Letters have a special meaning for Helga Kissell. It was through writing letters that she and her husband Leo, an American soldier, fell in love in the aftermath of World War II.
She was working in a photography shop in a Bavarian village, and he was looking for a place to develop prints of the region’s majestic palaces.
Helga and her mother had fled the bombing in Berlin after her father died in the air raids. A relative in Bavaria opened his home to them and planted Helga at the shop’s front counter to deal with the American soldiers, since she knew a few words of English.
“I bluffed my way through,” she recalled recently, speaking with a soft German accent.
“I heard her say, ‘how many prints, please?’ It grew from there,” said Leo from their Colorado Springs, Colorado, home.
They first met in October 1945. Leo soon returned to the United States to go to college but continued to send Helga letters and her family care packages of flour, sugar, chocolate bars, and dried milk and eggs.
“Opening it was like manna from heaven,” said Helga. After the war, food was scarce. Helga’s family foraged grass from nearby fields to make soup. They stretched the goodies in those care packages as long as they could.
“When you’re that young, you want to lead an ordinary life. And to be taken away from that overnight was a very frightening experience.” — German refugee Helga Kissell
In 1948, Helga joined Leo in the United States, and on Aug. 7 they wed.
When people from CARE, a nonprofit founded in 1945 that provides disaster relief around the world, found out that Leo had sent care packages through their organization and had a wife who came from Germany, they asked if she would like to write a letter to a Syrian refugee.
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