Erna Adele Tomicic (née Bargfrede) passed away on Friday, March 30 due to injuries from a fall she suffered on the previous Tuesday. She had been recovering from a stroke when the accident occurred. She was 91 years old.
Erna was born on August 27, 1926 to Christoph and Elizabeth Bargfrede, tenant farmers in Selsingen, a town in northern Germany. She was the last to survive of nine siblings.
Erna would often share with us memories of her childhood, tending to crops and farm animals with her family. She and her sisters liked go into the woods to pick wild berries, eating much of their harvest before getting home. These recollections were always happy, but she would remind us that "We were poor people. We ate mostly potatoes. Meat we only had, maybe, once a week." She attended school until eighth grade.
After World War II, a camp for war refugees and displaced persons was built in Selsingen. One of those refugees, a Croatian man named Peter Tomicic, would meet Erna at a dance in town. They courted and were married in 1948. Shortly thereafter they moved to Hassel, where their first son, Michael, was born in 1949. He tragically died from a heart ailment shortly after his first birthday.
In 1950, Erna and Peter moved to the city of Braunschweig, where their son Bernhardt (Ben) was born. In a year, he would accompany his parents as as they immigrated to the United States. The family crossed a turbulent North Atlantic aboard a U.S. Navy transport carrying other European refugees. This journey may have been one of the most arduous experiences in Erna's life.
Erna and her family first lived in Passaic, New Jersey, then moved to an apartment in Jersey City, where their daughter Daniella was born in 1953. Erna cleaned offices in Manhattan while Peter worked for the Ford Motor Company in Mahwah. He would go on to work in a Jersey City textile mill. In the 1960s Erna began working at Stylewear, a wig-manufacturing company in Brooklyn. She enjoyed her work and became friends with her employer and co-workers. Erna and Peter would also share responsibilities as superintendents of their Jersey City apartment building. In 1964 another son, Peter Jr., was born.
Erna and Peter enjoyed their life in New Jersey and were always grateful for the opportunity and abundance the United States offered them. They socialized with American and European friends over the years, including many gatherings with her sister Else and her family, who also came to live in Jersey City. Erna, who could play the accordion, loved music and she loved to go dancing. She and Peter spent many Saturday nights dressed in their best, waltzing and dancing the polka at German dances and festivals over the years. Erna, accompanied by her children, would make four trips back to visit her parents and siblings in Germany, ensuring that her own children would know their Oma, Opa, Tantes and Onkels.
Erna found relaxation in crocheting and assembling jigsaw puzzles. She was an enthusiastic gardener, caring for the many decorative flowers which graced the front of the apartment building, as well as the flower and vegetable gardens at her daughter Daniella's home. Erna adored her grandchildren, Eric, Alexander and Christopher, and they loved their Oma.
Erna's beloved husband, Peter, passed away in March of 2008, aged 83. Unable to perform superintendent duties by herself ("I like to shovel snow, but it's hard at my age"), she knew she would have to leave her Jersey City apartment, where she and Peter had lived for 55 years. Erna moved to a senior residence in Piscataway, New Jersey. She enjoyed living independently, making new friends, and being only minutes away from her daughter's family. She kept fit by walking, going to exercise classes and working in Daniella's garden.
On New Year's Eve of 2017, Erna had a stroke which led to brain damage that adversely affected her language and cognition abilities. After six weeks of hospital and rehabilitation stays, she was moved into her daughter's home. Erna continued to work hard at her physical and speech therapy and was cared for by her daughter Daniella and son-in-law, George. Only a few hours before her accident, Erna heartily enjoyed a home-cooked dinner with Daniella, George and Ben. She was in good spirits and surrounded by her loved ones.
Erna was a remarkable woman, selfless, generous, and caring. She endured much hardship in her life, but was never bitter or regretful. All who came in contact with her loved her; her smile lightened their hearts. In her last weeks, we, her children, tried our best to provide our mother with the love, care and devotion she deserved. She never took any of this for granted; she was profoundly grateful. But our efforts could never compare to all the unending love she shared with us and the spirit she leaves inside us.
Though her grandson Alexander Ferraris passed away in 2017, Erna is survived by her daughter, Daniella Ferraris; her sons, Ben and Peter Jr.; and her grandsons, Eric Ferraris and Christopher Tomicic.