Robert & Erika Sosenik witnessed World War II, survived the Russian occupation, and came to America to find opportunity. They did find a better life, but more importantly, they came to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Along their journey, they learned gratitude, contentment, and a deep love for America.
Robert & Erika were both born to typical, poor families in Vienna, Austria. The country was devastated by World War I. Most families got by with food from the market, a vegetable garden, and meat once a week for their Sunday meal.
“We were not rich,” recalls Erika. “We never really thought about it, though. And we never complained.”
In desperation, Austria willingly joined Germany. Adolf Hitler promised to restore pride to the struggling nations. “Austria was so poor. Forces of men were unemployed. When Hitler came, everyone had work,” Robert says.
Changes were very subtle before World War II. The German Youth, which every boy and girl were required to join, became the Hitler Youth. The Jews in Vienna began to wear yellow stars and were treated as second-class citizens. But few people knew about the concentration camps or Hitler’s mad plot for conquest.
Life changed when the allied forces pushed into Austria. Air raid sirens would send everyone scrambling into the nearest shelter. Erika remembers the shelters, “It was just a concrete basement under the apartment buildings. You just sat there with all the other people, and it was no protection from direct hits. You heard the whistle when the bombs came down, and then you heard the impact. You heard the impacts come closer and closer to you.”
The war was tragic, but the Russian occupation that followed was no better. “When the Russians came, we didn’t hear it. We just woke up one morning and the Russian soldiers were all around,” remembers Erika. Her father spoke with the occupying soldiers using the Russian he learned during the forty-five months he spent in Siberia as a prisoner during World War I. One soldier warned him to keep his wife and daughters out of site. The soldiers were passive the first day, but when darkness fell they began drinking, looting, and assaulting the townspeople. For three days, the soldiers had free reign before the Russian lieutenants arrived and brought control.
Food was scarce during that time. Refugees on the American/French/British side of the occupation had rations, but the Russians never had food to spare. “We caught ravens, plucked them, and boiled them. We ate potatoes with no salt. The food was horrendous,” said Robert. Erika admitted her family would steal from nearby farms, avoiding gunshots from soldiers hunting at night for wild game.
Soon after the end of Russian occupation Robert and Erika met. Although they grew up in the same town, they did not meet until they were twenty and seventeen. After they were married in 1951, they looked for a better life outside war-torn Europe. Robert was a mason by trade, and Canada was looking for skilled laborers. Just one week after his son was born, Robert travelled to Canada alone and earned money for his wife and child to meet him.
Canada wasn’t the land of opportunity the Soseniks had hoped for. Robert came knowing only two English words, “yes” and “no,” but he had no idea when to use them. The masonry jobs dried up, and the Soseniks looked to America for another new start.
The Soseniks secured a visa to the United States and moved to Los Angeles. They struggled in the beginning, but through hard work they built a successful business. Decades went by, and they enjoyed a comfortable life until a business partnership soured. They lost their home, their business, and they declared bankruptcy.
But God used that event in His own way. The Soseniks moved in with their daughter in Lancaster, California. She was already a member of Lancaster Baptist Church, and soon her parents were saved there.
The Soseniks now see God’s divine protection through the war and His providence to bring them to salvation. Erica is thankful for the opportunity they had: “Despite our faults, America is still the best country in the world. If someone does not think so, then please go there [to the better country]. You don’t have to stay here. There are things we don’t like, but most things we do. We have lived in different countries, and we have seen nothing better. America provides freedom, opportunities, and possibilities, if you are willing to apply yourself.”