Chart I – I & II, Chart II a – I
“We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.”
Henry Ward Beecher
When I was born on March 24th, 1942 in Dietfurt (Znin) in the Reichsgau Wartheland, the superpowers of the world were at war with one another. Nazi Germany was in control of most of Western Europe. Hitler had not learned from Napoleon’s defeat in 1812 and invaded Russia in June 1941. Driven by his megalomania he thought himself to be the greatest military genius of all times and planned to conquer, subdue and rule over more territory than Alexander the Great, Hannibal and Napoleon put together. With Japan’s aerial strike and attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the winds of war had invaded the Pacific Ocean and had suddenly engulfed the entire world. Yet, at the time of my birth, my family living in this remote corner of the Reich enjoyed a semblance of peace and security. The entire region was out of reach from the Allied bombers, which began with ever increasing intensity to terrorize the populace of the larger cities of Western and Central Germany. It was at Gutfelde near the small town of Dietfurt, where my father Ernst had recently been transferred to take over the administration of three large farming estates.
Friedrich Ernst Klopp was born on June 28th, 1900 in Wolmirstedt, a town in Saxony-Anhalt 14 km north of Magdeburg. His mother Emma Klopp neé Bauer gave birth to her 16th child on their 25th wedding anniversary. For this reason, my father was often referred to by family members as the ‘silver boy’. Today we look with absolute amazement at grandmother Emma. She raised all her children, who were born in quick succession, often not more than one year apart. Owing my very existence to her, I would like to emphasize without any attempt to moralize – I am merely stating the facts – that had the liberal attitude and practice of abortion of today been in vogue in the 19th century, I would not be here to enjoy life, experience love, have a wonderful wife and family, five sons and grand-children. It is a sad reflection on our society that values the welfare of pets and animals more than that of emerging human life. While I sympathize with the concern that people have over cases of neglect and cruelty to animals, I find it appalling that there is silence over the killing of human life in our hospitals whose main purpose and mission should be to preserve life and not to destroy it.
As to my grandfather Peter Friedrich Klopp, he was the proud owner, operator and salesperson of a small rope making manufacturing plant. He was good-looking, handsome, slightly obese, but a giant of a man. He was generally of a cheerful disposition and was not disinclined to a good occasional drink in genial like-minded company every once in a while. In the middle of May not long before my father’s birth he was riding home from a hunting party. It appears that he often left direction and speed to the discretion of his well-trained horse. Maybe on this chilly night he had had just one drink too many. Falling asleep on horseback is never a good idea, especially when you are in that cozy state of inebriation. Inevitably, he slipped off the saddle, and the horse trod home without him. Early next morning travelers found him lying half conscious on the roadside. He was sober by now, but suffered from a severe case of hypothermia. Soon after, he acquired a kidney infection, from which he was unable to recover. He died on the 26th of June at the age of 48. My grandmother Emma, now a widow with at least six underage children still to care for, managed to overcome the new hardships with her indomitable spirit and a practical sense for survival. At age 44, she acquired a mill, managed and operated it for a couple of years, raised the remaining children including little Ernst and lived until 1941, when she passed away at the ripe age of 85.
My father spent his childhood years in Elsenau, county district Briesen (Wąbrzeżno), West Prussia and attended the elementary school in the neighboring town of Schönsee (Kowalewo Pomorskie), where he also entered an agricultural apprenticeship. At the beginning of 1918 he was drafted into the army. When he had finished his basic training, he was fortunate that the Great War to end all wars had ended with Germany’s defeat. He, therefore, did not have to face combat action like millions of young men before him, who died a senseless death in an even more senseless war. Shortly after, at Germany’s eastern border region, he joined a volunteer army unit (Freikorps) whose main objective was to prevent Bolshevik raids and their attempts to infiltrate into the newly formed Baltic States. My father’s main aim, however, was to acquire land in Latvia and settle there. I detect in his endeavor to seek freedom, independence, and happiness in a country outside Germany’s territorial borders a desire to break from the traditional mold and the narrow confines of a ravaged country with very little hope for a bright economic future. I further notice a character trait that he must have passed on to his children. Why else would four of the five children immigrate to Canada, the land of great promise to tens of thousands of immigrants from all over the world?
Due to the economic restrictions and political restraints placed upon the defeated nation by the Treaty of Versailles, my father’s dream to carve out for himself a prosperous homesteading existence in a Baltic state did not pan out as planned. However, with his agricultural training and background he worked his way up to become an administrator in a number of state and church estates. In 1928 he moved into the family hotel owned and run by his sister Julia in Diensdorf at Lake Scharmützel some 60 km southeast of Berlin. In the same year, on June 5th, he married my mother, Erika Klara Else Kegler, who lived at the time in Stolpmünde, Pomerania, at the Baltic Sea. Through my mother’s family’s connections, he was able to take on his first major assignment, the management of large tracts of farmland in Belgard, Pomerania. These domains included the raising of pigs and provided enough food to nourish all the people living in the three divisions which until 1940 were part of the Evangelical Inner Mission: the Dr. Klar-Stiftung, a care home for the elderly, the Johannis-Haus for the incurably ill and alcoholics, and finally the Ernst-Flos Hof for orphans and delinquent youth. How challenging this position must have been for my father to oversee the daily routines of all three institutions on top of his responsibility for the smooth and productive operation of the farming part of his assignment! When these facilities were taken over by the NS state, Ernst Klopp was able to retain his position as estate administrator and director. Between 1929 and 1936 four children were born into the now prosperous Klopp family: Karl (1929), Adolf (1932), Erika (1934) and Gerhard (1936).
