited by his Uncle Frank to the Scaroon Manor resort in upstate New York. There he met a woman who was singing at the resort, Faye Karol, whose real name was Faye Krakower. Her career as a singer was described in my earlier post. According to Steve, his father Gerald proposed to Faye six days later, and they were married in November, 1946.
Here are some pictures of Faye.
Gerald and Faye and their son moved to California in 1948 where Gerald worked as a salesman for a number of different clothing lines and other businesses.
Meanwhile, Gerald’s younger sister Betty had married Julius Jacob in 1942. I wrote about Betty and Julius here.
This is Betty and Gerald’s little sister, Elaine, the one who stayed and lived with Maxine Schulherr Stein in PIttsburgh and started me on the journey that led to all these amazing photographs.
Although Steve shared many more photos of the family, I will end with this one of my cousin Sidney Oestreicher, later in life, with his three adult children, my cousins Gerald, Betty, and Elaine.
There are a few more posts to come based on the materials Steve shared with me including the letters written by his uncle Frank Striker during his service in World War I and some letters that were written to Frank by various family members.