Social Impact Authors: How & Why Authors Rosemarie Lengsfeld Turke and Garrett L Turke and are Helping to Change Our World
Rosemarie: What immediately comes to mind is this: Speak out. Take a stand and stand tall. Know your subject. Think objectively and critically. See all sides. And most of all, keep your cool while remaining energetic and passionate.
Garrett: For me, this goes back to my previous answers. Leadership is doing, not talking, and doing it without the expectation of accolades, fanfare, or dare I say monetary gain. We do not all need to become social activists openly demonstrating. We can embrace quiet people too, who might be writing meaningful songs or meaningful books. We need teachers who can cultivate and nurture a compassionate and thoughtful generation. We need parents who take the time to actually play with and teach their kids, rather than placate them with television or electronic toys. We need to spend time with our elders and listen to their wisdom, for it comes from experience. It’s the old African adage “it takes a village…” That adage is not just a pop saying or a slogan, it is meant as a way to look at life.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Garrett L. Turke and Rosemarie Lengsfeld Turke.
Rosemarie Lengsfeld Turke is an American citizen, educator, and accomplished artist who spent a large part of her formative years growing up in the clutches of Nazi Germany. Her family spent many years trying to escape the war’s atrocities before Rosemarie was able to board a rescue ship back to America alone at the age of fifteen, leaving her family behind. Rosemarie has spent her life nurturing kindness and compassion in children as an au pair, as a Montessori Directress, and as a parent, grandmother, and now great-grandmother. While working on American Shoes, Rosemarie has found that sharing her story and inspiring others is her true life’s purpose. She strongly believes that children are the keepers of the light.
Garrett Turke is a former clinical psychologist who has been a father, caregiver, and healing professional for more than three decades, and is the author of two previous books: There’s a Window to Heaven (2018) and 497 Nails (2015). He has traveled the world extensively, beginning in childhood, including multiple trips to West Africa, the Mediterranean, and eastern Asia. Garrett attributes his passion for championing the underdog to his father, and his longing to see the world as a colorful, compassionate place to his mother. Despite the many diverse aspirations and occupations he has pursued, Garrett has now found his lifelong dream as an author.
Their latest book American Shoes: A Refugee’s Story released February 2022. Learn more about the authors and book at americanshoesbook.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born to German immigrant parents in New York City in 1930, and by birthright, was always an American citizen. In 1934, when I was three, my German-born parents took me on an ocean liner trip to visit my relatives in Silesia, which at that time was part of eastern Germany. They had planned to stay a few weeks, a month at most. But when Hitler seized complete control, he closed the border to Germans leaving the country, which included my parents. The three of us were trapped as the Nazis took over! I would spend the next twelve years of my life being raised as a German girl, increasingly having to keep my American citizenship and identity secret as hatred, evil ethnic cleansing, and war swept over the country. I would not return home to America until 1946 at the age of fifteen. I had to leave my parents and little German-born sister behind as I was the only one who qualified for President Truman’s mandated rescue of “surviving Jews and other displaced persons.” Being America-born, I qualified as a displaced American citizen while the rest of my family did not.
Caught inside Nazi Germany for twelve long and dreadful years, my childhood is something I have given much thought to. I sometimes try to divide my childhood into blocks of years to help me differentiate and compartmentalize the good from the bad, the joy and the trauma, and to try to ascertain what personal lessons or growth came from various periods of time. My early years in Germany were actually filled with good memories of being nurtured by my relatives and my family: outings to the park or lake, being taught to sew and cook by my mother and aunt, tending to a garden, sketching and painting, playing with our community cat and later my little sister. Although Hitler had seized power early on, my family life seemed disconnected from political events and my life was generally pleasant. I was a curious little girl, learning a lot, and the world still seemed to be a kind place where my self-esteem and autonomy blossomed.
