Erika Slack, a homemaker and volunteer who escaped Russian-occupied post-World War II Europe, died of Alzheimer's disease complications Thursday at the Blakehurst Retirement Community in Towson. The former Guilford resident was 87.
Born Erika Muehlen near Neumunster, Germany, she spent her youth on a family farm where she developed a love for gardening and horses. While in high school, she learned to speak English.
In an autobiographical narrative, I, Her Story, which was written many years ago, Mrs. Slack described her experience in what is now the Czech Republic in the spring of 1945. She was living with her husband, Arno Riedel, and two young daughters near Carlsbad as the war ended. She hoped that the American Army would arrive soon, but Russian troops came into the area and arrested her husband.
She took her children and stayed with a farmer after the Russians appropriated her country villa. Using her English, she asked a U.S. soldier in a nearby village to help her get into the U.S. zone. He initially refused, but later agreed.
"He said to me, 'Please, quickly pack your backpack, take your children and be here in 30 minutes,'" she wrote.
She hurriedly returned with her children. The soldier told her to get into a trailer filled with caskets containing the bodies of military personnel killed in the war.
"He hid us there and brought us safely through the Russian checkpoints along the highway," she wrote. "Our lives were saved."
She then made her way to her parents, who were living in Hamburg, Germany. Russian authorities released her husband, who was a glassware maker, five years later.
After her husband's death in 1967, she traveled to Washington, where she visited old friends from the postwar period. Through them, she was introduced to Wyatt Cameron Slack, a Maryland National Bank senior vice president who headed international lending. They married at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in 1971.
Family members said Mrs. Slack lost no time becoming active in Baltimore. She joined the Women's Committee of the Peabody Conservatory and was a volunteer at the Anne Arundel County Public Library's Pasadena branch, which was located near a family summer home.
"She had an effervescent personality and was always interested in other people and what they had to say," said a stepdaughter, Katharine Whitaker Slack of Yarmouth, Maine.
She met then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer and former Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti at her naturalization ceremony at the old Civic Center.
She played bridge, tennis and golf, and was a downhill skier. She also traveled to Germany annually to visit family members.
Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.
In addition to her husband and stepdaughter, survivors include her two daughters, Sybille Rohrbach of Stuttgart, Germany, and Ursula Pfafflin of Dresden, Germany; a stepson, Randall Dyer Slack of Maplewood, N.J.; and seven grandchildren. A stepson, Wyatt Cameron Slack Jr., died six years ago.