In September 1939, my father was drafted into the army and served as common soldier during the invasion of Poland, which sparked off WW2, after Great Britain and France in support of Poland declared war on Germany. Ernst Klopp was almost forty years old and was badly needed as director and administrator in the agricultural domains in the regained eastern territories of the former Imperial Germany. Consequently, he was released from active army duty to take care of agricultural business in one of the occupied districts of Warthegau. He was put in charge of the estates near Dietfurt (Znin), Gutfelde, the seat of administration and residence for the family, Oberhof and Silberberg. All three centers still exist today and have been turned into state sponsored prosperous cooperatives with many farm workers living comfortably in newly built houses.
On March 24th, 1899, my mother Erika was born as the fifth child into the Kegler family of two sisters and three brothers in Grünewald, Pomerania. Her father Carl, born in 1860, had studied theology in Greifswald, Berlin and Halle. In 1891 he received a call to the rural parish Grünewald, with which other protestant churches in the neighboring villages were affiliated. The distances between the pastor’s home parish and the other rural communities were considerable. Carl had to use horse and buggy or a bicycle to provide services and to make sure that the Word of God was preached there too. If there was a salary at all for pastors in those days, it did not suffice for food, shelter and other expenses. However, with the parsonage also came a farm complete with land, barns, sheds, stables, cows, pigs, poultry and horses. Thus, Carl Kegler until his early death in 1919 provided not only spiritual leadership, but as a farmer’s son became a welcome source of help and know-how to his parishioners in agricultural matters as well. He was a friend among friends and acquaintances. With his faithful heart, vivacious temperament, joie de vivre, cheerful humor, readiness for action, comprehensive knowledge, and his entire upright character, he became to many a dear and precious friend. He preached God’s Word in truth and with a sincere heart always mindful of Jesus’ saying: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” However, he did not tire the congregation with long theological dissertations. Rather he connected the Word with land, fields, crops, and farm animals, concepts that his parishioners understood only too well. At home and among friends he enjoyed telling a good story or even cracking a few jokes. I do not know what my mother told me actually happened or not. But if it is just a legend that she delighted in passing on to me, it throws some additional light on my grandfather and his wonderful sense of humor.
“The congregation of a small Lutheran church in Transpomerania was singing the closing hymn, ‘Now thank we all our God’. A little old lady suffering from a severe case of hearing impairment participated in the singing with that shrill loud voice so peculiar to old deaf women. When the congregation had finished the last verse and the church organ had played the lost note, there was a brief moment of silence. Then the little old lady on the last pew continued singing using the same tune to the amazement of all people present: ‘One may also, if one so wishes, omit the last verse of this hymn’.
For the pastor and his wife Elisabeth née Mass it was not an easy beginning. When Bruno Kegler was born in 1901, there were six mouths to feed in the rural parsonage of Grünewald. In addition, Elisabeth’s parents and their two unmarried daughters resided there bringing the total number of household members up to twelve. Elisabeth was a great mother, grandmother, parish mother, champion of friendships and social networks, and fine leader of an ever-growing household. During the holidays the children brought their friends home with them. Nothing was too much for the energetic pastor’s wife. One of her sons, Uncle Günther, described her so lovingly with a quote from ancient sources of wisdom from India:
“Where mothers keep watch,
the gods can rest and sleep!”
After Carl’s death, Grandmother moved to Stolpmünde, one of the finest sea resorts on the Baltic Sea in Pomerania and stayed there for a quarter of a century with her daughter Maria (Aunt Mieze) taking care of the family members who would come for visits mostly in the summer. That all came to a sudden end, when they had to flee from the Red Army in 1945. She found shelter at her son’s residence (Uncle Günther) in Thuringia, where she passed away after a lengthy illness in 1948.
Mother grew up with her sisters and brothers in the parsonage of Grünewald. Their house, even though it was already quite old at the time when the new pastor’s family moved in, was still standing, when she was visiting it on her journey to her lost homeland in 1975. A lot of childhood memories were being rekindled at the sight of her former home. It was by now unfortunately in a dilapidated state. In her travel report she described the house and yard so well that I need to summarize it here. After all, this is the place, where my grandparents, mothers, uncles and aunts have spent a major part of their lives!