The next few years, between the ages of six and ten, were increasingly fraught with anxiety as Hitler put a stranglehold on the country, the ethnic cleansing began and hate replaced compassion in our community. You could feel a great tension sweeping over our community. Classmates were disappearing from my neighborhood and schools. It was not until I was older that I started figuring out that some of my friends were first fleeing, and then being forcibly removed by German authorities. I knew a war was breaking out, I was told inside my classrooms of it, but it was always described as a righteous war against forces that were trying to invade Germany. Daily propaganda reports, called civics classes or daily news inside my classrooms, proclaimed that Germany had amassed the greatest military on Earth in order to repel the invaders. As I grew older, I could see through that too, and I clung to my American identity, thanks to my parents’ secret talks at home. I prayed quietly in school that President Roosevelt would destroy Adolf Hitler and his army. I called such daydreams in class “my war games” and did my best to tune out the Nazi lies.
My final years in Germany, ages twelve through fifteen, shattered all of what had remained of my childhood innocence. War was encroaching on my home town. I witnessed masses of soldiers moving about, I saw Jewish kids carted off on trains, my teachers were appropriated for the war effort and replaced by harsh older disciplinarians… all leading up to a horrifying end — firebombing, widespread death, homelessness, and a several month-long “refugee walk” through smoldering rubbles of cities to God knows where. It surprises me to this day that I survived. The horrors I witnessed were so unspeakable that I couldn’t talk about it for over 70 years, until my son Garrett finally and mercifully pulled what happened out of me, writing it all down on a legal pad. That process took eight years and became what Garrett eventually called American Shoes.
Wow, what an entry point! Where do I start? I am the oldest of three children, born in Des Moines, Iowa, where my New York City–born Dad and Mom were obtaining professional degrees at the University of Iowa — my Dad attaining his MD degree and my Mom receiving a degree in early childhood education. Following a series of cross-country moves for my dad’s residency when I was little, we settled in Los Angeles, where I grew up during the tumultuous 1960s and early 1970s. Each of us children view our childhood so differently, we have gotten into destructive arguments over it. My family has brought me times of joy and nurturing but also episodic pain. They have taught me many things good and unfortunately things not good when it came to married life, which I had to struggle to overcome. I had bouts of severe anxiety in childhood and adolescence that I coped with by building a rich inner world, which eventually morphed / evolved into a love of art, movies, music, and writing. I do not think I would have my creative inspiration without having to struggle emotionally when I was younger.
What to draw from my childhood? I prefer to land on the positives I take from my family and upbringing: the need for compassion and to understand people from different cultures and all walks of life, the championing of the underdog and people who are struggling to overcome pain, abuse, inequity, racism, whatever the struggle — and to find joy in art, in quiet, in nature and particularly in the water, and to keep these resources clean, sustainable, and replenished. I am also a lifelong, committed meditator, something my Hindu-influenced Mom taught me as a kid and which I still practice faithfully to this day.
It is hard to talk about my childhood without including my mother’s trauma from being raised in Nazi Germany and during a cataclysmic world war. My mother’s scars, trauma, and anxiety seemed to have been quite literally passed down or dare I even say transferred to the next generation — my two sisters and me. Carl Jung once wrote about intergenerational trauma being passed down like film clips in the collected unconscious of a people. More recently, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone wrote about this phenomenon in her book Wounds Into Wisdom.
There is so much more — someday I will write my autobiography and tell you all about it!
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
I was not an avid reader when I was younger. When I was a kid and a teenager, I don’t think I had the patience to wade through long books. I was also a nerdy kid who liked reading about different cultures’ population demographics, geography facts, and weather records! My favorite book as an elementary aged kid was (not surprisingly) The Guinness Book of World Records, which I ordered and waited impatiently for each summer and spent hours each day during summer vacation memorizing what seemed to others to be meaningless facts. If you think this sounds kind of like Asperger traits, you might be right!
There were three books that greatly influenced me, which gripped me so much that I was able to read all the way through, as a young person.
Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (age twelve), I met him inside my English class in seventh grade at Parkman Jr. High School in Los Angeles. I remember his towering height (6’ 8”), his gentle mannerisms, how he crafted an almost prophetic, doomsday-warning, science-fiction story from a thorough knowledge of science and medical facts. My biggest takeaway from meeting him? Michael Crichton walked away from a successful career as a medical doctor to become a writer — a reinvention of self which I would later emulate.
Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver (age seventeen), this book opened my eyes to inequity in the world, specifically in America, and how Black America must negotiate and try to balance two cultures — one African and one European — at an enormous internal cost, all the while being subjected to oppressive measures the mainstream culture has historically taken to keep an ignoble history suppressed. My biggest takeaway here was empathy for those oppressed and subjugated, not to cave in to mainstream cultural influences that harm others and to stand for the underdog in the struggle for justice and freedom.
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou (early twenties), this book furthered my interest in the African American experience, while simultaneously giving me inspiration that abuse and cultural oppression can be overcome. My biggest takeaway here is that Ms. Angelou traveled to her ancestral homeland in West Africa to find her roots and in the process found herself! Because of this book, I would later travel to Africa five times to gain a better understanding of history and where we all genetically come from, which was followed by several trips to Europe in search of my family history and to make peace with my own cultural identity.
The book that changed my life was a book that was forced on me inside my German classrooms, where I was increasingly assumed to be a German girl rather than a trapped American citizen. That book was Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (My Fight). My reaction to this mandated book was not positive, and it served to motivate me to further cling to my American identity and resolve. Of course, I could not share any of these feelings inside my classroom and had to give my teachers pat answers when called upon. A few times I was called out by my teachers for daydreaming — usually about how America would destroy Hitler — but of course, I had to keep those thoughts completely to myself or else there would be dire if not dangerous consequences for my family and I. It was common practice in 1930s Germany to blame the parents if a child questioned authority or Hitler’s propaganda — and the consequences could be severe. You can imagine the pressure on a young girl to keep everything she knew a secret. Riddled with anxiety, it was hard to not be paranoid. I was always in fear that if I gave away too much of what I was actually thinking, my parents would be looked upon as being instigators or threats, and my American identity would be brought to the attention of the German authorities.
It is of note that this pervasive anxiety, which reflects Hitler’s evil plan and strategies, still haunts me to this very day. All my life, I have such anxiety about speaking out… until now.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m going to radically switch gears here. What immediately popped into my mind was when I launched a desert toad 2,500 feet into the air in an Estes rocket when I was twelve. This event still makes me laugh but also brings some guilt even to this day.
Probably against my mom’s wishes, my dad got me a pretty high-end, twelve to eighteen inch, build-it-yourself Estes model rocket for Christmas. The story starts innocently enough by me seeing the warning on the box and becoming extremely excited: do not launch any place where there might be air traffic! So… what do we do? My best friend Dana and I decided to ride our bikes far up into the Los Angeles foothills where they were clearing land to make way for more homes. It was the only great expanse of space we could think of, mindful of that warning on the side of the box. But all we told our parents that day was that we were going on a day-long bike adventure. They didn’t know of our intentions to launch the rocket without any adult supervision (we conveniently overlooked that warning on the side of the box). We kind of thought that what we were doing might be illegal too but that only made the moment more exciting inside our twelve-year-old minds.
We set up the launch pad on a ridge overlooking the San Fernando Valley and attached the CO2-driven booster, which was going to propel the rocket into “outer space.” As I was packing the rocket’s parachute in the compartment under the nosecone, I found a small toad hopping along the ground next to our makeshift launchpad and decided to pack him into the hollow nosecone for the ride of his life! Oh, what a glorious moment, to see that toad launched into space and then safely returned to Earth beneath the parachute!
