The World Through Dad's Eyes - United Hub

The world through dad's eyes

By Matt Adams, June 16, 2017

Seventy-eight years ago, Denver Flight Attendant Lynn Schoenemann's father, Wolfgang "Bill" Schoenemann, embarked on his first overseas voyage against a terrifying and tragic backdrop.

Six-year-old Bill left Hamburg, Germany, with his mother and father in May of 1939 alongside more than 900 other German Jews aboard the S.S. St. Louis. Like all of those on board, the Schoenemanns gave up everything dear to them – their homes, their livelihoods, connection to family – in order to escape the violent anti-Semitism that was taking root in Nazi Germany.

Ostensibly, the St. Louis was to transport its passengers to Havana, where they were to receive asylum. Unbeknownst to them as they steamed westward across the Atlantic, they would never set foot on Cuban soil; instead, the group was turned away at Havana's harbor, victims of a Nazi propaganda ploy. The fortunate ones, Bill and his parents included, found refuge in the United Kingdom. Many others, approximately 600 of the passengers, ended up back in Germany or in the Nazi-controlled areas of France, Belgium and the Netherlands, where a much darker fate awaited.

"As Father's Day approaches, I often consider how lucky I am to have ever been conceived," Lynn said. "My father is one of a diminishing group of Holocaust survivors. No other Schoenemann family member survived as far as we know."

United employee, Lynn and her dad in Alaska.

Bill immigrated to the U.S. as a young man, where he became a successful engineer in California's Silicon Valley. It wasn't until after retirement that he discovered a passion for travel – a hobby that immediately attracted Lynn.

"Watching slideshows from his trips planted a seed in me that grew into a love of travel, spawning a 23-year flying career at United," she said. "When I was interviewing for this job, I thought about all of the places he had seen and knew that I wanted to have that same opportunity, while also indulging my passion for the hospitality industry."

In speaking with Bill, it's easy to find yourself bitten by the travel bug, too. "One of the goals I set for myself was to get to over 100 countries," Bill said, "and my wife and I turned out to be really great adventurers. We loved Africa the most, seeing the animals out in nature. To have a giraffe lean over you or a rhino charge past you with her baby, or to watch a lion sprint by, those are incredible experiences."

Though his five children were young and unable to accompany him on many of his journeys, he tried to pass on those experiences to them through the vivid photographs that he took. "I wanted to share that excitement with them," he recalled. "Seeing the world expands your horizons, but it also lets you appreciate what you have here in the U.S. You look at other people in a different light; it helps you understand them better."

United employee with her family at Mount Rushmore.

And, finally, almost eight decades after his first trip over the Atlantic, Bill got the chance to walk the streets of Havana when he visited Cuba last year.

"My father set the bar high for rising above life's challenges and succeeding," said Lynn. "On Father's Day, I will make sure I tell him how much I appreciate him showing me the world through his eyes from an early age. I owe this wondrous career to him. I love you, Dad, on Father's Day and every other day."

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