Diaspora Feature Story

Reunited after 102 years of separation

Hermann Woitschek arrived on Saipan in 1899. He served the local community as medical aid, post office officer and police force trainer. Photo © Woitschek family

AFTER 102 years of being separated and decades of search the Cabrera, Cepeda and Woitschek families got together in a grand reunion at the historic Carolinian Utt in Saipan.

Cynthia C. Pangelinan, one of the great granddaughters of Hermann Woitschek, said they finally found the missing link – the Woitschek family where they all came from.

About a year ago, Pangelinan said, Erika Woitchek Entenmann contacted her through Facebook asking about her grandfather and other relations.

“Erika found me first on Facebook. If I remember clearly, she asked if I am a relative of Edward Cabrera, son of August Cabrera. Of course I responded with ‘I am the daughter of Edward and granddaughter of August.’ Then, she introduced herself,” Pangelinan recounted.

“That’s when I found out that she was the long lost Woitschek family that we were all looking for the longest time,” she said.

When she got the message from Erika, Pangelinan said she was really shocked.

“I started sending message to my family on FB. I told them ‘guess what, we finally found the missing link of our Woitschek family of our great grandfather Hermann Woitschek’.”

Hermann Woitschek with wife Antonia in front of the Saipan administration building. Photo © Woitschek family

Hermann Woitschek

Hermann Woitschek, who arrived on Saipan on 1899 as medical assistant to a doctor was sent to the island during the German administration.

While staying on Saipan, Woitchek married with Soledad Cepeda and had a son Juan Cepeda. They got separated and got together with Antonia Palacios Cabrera, whom he had three children – Asuncion Cabrera – Blanco, Rosa Ema Cabrera – Tudela, and August Cabrera.

Due to lack of doctor in the local community, Woitschek was the one who tend to sick people. When he arrived here on Saipan, he was also a post officer and trained local people to become police officers. He also established music band in the police troop.

In 1916, two years after World War I broke, the Japanese arrived and forced the Germans to leave the island. The German’s gunboat left the island with German nationals sans their family. That was the last time Hermann Woitschek saw his wife and his children.

Pangelinan’s story

When Pangelinan was a little girl – growing up in the ‘70s, her great grand aunt Nieves Cabrera-Manibusan would always tell stories about their family.

Nieves was the sister of Pangelinan’s great-grandmother Antonia Palacios Cabrera.

“She would tell us stories about the German times because my great-grand aunt Nieves lived during the German period. She would always call us during the weekend and would sit us down and tell us stories about great grandpa, Hermann Woitschek,” she said.

“’You need to know that you have this other family that live in Germany. He is your great grandfather. They called him doctor’ she told us,” Pangelinan said.

Nieves, according to Pangelinan, started to explain how the local community would refer to their great grandfather as doctor.

“He was actually a medical aid to the doctor that was sent from Germany to help the people on Saipan and the other island. When the doctor was not available, our great grandfather used to see and tend to people’s medical needs. So the local community started calling him doctor.”

She said her great grand aunt would tell them stories of how their great grandmother Antonia eventually lived with Woitschek in a house and they raised three kids. One story that she remembered clearly was when the day the German period ended at the Marianas.

Pangelinan said when the German gunboat came to Saipan. It took all the German citizens, including their great grandfather. Quoting Nieves, Pangelinan also said their great grandmother Antonio was very sad when her husband left.

“She was taken somewhere the backside of the island, it might be Mt. Tapochao or somewhere high where she can actually see the bay and see the German gunboat sail away,” she said.

“I asked my Aunt Nieves why she did not follow her husband and take the children with her. At that time, she couldn’t leave with the children, only the German citizens. No locals were allowed to leave the island or to go to the Germany,” Pangelinan was told.

It was learned from Nieves that Woitschek promised Antonia that he will be back for them.

“Great grandma would wait for him every day, waiting for him and praying that one day he would come back. But it didn’t happen,” she said.

“From what I gathered from my great grandma, the WWI broke out and he was drafted and fought for Germany,” she said.

After the war, Woitschek started a new life with his third wife, Anna Jadeel, a widow. They had a son, Helmut Woitschek, who is father of Erika.

From left, Basilisa B. Villanueva, Erika Woitschek Entenmenn, Jovita B. Tomokano, and Jose Cepeda. Photo © Lyn Lirio

Erika Woitschek Entenmann’s story

When Hermann Woitschek came back to Germany, Europe was still at war.

“He has to go as medical aid into war in Greece.”

“During the war, Woitschek had malaria and when he saw that he had no chance to come back after some years, he built a new family. He married a widow who had two daughters from first marriage. They lived in Germany. They had a son, Helmut who is my father,” she said.

“For sometime I was looking at the internet, I write the name of my grandpa. We found an article because he was a postman, but nothing about his family on Saipan,” she said.

According to Erika, she read an article about 100 years of German administration on Marianas. It mentioned the name of Woitschek and his family here, including his wife Antonia and their children. She said, their search for family on Saipan started when her grandfather wrote for his retirement. He had to write down what happened to his life.

“We learned about his life on Saipan. We learned that he had two wives and a total of four children. We started searching for them,” she said.

Hermann Woitschek died in 1964. When they finally made contact with their other family on Saipan, Erika said they started planning for the trip.

“It was an amazing experience to be together with a family this big.”

In Germany, we are only 10 people from my grandfather.

“Here we have a lot of people who carry the same blood and it touched my heart to see them,” she said, adding that her grandfather tried so hard to search for them.

Erika said, she had apprehension coming to Saipan as the family on the island might not remember Woitschek anymore because many generations had already passed.

“But everybody remember him. All the relatives have pictures of our grandpa and everyone knows him,” she said.

Erika was with her daughter Eva Entenmann when she made a one-week visit on Saipan.

“We were so emotional. We cried when I first saw my family here. We meet a lot of them. We meet the children of Cepeda and Cabrera where our roots came from,” she added.

She said her Saipan family does not know why he had to leave and how hard he tried to come back for them, “but because of unfortunate events, he was unable to come back.”

Erika said the ‘big question mark has cleared up’,” she said.

“I hope we stay in contact and they visit us in Germany. We now understand why grandpa stayed here and doesn’t want to go home. It’s paradise here,” she said.

Pangelinan said they have been searching for the missing link – the other Woitschek family.

“I was very curious as to who they are but we don’t have idea of who they are, what they are, how many of them, how are they are,” she said, adding “I am glad they traveled thousands of miles to see their family.”

“This is going to be connection for the rest of our lives. We have that connection, the link is finally connected. Hopefully, through her, we can meet the other members of the family,” she said.

Jose Cepeda, 73, son of Woitschek’s first son Juan Cepeda.

He was sick and could not walk but he was able to attend the reunion last Saturday. He was very emotional when he met Erika and her daughter.

“I was very overwhelmed. I know we have family in Germany but I did not know them,” he said.

Lori Lyn Lirio
Lori Lyn C. Lirio is a veteran newshen having worked for the People's Journal Tonight for more than 10 years. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications degree from the Lyceum of the Philippines University. She currently writes for the Marianas Variety, Saipan's number one community paper. .

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