Moments later, the launch was enormously successful. The rocket lifted off splendidly when I pulled the safety ring from the CO2 canister. We watched the rocket speed into the California sky until it was just a speck, and then entirely disappeared from sight. We studied the sky for a minute or two searching for the rocket on its way down. We soon found it, but the parachute hadn’t opened, and now it was rapidly spiraling downward, nose first, while I silently prayed and prayed that the parachute compartment would pop open. It never opened, for amidst my excitement of the launch, I had not bothered to carefully read the parachute packing instructions. The rocket hit the ground in a quiet explosion of balsa wood. I thought for a moment the toad might have survived the crash. He didn’t make it.
I am haunted to this day by my impulsivity and that I had not bothered taking the time to follow the instructions. If one of our dads were present, they would have made sure we packed the parachute correctly. But then again, they might not have let us launch my prized toy. The memory of this experience brings laughs when I tell the story, but I had killed a living thing in my haste. I still feel bad about it. Moral of the story: don’t get so caught up in your own excitement and drama that you stop thinking about the consequences — and that sometimes you really do need to follow directions and listen to your parents.
My funny story is not quite so developed as Garrett’s! When I was four, during my very first year in Germany, my grandmother plucked a goose in the kitchen for Christmas dinner. All I saw was a lonely, naked goose that I felt sorry for. When no one was looking, I took the poor goose off the counter and swaddled it in a baby’s blanket and bonnet and placed it gently in my doll carriage! Imagine the adults looking over all over the apartment for a suddenly missing goose. What a mystery unfolded! When they eventually found the poor goose wrapped up like a doll inside my baby carriage, they roared with laughter! They were so relieved when the goose was returned to the kitchen to cook for Christmas dinner.
Although this is a funny family story, it saddens me to think of how innocent I once was as a little kid and how the Nazis and World War Two would destroy that childhood innocence so callously and systematically as I grew older.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
I think that for American Shoes, the message is that history can and will repeat itself if we do not heed its lessons. More than a few people have noticed the similarities between what seems to be happening in contemporary America and the implosion of democracy in 1930s Germany. The deeply polarizing divides that occurred within Nazi Germany and the blind nationalistic and ethnocentric calls to make Germany great again are not such a far cry from what is happening in America and indeed worldwide during the past decade. I think what happened on January 6, 2021, at the US Capitol Building serves to highlight that point. Hitler’s hateful propaganda verbiage played over the loudspeakers throughout 1930s Germany now seems eerily replaced by modern smartphone algorithms spewing out divisive political rhetoric.
I think we need to return to the honest study of history without cultural or ethnocentric whitewashing or political “advertisements,” which dilute and convolute what actually happened or is happening. We need to cultivate open-minded critical thinking in our classrooms and with families, beginning when our children are very young, and learn to respect and thoughtfully examine differing viewpoints without jumping impulsively into venomous attacks upon our fellow citizens. Forgive me for my haughty opinions, but there are too many sheep in our world just blindly following along what the culture or social media tells us to do — at an enormous cost to our internal well-being, and to entire groups of “others.”
Can we start the healing by at least agreeing with that?
I hope by the grace of God, by word of mouth, and by interviews like this one that American Shoes will reach a wide audience and share what I consider to be important truths about what the world war and the Hitler regime was really like. It saddens me as a survivor of that horrific time that what actually happened is sometimes being questioned as if it really occurred.
I am disillusioned by the state of affairs in the world and the deepening and unnecessary hatred that keeps dividing us. Why can’t people see that what’s happening in Ukraine and many other parts of the world has happened before? Can’t people see the intolerance and hatred that is plaguing our own country? It has all played out before, just as Hitler’s hatred still lives on and infects me. I am here to tell you that hatred of such magnitude resulting in the genocide of millions of people labeled as threats did occur. It has transpired repeatedly throughout history, and yet, we still do not seem to learn from it. It will happen again, if we do not heed history’s warnings, and it could even happen right here in America.
In my opinion, let’s wake up and attain a sense of global consciousness. After all, we are all on this little planet together, and if we don’t work together to take care of planet Earth none of us will survive anyway.
