Hannelore M. Pounder

March 19, 2024

Hannelore Pounder Obituary

Hannelore Margarete Pounder (née Gromball) passed away peacefully at home with her loving daughter, Beverly by her side at the age of 88 on March 19, 2024, in Little Egg Harbor, NJ. She was born on January 17, 1936, in the former German town of Sensburg, East Prussia (MrÄ…gowo, Poland today).

Hannelore was a devoted mother, known for her kindness, generosity, fantastic cooking, and passion for giving back to those less fortunate. Her journey from overcoming the severe hardships of her childhood to becoming a distinguished chef exemplifies her resilience and determination. Following the challenges of being orphaned and living on the streets at the end of World War II, she graduated from culinary school in Germany and pursued a successful career as a chef.

In January1945, the Red Army's East Prussian Offensive devastated East Prussia and prompted millions of German men, women, and children to flee; however, many adults were killed or wounded during bombing raids or during harsh winters without any food or shelter. Thousands of orphaned children were left behind and fled into the surrounding forest, forced to fend for themselves and facing harsh reprisals if caught by Soviet soldiers. Condemned to live through "begging, drudging, stealing", older children often tried to keep their siblings together, and survival—searching for food and shelter—became their number-one priority. This was Hannelore’s early childhood. 

During the war and for some time thereafter, Russian camps were established for about 200,000-250,000 forced laborers, the vast majority of whom were deported to the Soviet Union. Hannelore’s father, Fritz and her mother, Johanna, were among them. Fritz was held in Russian captivity in Siberia until 1951. Johanna was deported by the Russians to the Urals at the beginning of 1945, where she had to work in a mine under terrible conditions and died there. Hannelore was 8 or 9 years old at the time and had a little sister, Annemarie, 2 or 3 years younger. When Johanna was deported, she begged the pharmacist in the village to look after her children and take them with her to the West, but the pharmacist simply disappeared the night after Johanna’s arrest and left them behind.

Hannelore and Annemarie then lived with a group of children on the street or in the forest, known as “wolf children'' (German: Wolfskinder) - orphaned children who were left behind in the Evacuation of East Prussia and the Red Army invasion. They foraged for food in the night so as not to be caught by the Russian soldiers. This was during what became known as the "winter of hunger" (1946/1947), which was extremely cold, and many people in Germany froze to death.

A woman (whom the family never knew) found and took Hannelore and Annemarie to an orphanage in the West. Hannelore’s great-aunt Lotte who always listened to the Red Cross's search reports on the radio and had always looked for her and Annemarie, found out in 1947 that Hannelore was living in a children's home in the then Russian-occupied zone. Annemarie had died there of pneumonia; this was an incredibly terrible loss for Hannelore, as she had been taking care of and protecting her little sister for all those years. When her great-uncle Hans went from Münster in the British-occupied zone to pick up Hannelore, the Russian border guards wouldn't let her cross the border. But the then 11-year old Hannelore wore them down with her persistent screaming and saying "I want to go with my Uncle Hans!". This was Hannelore’s determination and resilience.

Hannelore lived for several years in a small house in Wörthstraße in Münster with her great-aunt Lotte & great-uncle Hans, her cousins Lumi (Heinz), Dita (Hans) and their children. It was here where Heinz helped her catch up on the schooling she missed from 1945 to 1947 so she could graduate from secondary (culinary) school.

In 1951, Hannelore's father, Fritz Gromball, returned from Russian captivity, which he had spent in Siberia. Hannelore then lived with him in an apartment at Hindenburgplatz, and got an apprenticeship as a cook in one of the best restaurants in Münster. Hannelore will always be remembered for her wonderful cooking for family celebrations during this time in Germany.

Hannelore emigrated to the United States in 1959, arriving in New York City by herself at the age of 23. She took a job as a chef at a German restaurant on the Upper East Side where she continued to work until the early 1970s. After finishing her shift one night in 1961, she and her work friends were having drinks at their favorite post-work hangout and it was here that she would meet her future husband, John Pounder. They married six weeks later on April 14, 1961 and were married for 36 years. They enjoyed taking trips to Bear Mountain, NY and hosting cocktail parties with friends at their New York City apartment before moving to Queens in 1962, raising three children there before moving to West Milford, NJ in 1969. They welcomed their fourth child in late spring 1970.

Hannelore continued to work at the German restaurant in NYC all throughout this time, working two double-shifts every weekend while raising four children and maintaining a beautiful home in the suburbs. In the early 1970s, she took a job with American Cyanamid in Wayne, NJ, starting as a chef in their employee cafeteria and then applying for and being promoted to Executive Chef in the private executive dining room in 1985. During this time, she cooked fabulous meals for several famous people including Candice Bergen (who was the spokeswoman for the company’s “Cie” perfume) and Frank Perdue. Hannelore took a well-deserved early retirement from American Cyanamid in 1995, and shortly thereafter moved with John to Little Egg Harbor, NJ where she lived for nearly 30 years.

She is survived by her loving children: Beverly Pounder of Little Egg Harbor, NJ, Joanne Scafidi (Anthony) of Seminole, FL, Christopher Pounder of Lake Hopatcong, NJ, and Douglas Pounder of Newport, RI, her best friend of over 50 years Dorothy Jordan of Houston, TX, and many of the relatives who helped her start her new life in Germany. Hannelore was preceded in death by her husband, John, her parents Fritz and Johanna Gromball, and her sister, Annemarie.

Services and burial for Hannelore Pounder will be held privately, with arrangements entrusted to Wood Funeral Home in Tuckerton, NJ. In lieu of flowers, donations to The Nature Conservancy or The National Alliance for Caregiving are appreciated.

Hannelore's legacy as a caring mother, accomplished chef, and resilient individual will forever be cherished by those who knew and loved her. May she rest in peace.

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