Austrian family visits Weiser: ‘We love it!’

In December 2020, Wayne Harris of Rigby, Idaho received an email that would change his life and the lives of his extended family forever.
 The email was from a brother he had never met and never knew even existed. Gottfried Jirkal, of Sankt Martin bei Lofer, Austria, he would soon learn, was the product of a relationship between his father, C.W. Harris and an Austrian woman he met while serving in the U.S. Army in Europe during World War II. 
 After the war, C.W. Harris kept the relationship a secret and, having since passed away, it will never be known whether he even knew that he had a son. 
 Gottfried, however, was told by his mother that Harris was an American soldier who served during the war. Although he would never get to meet his father, his search ended happily when he successfully tracked down relatives through FamilySearch, an online genealogy site.
 The Weiser Signal American featured a two-part story about the amazing events that led to contact, and a subsequent meeting, between the two families in the Dec. 29 and Jan. 5 issues of the newspaper. You can read the series by visiting (Click on the Home button, then choose Archives and then E-Editions.)
 The Jan. 5 issue highlights Jennifer Miller, who works at the Weiser post office, and her family’s trip to Austria to visit Gottfried, who is Miller’s uncle.
 C.W. Harris is brother to Brenda Edwards, Miller’s mother.
 A couple weeks ago, Jirkal and his wife, Roswetha, along with his sons and others, traveled to Idaho.
 They drove with Jennifer to Rigby to spend time with Wayne Harris before coming back to Weiser. On Tuesday, April 25, the family spoke briefly with the Weiser Signal American.
 “We are having a beautiful time here,” Christian Jirkal, Gottfried’s son, said. “We love it. We didn’t really expect this.”
 Christian said he and his family, like many Europeans, are familiar with the more well-known areas of the United States but were not prepared for what they encountered in the “Wild West,” specifically Idaho.
 “When you think of the United States, it’s not Idaho you think of first,” Christian said. “Everyone knows the west coast and the east coast, and places like Florida. I mean, you see all the pictures. We were really amazed how different the country is, how different nature is [from place to place].”
 The Jirkal family was impressed by the agriculture and irrigation systems in Weiser and were surprised how small and relatively quiet the town is. They expressed an appreciation for the wide-open countryside and the lack of vegetation in comparison to the mostly green landscape of Austria. They were also amazed at how long it takes to drive from one place to another.
 To put it into perspective, Germany is roughly the same size as Montana – technically a little smaller – but is home to about 85 million people.
 At 83,570-square miles, Idaho, population 1.9 million, is more than twice the size of Austria, a predominantly mountainous country comprising 32,383-square miles and just under 10 million people, according to
 Travelers in Europe can potentially cross through several countries in a single day, most not as accustomed to taking one- to two-hour trips to get somewhere, at least not on a regular basis.
 “When we went to Rigby, they said it was a really long trip,” Jennifer said, chuckling. “I don’t think they are used to that.”
 Christian said he and his family were not aware how high some of Idaho’s mountains are.
 “The highest mountains, some of them are higher than the mountains in Austria,” he said. “Austria is known for its Alps and some mountains here are higher than the Alps.”
 Gottfried expressed his delight in visiting the area.
 “My English is not too good, but I have been learning, for three years beginning, and at 76-years-old,” he said.
 Jennifer and Gottfried said that more trips would most likely be planned.


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