His journey took him across wartime Europe, to South America, Staten Island
and, finally, home to Colorado
Gustav Lundberg may be one of the most traveled residents of Lakeview Senior Living in Lakewood, Colorado, but much of his journeying was not by choice. He was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), the cultural and artistic center of Russia, in 1928.
Stalin’s tyranny permeated the culture at that time. “Everybody was afraid of a door knock at night.” That door knock did come and Lundberg’s father, an electrical engineer, was arrested and taken to a gulag in Siberia. In his letters, he wasn’t allowed to detail his experiences, but Lundberg’s mother knew what the gulag conditions were by following the writings of Solzhenitsyn. When his father’s monthly letters stopped coming, his mother inquired and found out he had died in the gulag four months earlier.
Lundberg’s mother, an accountant, remained in Leningrad but sent her son every summer to stay with his uncle in an area south of Ukraine called Donbas to attend summer school. “She believed the sun and the clear air was good for my health, plus my education was very important to her,” he says.
On the March
In June of 1941, while Lundberg was staying with his uncle, Hitler invaded Russia. Four months later his uncle’s village was occupied while Leningrad was totally surrounded by the Nazis. “Being with my uncle saved my life,” Lundberg says, “but I was worried about my mother.”
Sometime during that next brutal winter, Lundberg’s uncle was told to abandon his village and given just a few hours to pack and leave. The family, including Lundberg’s aunt and uncle, grandfather and a cousin, took two horses and a wagon, and traveled slowly through Ukraine and Poland and finally to Austria.
One night in Austria, after nearly four years as refugees, a farmer let them sleep in a barn; the war was coming to an end and American and German armies were both near, with bullets flying overhead all night. “The next morning American soldiers entered the farm with chewing gum and chocolate for us,” Lundberg says. “I’ll never forget it. FDR also died that day.”
The little family traveled to Salzburg where, as displaced persons, they were allowed to sleep in German army barracks. “We thought it was such a luxury to have a roof over our heads,” he says. The family had food and also school, a thrill for Lundberg. “We had excellent professors from Prague.” He earned a college certificate from that time in the barracks when he was also working as a Jeep mechanic in a garage.
“Life in Austria was difficult,” he says. “My uncle decided to immigrate to Argentina, and we all went with him.” The family arrived in Argentina in 1950. Lundberg began working in construction and as an electrician. He was going to technical school at night to learn Spanish and English and a trade.
“My uncle was good to me,” Lundberg says. “He said ‘you are intelligent and a hard worker; you should go to university. I had always wanted to be a doctor so I decided to try.” The first hurdle was obtaining the backup credentials for the college certificate he had earned in Austria. “There was a lot of red tape and it was very expensive,” he says. The American consul helped him get what he needed, and he entered medical school. He was also working full time to pay for living expenses. “My co-workers were helpful and encouraging during this time, they wanted me to succeed and become a doctor.” There was no time for fun in those days. “I came home from work, ate supper and went straight to bed. I slept until 3 or 4 a.m., and then got up to study.” In five years, he had a medical degree.
During all this time, he hadn’t known what happened to his mother. Nearly a million people in Russia had died from hunger during the war; but it was dangerous for her, he felt, during Stalin’s regime, to try to correspond with her.
“After Stalin died I started to search. I found her in 1964 through the Red Cross, and brought her to Argentina.” In 1966, Lundberg married a Polish immigrant who he had originally met in Austria, and the couple traveled, with his mother, to the U.S. where he had a private pediatrics practice on Staten Island until his retirement in 2006. His daughter, who lives in Golden, Colo., convinced him to move to Lakeview last year.
“It’s a good life here. I’m very grateful to my daughter for bringing me here.”