Cover photo for Maria Josefa Crowe's Obituary
Maria Josefa Crowe Profile Photo
1932 Maria 2022

Maria Josefa Crowe

October 20, 1932 — December 20, 2022

Maria Josefa Crowe, longtime Indianapolis educator and author, was born in Merode, (near Cologne) Germany on Oct. 20, 1932, and passed away peacefully on December 20, 2022, in Carmel, IN surrounded by her relatives.

Born the fourth child to the farming family of Peter and Theresia Koch, Josefa grew up with older sisters Gertrude and Maria, older brother Josef and younger brothers Peter and Hubert.  Josefa spent her formative years struggling to reconcile the strong Catholic and pacifist upbringing of her parents with that of the burgeoning Nazi ideology of 1930’s and 1940’s Germany. Gifted academically, she was also very talented in track and field, particularly in the hurdles, high jump and broad jump.

In October 1944, although the Germans were losing the war on two fronts, athletics were still a useful propaganda tool for the state. Josefa was being groomed for success and given a Nazi sports uniform to wear while competing.  Her parents, however, refused to let her wear the uniform. For this transgression, the Nazis did not punish Josefa’s parents directly—they were of course farmers and therefore needed for the war effort.  Instead, they came and took 12-year-old Josefa away from her family and placed her in a Nazi re-education or labor camp located 100 miles from her home.

Christmas 1944 came and went. It was incredibly cold and conditions in the camp were miserable. Yet Josefa was homesick for her family. The camp where she resided forced its inmates into the woods to collect firewood for the camp.  When she saw her opportunity while out in the woods, Josefa bolted and made her escape.  On a nearby road, she flagged down a farmer and got a ride into Deutz, just across the Rhine River from Cologne. There she spent the night in a bomb shelter during one of the heaviest Allied bombardments of the city, a major manufacturing center.  Crossing the Rhine river the next day, she got a ride from a soldier on motorcycle headed to his unit fighting in the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest, which was coincidentally not far from her family’s farm. Trudging through frost-covered fields in thin shoes under cover of darkness, Josefa arrived home hungry, frost-bitten and exhausted, where she was hidden by her family until the end of the war in May 1945. The story of her escape, and more, can be found in her 2007 book Growing Up Under the Swastika (Why Hitler Wanted This Girl) available at

After the war, Josefa and her family survived the deprivations of the Allied Occupation.  She received her Arbitur (similar to a high school diploma) and enrolled in Cologne University.  She then received a Fulbright Scholarship to study in the United States at Villa Duchene Academy in Omaha, Nebraska where she received her bachelor’s degree.  There she met and married Daniel J. Crowe, with whom she helped set up treatment clinics and services for alcoholics and drug addicts in Missouri, Minnesota, Texas and Indiana, while at the same time raising four children.

After a brief stint teaching at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, she taught and received her Masters degree from Butler University during the late 60’s and early 70’s, While there she fought for the rights of students, minorities, and the LGBTQ movement. A tireless crusader for and believer in the power of education to open hearts and change minds, she then went on to teach German at Carmel High School, and for more than 25 years, at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. While there she took her students on skiing trips in southern Indiana or on overseas trips to Europe.

Through Indiana Storytellers, she was also a longtime speaker to various community groups, churches, prisons, reformatories, etc. about her life experiences. Josefa even won the coveted Basile Prize from the Indiana Historical Society for speeches.

But most of all Josefa is remembered as a beloved mother and grandmother who liked a good party with lots of singing, especially German folk songs. Or puttering around her yard. And coming up with unique uses for epoxy to fix anything around her house. At age 75, she was still running around and playing badminton or kick-the-can with her grandchildren. She battled and won against breast cancer and fought Parkinson’s disease with all her might.

She is survived by her four children—Paul (Melissa) Crowe of Indianapolis, Joan Crowe of New York, NY, Maria (Karl Bertram) Crowe of Brookfield, WI, and Ann (Barry Smith) Crowe of Redondo Beach, CA plus grandchildren Robert Josef Pruitt, Virginia Marie Pruitt, Daniel Crowe, David Crowe, Jody Smith and Liam Smith, in addition to her brothers Peter Koch and Hubert Koch and many nieces, nephews and cousins in her native Germany. Tax-exempt donations in Josefa’s memory can be made to or A memorial service is being planned for the summer.

Auf Wiedersehen Oma—du liegst mir in Herzen, Schatzi.

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