At the time of Sandra's birth, the Koertz's lived with Karl's parents above their small butcher shop in a German section of Chicago. Sandra's grandfather Koertz, who had lived in Germany and immigrated to the United States, was Jewish. He owned and operated a kosher meat shop in Stadthagen, near Hannover. He was persecuted routinely for his religious beliefs. Fleeing Germany with his wife and young son, he settled in Chicago, where he and his wife practiced their religious beliefs privately, holding out to the world that they were Lutherans.
Young Karl, Sandra's father, had witnessed the persecution in Germany and the subsequent shame of his parents over their ethnic background. Fleeing their homeland was a liberating act for the parents. But for Karl it was hell. He was routinely taunted and teased about his strange looks, his worn clothes and his inability to communicate in English. As he grew into his teens he became a bully, using violence to achieve his objectives. He met Alexandra Utnikov in Chicago where she worked as a practical nurse in a doctor's office.
Alexandra was a beautiful young woman. Her family came from Russian nobility who had escaped before the end of the Czarist dynasties. They were proud and well educated, but penniless. Alexandra was taken by Karl's handsomeness. She had grown up with a father who was strong and well in control of the family. She saw those qualities in Karl's swagger. She did not see the bully. When Alexandra became pregnant, they married, and Karl began working for his father in the meat shop.