Saipan families reunite with German relatives after 102 years

AFTER 102 years of being separated, the Cabrera, Cepeda and Woitschek families got together in a grand reunion at the Carolinian Ut on Saturday.

Cynthia C. Pangelinan, one of the great granddaughters of Hermann Woitschek, said they finally met their relatives from Germany.

About a year ago, Pangelinan said, Erika Woitschek Entenmann contacted her through Facebook.

“Erika found me first on Facebook. If I remember correctly, she asked if I was a relative of Edward Cabrera, son of August Cabrera. Of course I responded with, ‘I am the daughter of Edward and granddaughter of August.’ Then she introduced herself,” Pangelinan said.

“That’s when I found out that she was a member of the Woitschek family for whom we had searched for the longest time.”

Pangelinan added, “I sent messages to my family on FB. I told them ‘Guess what, we finally found the missing link in our Woitschek family — someone related to our great grandfather Hermann Woistschek.’ ”

Woitschek’s story

Hermann Woistschk arrived on Saipan in 1899 as a medical assistant to a doctor sent to the island during the German administration.

While here, Woitschek married Soledad Cepeda and they had a son Juan Cepeda.

They were eventually separated. Woitschek then got together with Antonia Palacios Cabrera with whom he had three children: Asuncion Cabrera-Blanco, Rosa Ema Cabrera-Tudela and August Cabrera.

On Saipan, Woitschek was also a postman and he trained local people to become police officers. In addition, he established a police force band.

In 1916, two years after World War I broke out, the Japanese took over the islands, and a German gunboat left Saipan with German nationals on board but not their local family members.

That was the last time Hermann Woitschek saw his wife and children on Saipan.

Pangelinan’s story

When Cynthia Pangelinan   was a little girl in the 1970s, her great grand aunt Nieves Cabrera-Manibusan would tell stories about their family.

Nieves was the sister of Pangelinan’s great-grandmother, Antonia Palacios Cabrera.

“She would tell us about the German times because my great-grand aunt Nieves lived during the German period. She would tell us stories about our great grandpa, Hermann Woitschek.

“She would say, ‘You need to know that you have this other family that lives in Germany. He is your great grandfather. They called him doctor.’

“But he was actually a medical aide to a doctor who was sent from Germany to help the people on Saipan and the other islands. When the doctor was not available, our great grandfather used to see and tend to people’s medical needs. So the local community started calling him ‘doctor.’ ”

Pangelinan said their great grandmother Antonia was very sad when her husband left.

“She went somewhere high so she could see the German gunboat sail away,” Pangelinan added.

“I asked my aunt Nieves why Antonia did not follow her husband and take the children with her. At that time, I was told, no locals were allowed to leave the island or go to Germany.”

Woitschek promised Antonia that he would return.

“Great grandma would wait for him every day, waiting and praying that one day he would come back. But it didn’t happen.

“From what I’ve gathered from my great grandma, Woitschek was drafted and fought for Germany during World War I.”

After the war, Woitschek started a new life with his third wife, Anna Jadeel, a widow. They had a son, Helmut Woitschek, the father of Erika.

Erika’s story

Erika said during World War I, Woitschek contracted malaria. “He eventually realized that he had no chance of coming back to the island. So, after some years, he built a new family. He married a widow who had two daughters from her first marriage. They lived in Germany. They had a son, Helmut who is my father.”

Erika said their search for their relatives on Saipan started when her grandfather retired and decided to write down an account of his life.

“We learned about his life on Saipan. We learned that he had two wives and a total of four children. So we started searching for them,” she said.

Hermann Woitschek died in 1964.

Many years later, Erika found an online article about her grandfather as a postman, “but nothing about his family on Saipan.”

Then she read another online article about the German administration of the Northern Marianas. It mentioned the name of Woitschek and his family here, including his wife Antonia and their children.

After they finally made contact with their relatives on Saipan, Erika said they began planning the trip.

“It was an amazing experience to be together with a family this big. In Germany, we are only 10 people from my grandfather. Here we have lots of people who carry the same blood, and it touched my heart to see them,” Erika said, adding that her grandfather had tried hard to re-connect with his family members on Saipan.

Erika said she feared that not a lot of her relatives on Saipan would remember Woitschek because many generations had already passed.

“But everybody remembers him. All the relatives have pictures of our grandpa and everyone knows him,” she added.

Erika was with her daughter Eva Entenmann when they visited Saipan for a week.

“We were so emotional. We cried when I first saw my family here. We met a lot of them. We met the Cepedas and the Cabreras,” Erika added.

She said her Saipan family did not know why he had to leave and how hard he tried to come back for them, “but because of unfortunate events, he was unable to come back.”

Erika said the family’s ‘big question mark has been cleared up.”

She added, “I hope we can stay in contact and that they visit us in Germany. We now understand why grandpa stayed here and didn’t want to go home. It’s paradise here.”

Cynthia Pangelinan said she was very glad that their German relatives “traveled thousands of miles to see their family on Saipan.”

“We will maintain this connection for the rest of our lives. We have the connection — the link is finally made. Hopefully, through her, we can meet other members of the family,” she added.

Jose Cepeda, 73, the son of Woitschek’s first son Juan Cepeda, was sick and could not walk but he attended the reunion on Saturday.

He was very emotional when he met Erika and her daughter. “I am overwhelmed,” he said. “I knew we had family in Germany but I did not know them, and now I do.”

Source: Marianas Variety :

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