Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there any more. Robin Hobb
At the time of my birth, Father as manager and inspector was in charge of the estates Silberberg, Oberhof and Gutfelde totaling an area of approximately 3000 ha. Although he must have been thankful to the authorities for landing him such challenging and prestigious position and therefore may have harbored a favorable disposition towards the Nazi regime, he always strove to keep his humanity in dealing with his fellow human beings, Germans and Poles alike. In particular, through his actions he distanced himself from the policy that forbade German citizens to fraternize with the defeated enemy. It is a great testimony to his moral independence from the dark and sinister sides of Nazi Germany that he allowed Polish men and women to live and work closely and cordially with the Klopp family at the Gutfelde residence and the agricultural headquarter for the region. He maintained an excellent working relationship with the former Polish estate manager Haluda, who after WW2 took over as director of the communist run state farm. From the stories I picked up from my mother I speculate that Father owed his survival to his reputation of treating fairly and equitably all the people who worked for the large estates under his directorship. Other inspectors notorious for their arrogance, cruelty and injustice in dealing with the Polish population were rounded up, lynched, hanged or shot in the closing months of the war. On a Polish website with special focus on mansions, manors, and castles of Poland, I found an entire page devoted to Gutfelde – now an agricultural training center with orchards, wheat and corn under cultivation, 800 cows and 8000 pigs. The same page to my great surprise mentioned my father’s name as an administrator during WW2! The mansion-like imposing building was built around 1880 in the late-classical style and consisted of a body with a higher wing and ground floor extensions. It has not changed much in the last seventy years.
My three brothers Karl, Adolf and Gerhard and my sister Eka (short form of Erika) (now Lavana) were all born in Pomerania, whereas I began my life’s journey in the town of Dietfurt (Znin), Warthegau. There I spent the first eight days with four other babies in a warm hospital room. There were also two Polish babies born in the same county hospital. Later on in my early childhood I had to take quite a bit of good-natured teasing with made-up stories of a nurse who had accidentally placed a Polish baby into my crib, while I was being examined in another room.
When I arrived with Mother at Gutfelde, I received a truly royal reception. Karl, who attended a boarding school in Belgard (Bialogard), would see me a few months later at the beginning of his summer holidays. But the others including my proud father did everything to welcome the fifth child in the family. Flags were waving. Fir branches and a big welcome sign decorated the door to my very own room was. Inside the sunny and warm room several pots with beautiful flowers created a cheerful atmosphere for the latest arrival in Gutfelde.
According to Mother’s diary, I had quite a normal development. Breast-feeding, sleeping, messing up diapers and the need to change them in quick succession were the only noteworthy highlights of the day. When I had grown a bit older, I began to entertain the family with my smiles and giggles. One day after Mother had taken my dirty diapers off and given me a thorough sponge bath, I was allowed to wiggle freely on the soft mattress of my crib. Eka, driven by intense curiosity, leaned over to inspect me a little more closely. Just then, whether it was the result of the excitement over my newfound freedom or simply nature’s urgent need to relieve myself, I gave her a good squirt on the nose. Everybody including two visiting aunts had a good laugh except Eka, who ran into the bathroom to wipe her face dry from the inglorious shot from the unusual squirt gun of mine.
There is one incidence that gave Mother a real scare. I believe that no matter how many children a woman might have, her heart will always be with the youngest child. When the weather was sunny and warm and the birds were singing in the nearby trees, I often spent time outside on a blanket under Mother’s watchful eyes. I was delighted to see my siblings play in the sandbox or romp around in the huge backyard of the Klopp mansion. But when it was a little cooler, I still needed to be exposed to the fresh and wholesome air and to toughen up, as the German mothers were fond of doing at that time. So I was put into the baby carriage at a sunny location, and my six-year-old brother Gerhard (Gerry) was supposed to keep an eye on me in case I woke up from my nap. If the job had been assigned to thirteen-year-old brother Karl, then the accident that so frightened Mother could have been prevented. A child of Kindergarten age can hardly be expected to keep a vigilant watch over his baby brother, who was sound asleep and securely wrapped in woolen blankets. Gerhard must have found something more interesting to do and did not know yet the rule about the eternal recurrent of the same. In this case babies that fall asleep will surely wake up again to make their presence known. And so it happened. I woke up. My diapers were still dry. Hunger pangs had not yet set in to bother me. Happy, I was ready to explore the interior of the fancy, roofed baby carriage. Soon I started to vigorously move my arms and legs. The springs of my little buggy made me feel like being gently rocked in a cradle. However, the force of the springs was sufficient to set the wheels in motion, first very slowly, then faster and faster down the sloping lawn in the direction of the nearby pond, where the carriage landed with a loud splash in the deep water. Mother’s watchful eyes had noticed the dreadful scene. Her horror, however, did not paralyze her motherly instinct. She came racing down the stone stairs, then over the lawn straight to me and rescued me from the grave danger that I was not even aware of. What followed was not fair, but perfectly understandable considering her terrified and angry state of mind. For his negligence in his duty to watch over me, Mother gave him a good hard spanking that he did not forget for a long, long time.
To be continued …