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
Garrett and Rosemarie:
We have the same answer here. For us, this would be the moment in the story when Rosel’s beleaguered old “marching shoes” — a symbol of war trauma — are tossed overboard with the promise of replacing them with American shoes and a new life in New York. There’s a big story behind that, so much so that it became the book’s title. But we won’t share anything more, you’ll have to read the book!
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
My most profound “aha moment” occurred when I was at the American Consulate in Berlin after the war in July of 1946. Because I was an American-born citizen, I was authorized to finally return to New York — but without my parents or German-born younger sister, who were all German Citizens. Standing before the Vice Counsel, I had to make a very quick and life-changing decision: stay in war-ravaged Germany with my family or head back to America alone at the age of fifteen to rebuild our family home and an American life. I could only pray that my family would be able to join me at some distant and unforeseen point in the future. It was a leap of faith to leave them for the greater good and I took it. Had I not, my wonderful life in America would not have unfolded, my reunion with my family years later would not have occurred, and my story would never have been authored by my son Garrett.
For me, the “aha moment” was becoming aware that my mother’s descriptions of what began happening in 1930s Germany was eerily similar to the deepening political divide in our country that seemed to have reached dangerous proportions by 2016 and certainly by 2020. I began noticing the parallels from 1930s Europe, Germany in particular, and contemporary society, not only in the US, but also worldwide. And, when an 18-year-old African American student, who was one of our advance readers, articulated just that, there was no denying it for me anymore. I knew Mom and I were bringing something very important for the world to hear.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Piggybacking on my last answer, this would be that 18-year-old student, who told me out in the snow and 10-degree cold that he had been reading American Shoes and simultaneously watching the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on TV. He said, “my mind kept switching back and forth between 1930s Germany and what I was watching on TV” — that he lost track of which country was which as the parallels between Nazi Germany and what happened at the U.S. Capitol flooded his mind. That moment solidified for me that American Shoes wasn’t just about my mom’s story. American Shoes has a great relevance and a great responsibility to teach us about what is happening now. In essence, history is repeating itself.
I have a couple of friends, a retired physician and her history buff husband, who told Garrett and I that they were so disillusioned by the political polarization enveloping our country and the world during the period 2016–2020 that they were losing faith in the American ideal. They worried if democracy in America was still viable and if it would survive heading into the twenty-first century? After reading American Shoes, they each told me that they had regained hope in our country and its future, that indeed “maybe America is still out there, alive and well, ready to help us” to restore a positive place in the world. That really inspired me and brought me peace that my struggle had been worthwhile.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
We always seem to be looking for a great leader or a large-scale societal or community change to lead us to the promised land, or a great maternal or paternal figure who will lead us back into the light. Therein lies the problem, waiting for a change to come on a grand scale, in one fell swoop, led by some great leader.
Perhaps we can ponder this? Perhaps we need change to occur on a much smaller scale, with each and every one of us reaching out to the families and neighbors that live next door or down the street. Spread kindness and compassion on an immediate and micro level, instead of waiting for some grand persona or some large-scale event to happen that will magically galvanize us. This is not a new concept at all… I believe Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
What I can do to help, at my youthful age of 92, is to spend some energy by speaking to young people about the importance of learning lessons from history and from elders and ancestors that came before them. I would like to share to young people not to forsake continuity with the past, for there are lessons there that will help guide and revitalize you toward building a better world for tomorrow.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
What immediately comes to mind is this: Speak out. Take a stand and stand tall. Know your subject. Think objectively and critically. See all sides. And most of all, keep your cool while remaining energetic and passionate.
