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Finding and Losing a Postwar 'Paradise'

BOOKS & AUTHORS / ORANGE COUNTY

September 06, 1994|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In her first book, "Eva's War: A True Story of Survival," Eva Krutein of Irvine provided a compelling, first-hand account of surviving World War II.

As a young married woman, she and her 14-month-old daughter were forced to flee the Red Army as it advanced into her native Danzig, the former free state that was annexed by Germany in 1939 and later became part of Poland.

The 1989 book dramatically chronicled the hardships and horrors of war from a civilian perspective: Huddling with strangers in shelters during bombings, fellow civilians rummaging for food in garbage cans, entire families "living like rats in holes," beneath the rubble of their former homes, a female friend who was raped 30 times by Russian soldiers.

Now Krutein, a retired music teacher, is back with a sequel.

"Paradise Found, and Lost" (Amador Publishers; $11) picks up the Kruteins story after the family immigrated to Chile in 1951.

Krutein said in an interview that an unsettling political situation in Europe and the threat that the Soviet Union would occupy western Europe prompted her and her family to leave Wilhelmshaven, Germany, where they had been living since the war ended.

"We didn't want to have to go through the same thing twice: Running away from the Russians at the last moment to become refugees as we did in the first book and lose everything," she said.

Krutein's husband, Manfred, who served as a lieutenant in the German navy, had opened a private shipyard on the North Sea after the war. "So," she said, "we made a lot of money and could go to America with our three children and take everything, including the piano."

Their plans to immigrate to the U.S., however, were quickly dashed.

"The immigration office said we needed a sponsor. We didn't know a single soul, therefore we went to South America. Chile and Venezuela were the only South American countries that accepted immigrants at that time."

Once in Chile, Manfred found a job as a mining engineer and Eva worked as an opera coach and gave piano and harpsichord concerts.

To Krutein, Chile "was a paradise. For me, it was the wonderful nature, the beauty of the country. That's why we went there, and we found it 100 times more beautiful than we thought. And they're very nice, warm, outgoing people."

The Kruteins had to learn to speak Spanish and to deal with the culture shock of living in a country where, she said, \o7 "Manana \f7 doesn't mean tomorrow. It means sometime or never. If you have an appointment, you get there on time and either people show up after an hour or not at all."

Part of the book, which is written like a novel, also deals with \o7 machismo \f7 and the lack of women's rights in Chile. "If women are beaten by their husbands, they accept it because there are no laws for the women."

As the book's title indicates, however, Chile was a "paradise found, and lost."

By 1960, American immigration laws had changed. Thanks to Sputnik, the Russian spacecraft, which propelled America into the space race, "the U.S. needed more engineers and scientists and so Manfred could sponsor himself."

Leaving Chile after nine years wasn't easy for Krutein, who helped out in milk distribution center and a clinic for the poor. "It was a heartbreak," she said. "At first I didn't want to go because I loved Chile so much."

In the U.S., Manfred landed a job as a design engineer for a construction and mining company in Palo Alto; Eva returned to school, earning a master's degree in music. The family later moved to Pacific Palisades, San Diego and then Irvine in 1976, and she also became a music instructor at UCLA and Pepperdine University.

Krutein said her family "left before the turmoil"--the election of socialist Salvador Allende as Chile's president, "which created a chaos in the country and split the country in two. Then came the coup d'etat by Augusto Pinochet" in 1973.

But the book also chronicles the Kruteins return visits to Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship, their first in 1974 when they learned that many of their friends had been murdered, tortured or had disappeared.

Their most recent return trip to Chile was in 1992, with Pinochet long out of power and the country again returned to democracy.

Krutein says she saw a Chile that was "even more modern than California. For instance, although they have more earthquakes than we have, Santiago has an extended subway system, immaculately clean and punctual."

She also noticed an improvement in women's rights: "The women work now. Before they didn't because they were confined to their kitchens and to bed mainly."

In general, she says, life in Chile is much better than when they left.

"Although (Pinochet) was a brutal dictator like Hitler and was guilty of the suffering and the deaths and disappearance of thousands of people, he helped build up the country technically and economically." He was able "to get loans from the U.S. because he was an enemy of the communists and therefore he got everything he wanted."

"Paradise Found, and Lost" isn't the last we'll hear about the Krutein family.

Krutein already has started writing a third book, one that will deal with "the years from 1960, including Manfred's involvement in the secret raising of a Russian nuclear submarine on the ocean floor" in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, Krutein is telling the story of "Paradise Found, and Lost" during frequent talks in churches, clubs, libraries and colleges.

She'll give a slide-illustrated talk at the University Club at UC Irvine Sept. 21. For more information, call (714) 856-7737.

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