Peladija Woodson-Diers grew up hearing stories from her parents about their childhoods growing up in Austria and Yugoslavia.
Each had very different upbringings, which led them to each other by way of tragedy during World War II, while living in Germany.
Woodson-Diers, who was born in the United States and now lives in Oelwein, decided her mother’s stories needed to be told. She wanted to share them not because she thought they are unique, but because they are not. Many suffered during that time, she says, and all their stories are our collective history.
How the war affected her family is tragic, horrifying and unimaginable, she says. But, without the war, her parents would have never met. That fate is captured in her recently released book “Triumph Over Destiny,” written from the perspective of her mother — Karoline.
Woodson-Diers recorded her mother’s stories over the span of a few years and compiled them into the book, which tells of growing up in Austria, being ripped from her family at 15 and placed in forced labor in Germany, her marriage to a German soldier, raising their two daughters, suffering tragedies unimaginable while living in Germany, marrying a POW from Yugoslavia after the war was over, and eventually coming to America sponsored by a family in Oelwein.
Karoline had a vivid memory and was able to recall in great detail the stories of her life during World War II.
Each time she worked on the book, Woodson-Diers says she was brought to tears. She said it was a highly emotional journey, but she knew these stories needed to be told.
Her mother was a strong woman, she says.
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Still, Karoline was mild mannered, reserved and quiet. A stranger wouldn’t have guessed what she suffered in her life. She always found something to be thankful for, Woodson-Diers says.
Karoline said prayers with her children every night, thanking God for the basics of health and family, because, she told them, if you didn’t have that, you had nothing.
Woodson-Diers ends the book with her parents’ arrival in Oelwein.
“Our life in America is really a separate story,” she says. “Even though we were in America, life wasn’t easy. I’ve had many people ask and want to know more about our family’s story and I plan to write a sequel soon.”