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CLIFTON PARK: A family that plays together

Karl Gerstenberger has lived the American dream. He just had to survive a nightmare to get the chance.

Gerstenberger was born in New York City in 1934 at the height of the Great Depression in the United States and the year Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany.

His family moved to Leipzig, Germany, when he was 2 months old after his millionaire grandfather offered his father the chance to get involved in business there.

Germany invaded Poland in 1939 when Gerstenberger was just 5 years old. As a child in Germany, he was involved in the Hitler Youth.

That was mandatory during World War II, all boys and girls were in it, Gerstenberger said. "At age 10 you joined. Living in a dictatorship, like Hitler's dictatorship, you didn't get two sides of the story."

After surviving the war " one of Gerstenberger's brothers died on the Russian front " he moved back to America with his older sister in 1945.

"You were just plopped into the classroom," Gerstenberger said. "Sink or swim, you learned English."

He lived as a foster child on a farm in the Catskills for two years until his parents were able to immigrate back to the United States in 1947.

"Luckily we survived the war; we had a lot of bombing," Gerstenberger said. "The whole family, like an immigrant family, started from scratch."

He was drafted into the U.S. Army in the 1950s, and was stationed in Germany for three years.

Gerstenberger married his wife, Charlotte, in 1960, and they moved to Clifton Park in 1971 when his son, Helmut, was 10 years old.

Gerstenberger retired in 1991 after teaching social studies and German at Shenendehowa for more than 20 years. He is a co-founder of the Clifton Park Soccer Club, which has hosted an international soccer tournament annually for the past 31 years, along with Spike Walsh, Peter Clinton and Peter Sands.

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