The best defense is an offense, and that was as true in the past as it is today. A century ago, a deceitful notary took advantage of my grandfather’s absence to wrongfully sell his property. My grandmother’s father, Samuel Ebner, (left) wrote her and her new husband, Josef Gartz, a letter dated May 11, 1913. Samuel was clearly in great distress over the illegal sale. It’s a long letter, so I’ll summarize the facts and include only the best quotes from the letter.
I went with Josef’s mother to the notary. I have to tell you, he is an abusive boor, insulting both me and your mother. He even said that if Sepp (Josef) were here, he’d cuff him about the ears!
I told him that the Hof should not have been sold without Josef’s authorization and now additions have been built [onto the property.]
[The notary] called me a crooked Saxon [this was derogatory, ethnic name-calling] and claimed that I only wanted to swindle him. I told him I am no Saxon. I am an honest German. I demanded the truth from him…and said I would not sign anything before I heard from [Josef and Lisi] what I should do.”
I did everything that was possible, but too much has already been built on your Hof: a well, an anteroom, a back room, a stall of cement, a pigpen also with cement, very nicely constructed and filled with sand. The new owner wouldn’t talk to me.
I inquired about going to court, but your mother will have to pay all the expenses. So I don’t know what I should do.
In other words, the person who had bought Josef’s property had already invested so much of his own money into the hof, it would be hard to get the property back. As is so common even today in America, the expense of a lawsuit precluded getting justice. Samuel wanted to know if he should buy another home for Josef and Lisi as several were for sale in a nearby area.
The family even called upon Mrs. Jickeli, Lisi’s former employer and a wealthy merchants wife, to see if she could get get any satisfaction, but even a woman with Mrs. Jickeli’s great influence couldn’t help. Mrs. Jickeli had the situation checked out and wrote to Lisi and Josef her opinion.
I quote from Berta Jickeli’s letter of March 16, 1913:
Josef’s mother can certainly file a lawsuit. However, she will not get any justice in any court, and will have to pay many Kronen [money]. To pursue such a hopeless lawsuit would be to throw money into the air. [It would be better] to save the expenses and buy a new piece of land if you would someday want to come home.
Certainly the folks of the older generation were shaking their heads in dismay at Josef and Lisi’s rash emigration a year a half earlier. Josef had left without fulfilling his military obligation, Lisi had joined him ten months afterward in an impetuous marriage, and now this—Josef losing his house.
Of course, those back in the old country couldn’t have known in 1913 how much would change in just a year, how their country would be wracked and ruined by war, and how dependent they would all become over the next decades on the loving generosity and care of these foolish youths.