Dr. Contag shares family story and secret WWII history

New Ulm native Dr. Kimberly Contag and author of the non-fiction book “Where the Clouds Meet the Water,” shares the story how her German Ecuadorian grandfather and father were deported to Germany during WWII and the story of how they eventually returned home.

NEW ULM – New Ulm native Dr. Kimberly Contag shared a family story about a secret government program that relocated her family from Ecuador to Germany during WWII.

Contag shared this family story during a meeting of the German Bohemian Heritage Society Friday at the New Ulm Country Club. The story was the subject of a non-fiction book Contag wrote called “Where the Clouds Meet the Water.”

The book details how her Ecuadorian born grandfather Ernesto Contag and his children were force-ably relocated back to Germany during WWII.

Dr. Contag said this book was the most exciting project she had ever worked on because it related to family, but also because few people knew about the United States interference with people of German heritage living in Latin America.

In 1942, an inter-American Conference was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the conference, the United States insisted Latin American countries takes steps to isolate people of German, Italian, and Japanese heritage. Several South American countries were encouraged to create blacklists of individuals living in their countries that had family originally from one of the Axis powers. This included the Contag family.

Dr. Contag explained that her great-grandfather Oskar Contag had immigrated out of German Prussia in 1903 and settled with his wife in Ecuador in 1905. By 1917, Oskar Contag died, but he had multiple children born in Ecuador, including Dr. Contag’s grandfather Ernesto, who was raised in Quito. By the start of WWII, Ernesto Contag ran an import/export business and had four children.

In Feb. 1942, Ernesto was blacklisted by the Ecuadorian government. He was identified as a potential danger to the U.S. As a result his business was shuttered and he, along with his four children, were forced out of Ecuador.

Dr. Contag said her father, Karl-Heinz was 11 years old at the time his family was forced out of Ecuador because of their German heritage. Though none of the family had ever lived in Germany, they were considered potential threats.

“Many of these [deported] people were born in these countries and their parents were born in these countries,” Dr. Contag said. “How many generations before you are not part of the country?”

On May 6, 1942 families were rounded up and moved by railcar and sent to the coast. By boat they sailed along the Ecuadorian coast through Panama Canal, then to New Orleans. From there, families were sent by trains to internment camps in the United States. The Contag family was sent to Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia. In 1942 the hotel had over 1,000 deportees. The government took to calling them “bargain nationals.” The government was able to trade them for individuals held in Axis countries. Ultimately, the Contag family was sent to Nazi occupied Germany. Once they arrived in Germany, Ernesto was unable to stay with his children or keep them all together. He was widower and had to work full-time to support them in a foreign country. The Contag children were sent to Potsdam without their father.

Dr. Contag’s father, Karl-Heinz was 12 and had to join the German Youth. In order to survive in Germany, the Contag family had to work hard to fit in.

“It was necessary for these four children, whose first language was Spanish to learn enough German to pass as German in a country they had never known,” Dr. Contag said.

Though out of the war, the Contag family was rarely together. The children stayed at separate households. Karl-Heinz was relocated multiple time due to bombing raids.

Before the end of the war, Ernesto Contag lost track of his eldest son Karl-Heniz. As the war came to an end, Ernesto was forced to leave Germany for France with his other three children but intended to come back for Karl-Heniz.

In 1946, most of the Contag family was staying in a refugee camp in France. Ernesto eventually found where Karl Heinz was staying in Germany. He was able to leave Germany by riding across the border in an ambulance. He eventually was reunited with his family in the refugee camp.

With the war over, the Contag family was able to return to the Americas. First they made it to the United States and then back to Ecuador. Once back in Ecuador, Karl Heinz was able to change his name back to Carlos.

Returning to Ecuador was bittersweet for the Contag family. Ernesto Contag’s import/export business was long gone and there was little work for him in Ecuador. He took a job as a farm manager and was separated from his children again.

Dr. Contag said her family was able to return to Ecuador after being deported, but many never did return and many families lost everything.

“No internee was ever convicted of a war-crime against the United States,” Dr. Contag said.

Dr. Contag’s father would eventually move to the United States to study veterinarian medicine. He received a scholarship for the Veterinary School in Ames, Iowa. There he met and married a woman from New Ulm, Minnesota. He would eventually move with her to New Ulm. Several people at the German Bohemian Society meeting recalled Carlos Contag visiting their farm to check animals.

Dr. Kimberly Contag is herself a 1976 graduate of New Ulm High School.

Dr. Contag said the best part of writing the book about her family and sharing the story is being contacted by people from around the world.

“The neat thing is [people] are reading this book about someone who ended up in New Ulm,” she said. Copies of her book have been downloaded all over the world and learning a part of history they do not always know.

“That’s the most wonderful part,” she said.


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