In the summer of 1945, Jirina Schweizerova was biking with a friend in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, when a jeep pulled up next to them. Jirina was 21, energetically bent over her friend’s broken bike chain. Reinhold Schumann was a Lieutenant Colonel, offering to help. When she refused, they said goodbye. But by the luck of life, they met later that day on a nearby lake shore.
Jirina spoke no English, the Lieutenant spoke no Czech. But he recognized fate when it cycled past him, and, in their mutual German, invited her to an officer’s dinner dance that night.
“She was an hour late,” Jirina and Reinhold’s daughter, Edie Ravenelle, remembers from their old family story. “And my dad was an extremely punctual man.”
Five dates followed before Reinhold returned to the United States. Their correspondence, written on onion-skin paper in Jirina’s determined, ever-improving English, lasted for 3 years.
“They had a start that I’ll never know, which was a sweet start, a young start where you’re willing to venture, maybe everything,” Edie recalls.
Jirina had wanted to be a chemist or a botanist, but the universities were shut down. Living on war-time rations, life in Pilsen was hard. Reinhold’s letters were visions of an alternative hope — when they arrived.
“It was a very tenuous time, and I saw that in her letters.” Edie read from a letter her mother sent to her father, dated March 8th: “I didn’t receive during the week one letter, and last week I sent you four letters. I’m afraid I know that my letters are now being censored, and perhaps will not go so quickly.”
After his proposal, Jirina began to gather the reams of documents she needed for immigration. It took a year — a daunting year — with time to mull every hazard. Government officials warned that a reckless fiancée would abandon her; they warned that a heartless America would force her into prostitution. As a war bride, she was leaping with no guarantee of landing. Finally, she was granted a visitor’s visa. It would expire in three months if she didn’t marry.
Edie read from another letter, “Darling Reinhold, I enjoy my sweet so much –- ‘my sweet’ being my dad –- and I dream so much of you.”
On October 16, 1948, Jirina wed Reinhold in a church outside Harvard Square. It was three years since they had first met more than 3000 miles away.
Jirina Schumann died in Concord, Massachusetts, last November. She was 91 years old.
This segment aired on March 15, 2016.