Giesela doesn’t seem to age. The exact date of her birth is a mystery but we know that she came to live with Renate Justin one September day 85 years ago.
She arrived in a grey baby carriage that had a sunroof and a pile of pillows and blankets. Her eyes are just as blue now as they were on the day of Renate Justin’s 5th birthday. Those blue eyes, plus a tender thoughtful look and a little snub nose caused Justin to fall immediately in love with her Käthe Kruse doll. Giesela has been healthy all these many years except for a broken nose which took her back to her birthplace in Germany for repair. Today she’s as good as new.
Renate Justin has lived a long life, filled with more joys and sorrows than many of us can imagine, and Giesela has been at her side for it all, laughing and playing with her, giving her courage during tough times as a child and eventually moving on to live with Justin’s daughter and then her granddaughter.
It was when Justin’s two granddaughters were small that she began to tell them stories about Giesela. And in the course of telling those stories, her granddaughters listened as she shared her experiences growing up in a Germany that persecuted Jews and resulted in her family eventually finding their way to the United States as refugees.
At age 9, Justin boarded a train from her small mountain village in Germany to travel alone to Holland where she would attend a school for refugee children sponsored by the Quakers. “I had a cardboard sign hanging around my neck with my name, age and destination. Giesela, poking out of the top of my rucksack, had a smaller sign around her neck with the same information on it.”
Justin’s two sisters also left Germany for the safety of Italy and Holland. For months Justin knew her father was in a concentration camp but knew nothing of his condition. Her mother, still in Germany, was prevented from writing to her children. Giesela was a big comfort to Justin during a very frightening time in her young life.
Not long ago Justin decided to share the stories she told her granddaughters in a children’s book published by Crystal Publishing LLC in Fort Collins. Giesela and her sister doll, Emilie, grace the cover of A Long Journey. The stories that Justin told her granddaughters to help them understand their Jewish heritage will now reach a wider audience of young people. Crystal is a local publishing firm specializing in history-related children’s stories and young adult fiction.
With the help of the Quakers, Justin’s family was able to immigrate to the U.S. She became a family physician and practiced in Indiana. She moved to Fort Collins 30 years ago to join her daughter in a medical practice.
It wasn’t easy getting an appointment with Justin. When she’s not at home writing non-fiction essays or creating practice questions for the family-practice recertification test, she volunteers at the Discovery Museum, working with tiny tots, and at the front desk at Fort Collins Museum of Art. She has nurtured a family through Court Appointed Special Advocates for many years and also mentors high school students by answering their questions through an online program. She rises early, is an avid walker and is expert when it comes to getting around town on the bus.
On Sept. 11, Justin will celebrate her 90th birthday. With Giesela at her side, hers has been a long and eventful journey. May they celebrate together.
Find A Long Journey at lulu.com. Look for it at local outlets in early September.