Nothing was left of the yard that used to be like pure paradise for the Kegler children. In the backyard Mother experienced the same disappointment. A large section was fenced in and used by neighbors. The barn was much smaller now, but was a little spruced up with new stables. The vegetable and flower garden, the currant and gooseberry bushes and the many apple trees were all gone. The beloved huge pear tree that once produced such an abundant crop was dead and bare. But her memory brought back to her this wonderful tree. The picking seemed endless. They had to gather the pears from the ground, until the last one had been shaken off the tree. For a little while Mother was standing there and gazed in her mind at the no longer existing meadows, on which they secretly horsed around quite willing to take chances in dealing with ‘Uncle Yellow’ (That was the name for the cane). She was also thinking of the mysterious narrow footpaths, where she was running with her youngest brother Bruno. The trees were like people to them. They buried notes under many a root. These were addressed to all kinds of spirits. Only Bruno and she knew, who Aunt Oak and Uncle Birch were. They carved runes onto tree bark and let their imagination run wild, until the scornful teasing of the older brothers brought them back to reality…
But back to the parsonage! Grandfather’s bench and place of relaxation were gone; a few pretty flowers decorated the front yard on one side; the hedge had also disappeared. The huge spruce tree was nowhere to be seen. It was indeed a dreary and desolate site. Through the back porch they entered into a somewhat modern kitchen with no door (they used to have a double door) that was connected to her father’s office and study now serving as a dining room. From the hallway one could walk into the living room, where at Christmas a huge, nicely decorated Christmas tree used to bring joy into the young hearts with all those old-fashioned wax candles. There, once so many years ago had stood Mother’s plush furniture, a beautiful carpet, but also the big black piano. Only our parents and visitors had access to this room except at Christmas time, when the Kegler children usually wild and rambunctious were at their best behavior. Then a festive spirit reigned, and the aroma of freshly baked Pfeffernüsse cookies permeated the entire home. Through the door from the living room you would come to the large reception hall. Here the whole family would gather and sit on beautiful old wicker chairs around the long expandable table for breakfast, lunch and supper. A door led directly to the kitchen, whence the food was brought in. On a large stove, where the fire never went out, all the cooking took place. There was also an old oven heated with coal or wood that served to bake cakes and to roast meat. Large tiled wood stoves provided warmth in every room. On cold days delicious baked apples were often roasting in the oven. Through another door one could enter into the old living room, where a giant expandable table and chairs stood. The children would often play games here, such as the Old Maid (Schwarzer Peter) card game and the all time favorite Pochspiel. There was a well-worn sofa, which the children were allowed to use to their greatest delight for their rough and tumble games. They respected, however, the dignity of the two armchairs, on which our parents and grandfather occasionally were sitting. Between the cupboard and the tiled stove was the corner that belonged to Fiffi, the ‘pedigreed’ adorable terrier with in-house privileges. Her claim to fame was that she once raised a piglet by suckling the little runt that mother sow had rejected. Next-door was the parental bedroom, in which always stood the baby crib for the youngest in the family. Upstairs under the gable were two bedrooms, one for the three brothers and the other for the three sisters, with chambers for linen, clothes and ironing utensils in-between. In the nearby church, in which my mother had been baptized and confirmed, nothing much has changed except that it now serves as a Catholic place of worship. After more than a century God’s Word is still being preached from the very same pulpit, from which my grandfather proclaimed the Good News to his congregation and to the three Lilies as he so endearingly called his daughters.
Mother attended the elementary school in her home village Grünewald until 1909. Helen Rabenstein née Dahlke described the school house in a publication from 1971: ‘old, beloved school house, timber-framed, overgrown with wild roses, shadowed by four poplars, and those huge willows, which separated the school yard from the school pond. The oldest among us will remember all this well, and also the climbing frame we naturally had there. Even then three teachers strove for the education of the children of Grünewald, Altmühl, Steinburg and the numerous additions. They were head teacher Dahlke, second teacher Wolff, and, yearly changing, a young teacher preparing for his or her exam. The teacher family Dahlke continued to live in Grünewald until 1945, and had many members as teachers there, and some taught in other towns in the vicinity. There is one famous descendant of this family: the well-known actor Paul Victor Ernst (1904-1984), whose parents were both born in Grünewald.’
Then Mother attended the high school for girls (Lyceum) in Neustettin, the administrative center of the county. She returned home to help in the household during the Great War. From 1919 to 1927, she worked in various households in Berlin, on estates in Pomerania, Kolberg, and in Danzig-Oliva (now Gdansk). I recall my mother joking about one of her employers, a very old, but rich widower, who would have liked to marry her, the pretty woman in her mid twenties. On those rare occasions, when inspired by a glass of wine or a shot of schnapps she was in the mood for it, she would share such stories with me. In turn, I felt encouraged to tease and ask her, “Where would those five fine children be, if you had given in to the temptation of wealth and become the wife of a geriatric, who was way past his physical prime?” Instead she waited for Mr. Right to come along and married my father Ernst on June 6, 1928. Their wedding took place in the Baltic resort town of Stolpmünde, Pomerania.