Evansville woman worked against Nazis, carved out fascinating life
EVANSVILLE—As a teenager working in the German Air Force Signal Corps during World War II, Elfriede Eager courageously passed information to the French Resistance after she learned details of Nazi atrocities.
Eager was later imprisoned for her actions but escaped—two separate times. On each occasion her father told her to return because he feared the consequences of not doing so would be worse, said Eager's daughter Eloise.
Elfriede maintained that strength until her death Feb. 24 at the age of 92. She was vivacious and lived a fascinating life, one that originated in Frankfurt, Germany, and eventually brought her to tiny Evansville after marriage.
She enjoyed her childhood in Germany, but her formative years gradually turned dark as Adolf Hitler rose to power. She once climbed a utility pole during a military parade and saw Hitler speak, Eloise said.
Her father recognized Nazi evils early on and believed they would only get worse. Elfriede soon noticed Jewish classmates disappearing from school, never to return.
Nazi propaganda blinded many German citizens to the party's genocidal actions. But when French Resistance workers explained what was happening, Elfriede became subversive, sharing with the French intelligence she learned through her military communications job, Eloise said.
“The people of Germany really didn't know what was going on. She stands by that,” Eloise said. “She knew enough to help the (French Resistance), but she wouldn't lie. The people of Germany didn't know what Hitler was doing until right at the end.”
After the war, Elfriede stayed in Germany for a few more years. During that time, she met her eventual husband, Richard Eager, an American working with the Counter Intelligence Corps.
They were just friends but kept in touch when he returned stateside. She moved to California in 1948 and worked as a model, and her friendship with Richard later turned romantic. They married in 1950, Eloise said.
Two years later, the couple moved to Richard's native Evansville, where they raised five children. Compared to cosmopolitan Frankfurt, with a current-day population of 732,688, Evansville was a culture shock, but Elfriede never complained. She affectionately called it “the village with cows,” Eloise said.
For Elfriede, Evansville's population didn't matter. Her love of art, reading, dancing and traveling would have persevered wherever she lived, and she carved a niche in Rock County by getting involved in local organizations, Eloise said.
Elfriede was a stay-at-home mom, but her local volunteer work was extensive: Rock County Mental Health Association, the Red Cross, UW Hospital, Health Planning Council of Madison and Republican Women of Rock County. She exuded self-confidence and wanted to share it with others, Eloise said.
“She would sit and listen to you. She would respond kindly and firmly if she thought you needed to do something,” Eloise said. “For other people to meet her, she was full of grace.”
Elfriede's life was a spectacle, full of history and culture. She considered writing a book, but it never came to fruition. She didn't want to brag about her experiences, and since her death, many acquaintances have learned her story for the first time through her obituary, Eloise said.
She became an American citizen in 1954, and Elfriede remained proud of her German heritage. Germany was a favorite travel spot for her and Richard, in addition to jaunts through Canada, Mexico and the rest of Europe, Eloise said.
Elfriede and Richard were a loving, supportive couple who enjoyed reading books and having opinionated discussions together. They were married for 65 years before he died in November.
Though Elfriede's death came only three months after Richard's, Eloise emphasized her mother's independence. She was in the midst of making more travel plans, and she didn't die because she missed her husband, Eloise said.
Eloise was proud that her mother was a strong, independent woman. Elfriede rarely cried and taught others to do the same, but Eloise choked up when she reflected on her mother's death.
“When you lose the second parent, no matter how old you are … they've been in your life for so long, it's really hard,” Eloise said. “She will be missed. And deservingly so.”