For me, this goes back to my previous answers. Leadership is doing, not talking, and doing it without the expectation of accolades, fanfare, or dare I say monetary gain. We do not all need to become social activists openly demonstrating. We can embrace quiet people too, who might be writing meaningful songs or meaningful books. We need teachers who can cultivate and nurture a compassionate and thoughtful generation. We need parents who take the time to actually play with and teach their kids, rather than placate them with television or electronic toys. We need to spend time with our elders and listen to their wisdom, for it comes from experience. It’s the old African adage “it takes a village…” That adage is not just a pop saying or a slogan, it is meant as a way to look at life.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- The life-changing joy of finding a publisher who believes in you, when you know you can write and have a relevant and important story to tell
- The power of determination, that persistence will pay off if you believe in yourself and make a personal vow never to give up
- That each and every one of us has an inner or divine calling, that we just have to take that leap of faith to hop on the right path
- That telling one’s life story will prove not only to be healing, but also liberating
- That there can be no growth without risk
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
For me, this has got to be an underappreciated Bob Marley quote, “You never know how strong you are, until strong is your only choice.”
Throughout life we are faced with many moments where we have the opportunity to take a stand, to take a risk about what is right, even though it may be dangerous, unpopular, break rules, and cost you time, money, fame, or status. We sometimes call it a moment of truth, a leap of faith, what you will do when your back is against the wall. And what will you do in that moment? Will you be strong and take the risk, or will you shrink away and hide, rationalize, and play it safe?
My mother used to pound into me as a kid, “there is no growth without risk.” I used to hate hearing that as a boy. Now I’m learning to live by it.
I have a plaque hanging on my wall. It is called Namaste:
“I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides, where lies your love and your light, your truth, your uniqueness, and your peace. I honor that place in you, where if you are in that place and I am in that place, there is only one of us.”
I believe that Hindu-tinged saying comes from ancient India, and I have tried to embrace it as a pillar of my life. It brings me great peace, knowing that “oneness” binds us all.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
I would choose Deepak Chopra. I actually attended some classes with him a long time ago, at MIU in Fairfield, Iowa, when he was a progressive researcher and advocate for Transcendental Meditation. He has helped the world come a long way in understanding the power of positive thought and meditation, as well as helping to cultivate the concept and implementation of collective global consciousness. I have read nearly all of his books and have incorporated many lessons from his teachings into my life and worldview.
As a second choice, I think I would like to have lunch with Harry and Meghan, maybe at Oprah Winfrey’s house! Haha, wouldn’t that be great? We’d surely have a lot to talk about in terms of being labeled, in terms of equality and not being pigeon-holed into a cultural box. And, Garrett would surely be there with a pen and his legal pad!
Tough question, there are so many choices. When I was a teenager, I would have chosen Bob Marley without a doubt; in fact, I wrote him a handwritten letter sent to Masonic Temple in Detroit before I saw his life-changing concert there in the middle 1970s. I don’t know if that letter ever reached him, but I’d like to believe it did and brought a smile to his face. From what I’ve read, he always worried about reaching an American audience.
Fast forwarding to these days? Maybe Michelle Obama. Or the Dalai Lama. Or maybe the rock band U2. I’d like to sit down with the whole band, not just Bono or Edge. I think Michelle Obama embodies in contemporary times everything I admired about Maya Angelou… balance, beauty, thoughtful intelligence, and grace — and the ability to not only take stands but to see an issue or a problem through a prism of compassion.
And I think U2 is a band that has always stuck to their beliefs about doing the right thing for their fellow human beings, regardless of race or creed or country. Peace and compassion and rule of international morality… like Bob Marley and the Wailers used to sing about. They were on the same record label as Bob and the Wailers, with the same producer (Chris Blackwell) only a decade later and were heavily influenced by the Wailers’ struggle as to how to get their message out.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I’d rather people get to know me by reading all my books and listening to and reading interviews like this one. My literary ventures are all quite different from one another, and each shows an edge of the many facets of who I am, for better or for worse.
You can learn more about us on our website, www.americanshoesbook.com.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Authors: How & Why Authors Rosemarie Lengsfeld Turke and Garrett L Turke and are… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.