Edeltraud Dillmann, 93, died at Northwest Community Hospital in the early hours of October 21, 2021. She had been diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2020 but continued her busy lifestyle until a few months ago. To celebrate her life and legacy, Visitation for Edeltraud C. Dillmann, 93, of Arlington Heights, Illinois, will be held Sunday, October 24, 2021, from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Ahlgrim Family Funeral Home, 201 N. Northwest Highway, Palatine. A Funeral Mass will take place at 10:00 a.m. Monday, October 25, 2021, at St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic Church, 1201 E. Anderson Drive, Palatine. The family requests that guests wear a face mask when attending.
She was born Edeltraud Gennies on January 12, 1928, in the small rural town of Rodental in East Prussia near the Russian border. Her parents, Friederich and Helene (Borchert) Gennies and her three sisters, Ruth, Eva, and Christa, lived on a small farm along with their grandparents and lived a simple life. At the age of 10, Edeltraud switched to a private school in a larger town and one year later, she switched to an all-girls high school (Lyceum für Mädchen). She was an excellent student who loved school and dreamt of becoming a teacher.
The war in Europe was intensifying and the Russians were coming closer and threatening her homeland. On a frigid day in January 1945, the family packed up their most important belongings onto their two horse-drawn wagons to escape the advancing Russian army. The trek was harrowing and fraught with danger, including having to cross a frozen lagoon where they were exposed to air raids by the Russians. During the escape, her mother succumbed to breast cancer and her father was shot to death by Russian soldiers. At 18 years old, Edeltraud found herself orphaned and responsible for her 3 younger sisters far away from home.
After over a year of being a refugee in East Germany, Edeltraud was thrilled to begin training as a teacher. After successfully completing the course, she was offered a job as a first-grade teacher which she thoroughly enjoyed. The situation was still dire with groceries and basic necessities in short supply. In her second year of teaching, she learned that her uncle had relocated to Frankfurt. After hearing the wonderful stories of West Germany, Edeltraud formed a plan together with her cousin, Renate, who was also a teacher. They were scheduled to attend a seminar in Wismar and at the train station, they separated from the group and boarded a train to Berlin carrying their meager belongings in a small bag. They managed to get to Erfurt, where they were welcomed by relatives who were also from East Prussia. The following day, they traveled by train towards the border to the town of Eisenach. They walked to the outskirts of town and knocked on a door. The people were friendly and agreed to help them with their plan. As darkness fell, they were shown which direction to walk. Only by the light of moon and no compass to guide them, they walked for hours, hoping they were going the right way. At dawn, they reached a farmhouse and fell asleep on the doorstep. They woke up to find the farmer feeding and milking the cows. They asked: “Are we in West Germany?” and were relieved to find out they were, and the family was very friendly and welcoming. After a hearty breakfast, they were sent on their way towards Frankfurt, which involved walking hours to a highway and hitchhiking on the open bed of a truck.
In October 1948, they were taken in by their uncle and started making plans for a new future. Edeltraud was classified as a political refugee which allowed her to seek shelter and employment. She landed a job as a nanny for an American family. After one year as a nanny, Edeltraud found employment as a secretary in a law firm. By this time, Edeltraud’s sisters had made their way to Frankfurt and found jobs.
Renate, her cousin, had found love with an American soldier and by chance, he introduced Edeltraud to Josef Dillmann, a German friend and colleague. In 1952, Edeltraud and Josef were engaged and making plans to get married. Shortly after their wedding, they applied for immigration to the United States which, to their excitement, was approved.
Prior to their arrival in the United States, their first son, Thomas, was born. Edeltraud and Josef settled in Minneapolis in late 1954 and enjoyed the friendship of many other German immigrants. Oh, the parties they had! Soon they were living the American dream with home ownership and a big American automobile. Their family continued to grow with the births of Carla and Barbara. In March 1960, after 5 years in the USA, they became eligible for US citizenship. In August 1964, Josef accepted a job in Chicago and the family of five moved to Palatine.
In Palatine, they again found a strong social network of German immigrants. In 1965, their fourth child, Daniel, was born. Edeltraud immersed herself in the German community and established a branch of the DANK German school in Arlington Heights which immersed local children in German language and culture. This was very successful. Additionally, she founded a German Kaffeekranz (coffee group) which is still going strong.
When her youngest child went to school, Edeltraud returned to the work force as an insurance adjuster for Equitable Life Insurance Company where she worked until her well-deserved retirement.
In her early life in Europe, Edeltraud was a survivor – a strong and courageous young woman who faced great adversity and heartbreaking losses in her lifetime but always overcame them. In the US, she gained the freedom to thrive, rather than merely survive. In a 2021 conversation with her granddaughter, Edeltraud said that her arrival in the United States at age 26 was the best time in her life because it represented a positive, new beginning full of possibility. Although she proudly embraced life in the United States, she continued to keep German traditions alive and pass them along to her children and grandchildren, including an annual Christmas Sing A Long.
Edeltraud was devoted to making a loving home for her children and husband. She was smart, self-disciplined and thoughtful. Not only was she an excellent role model for her children Thomas (deceased in 1981), Carla, Barbara, and Daniel, but she would eventually fill the role of amazing and cherished grandmother and great grandmother to many. They simply called her Omi and loved spending time with her – talking, baking, reading, hiking, and laughing together.
Once she and Josef retired, they moved to Wisconsin in the summers and Florida in the wintertime. The trend continued as they again forged deep friendships with Germans who wintered in Florida. With advancing age, they sold their Wisconsin chalet and moved back to Palatine for the summer months.
She loved playing cards, especially bridge and was an avid reader. She enjoyed golfing in her later years. She knit baby hats for charity and her hands were never idle. She loved entertaining and organizing events with her friends.
She was a force to be reckoned with, to be sure. Rest in peace, you will be missed but never forgotten.
Edeltraud was the beloved mother of Thomas (deceased), Carla (Gerhard) Kremer, Barbara (Mark) Altenberg and Daniel (Laura) Dillmann; loving Omi of David (Krista), Julia (Carey), Niklas (Sarah), Jereme (Christy), Zak (Laura), Zoë (Zack), Allison and Nicole; cherished great Omi of Jakob, Isaac, Max, Mia, Sage and Caleb.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Josef Dillmann (2011), and son, Thomas Dillmann (1981).
In lieu of flowers, memorials will be appreciated to American Cancer Society, PO Box 22478, Oklahoma City OK 73123 or St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, PO Box 50, Memphis TN 38101.