Chapter 5 – Part II
At the end of June I had grown into a feisty, likable character bringing joy into everybody’s heart with my entertaining giggles. Indeed I had a lot to be happy about. By now, I received already a real dinner, first spinach, then mashed strawberries and Mother’s own milk for dessert. Occasionally she would give me a portion of semolina porridge with juice, and I had carrot juice every day. What a wonderful life!
Now Karl came home from his boarding school in Belgard for the summer holidays. He happened to greet me, when I was at my very best behavior. I had woken up from a very good sleep, just had my favorite meal and presented to my oldest brother the sweetest smile I could muster. He was so delighted that he stood in front of my crib for a long time, while I was laughing at him, babbling endless stories while gazing at him with wondering eyes. At last Karl was allowed to pick me up and to hold me in his arms. He even granted me a little brotherly kiss.
Father must have kindled my passion for music and my desire for writing. For he often spent time at my crib telling me long stories, singing with his deep beautiful voice or whistled many a lovely tune. His birthday was coming up. The entire family had prepared a wonderful celebration. For the first time the five children were together. Early in the morning of June 28th, Karl, Adolf, Eka (Lavana) and Gerhard entered the parental bedroom and presented to Father a bouquet of flowers and started off the day with cheerful ‘Happy Birthday’ wishes. Later when good friends of the family, the Döpelheuer couple, had arrived, Karl sat at the piano and played a few pieces to show what he had learned. For accompaniment Father and Auntie Döpelheuer played on their violins with great enthusiasm. The trio created a really festive atmosphere. After Adolf’s birthday on July 14th, our family increased to twelve with Aunt Johanna’s visit with her three children Hartmut, Elisabeth and Jürgen. It is not hard to imagine the sense of excitement they brought with all the games they could play now and the inevitable roughhousing with the boys outnumbering the girls six to two.
I remember a story that Karl and Adolf used to tell reminiscing about their childhood adventures. As I had already mentioned, Gutfelde was an oasis of peace and security until the very end of the war that attracted relatives to seek at least temporary relief from the horrific threats of the bombing raids over all major German cities. So it was not unusual to have up to a dozen children spending their summer holidays at the Klopp family. My cousin Hartmut Kegler submitted the following report entitled, ‘My Memories of Gutfelde after 70 Years’:
“I gladly remember the wonderful holidays, which we could spend in the years 1942 and 1943 during the murderous Second World War in Gutfelde. Our aunt Erika Klopp, my father’s sister – Bruno Kegler had already died in action 1n 1940 -, and her husband Ernst Klopp managed in trusteeship in the so-called Warthegau a Polish estate. They lived in a spacious manor, behind which was a large, beautiful park with a little pond. In my memory I can still see the large dining room and the office. In the dining room was a large table, at which we all, the four Klopps and their parents and we three Keglers with our mother Johanna Kegler were seated for lunch and supper. Before the Polish maid had conscientiously set the table. I recall her with the statement she made, after one of us children had taken the fork from the carefully laid out cutlery. She exclaimed in a scared voice, “Where is forkie?” We scoundrels poked fun at her hackneyed German. But the young Polish lady was not angry with us. When all persons had punctually taken their seats, Uncle Ernst opened the meal with the words, “Man eats, the animal gorges itself, but today let it be the other way around. Enjoy your meal!” Not a very pious saying, for the Klopps according to the spirit of the times had left the church, but described themselves as ‘God-fearing’.
Our holidays were filled with many games and partly with reckless adventures. My siblings Elisabeth and Jürgen as well as the Klopps, Karl, Adolf, Erika and little Peter (just watching) participated in them. Following the prevailing circumstances our games were primarily of a warlike character. The events that I am describing below are still vivid in my memory:
Bordering on the spacious manor was a pasture for young horses that were freely roaming about. We had quite some fun chasing these horses to make them galloping over the pasture. Once it so happened that my four or five-year old kid brother Jürgen had run away from us and suddenly appeared in the midst of the galloping horses. We older children held our breath in terror, but Jürgen without batting an eye let the horses race by and did not come into harm’s way. For his bravery we honored him with the first class iron cross.
The large barn was the place, where we played paratroopers. The barn had two floors so that we could jump from the upper about five-meter high floor onto the one below. I don’t know exactly, if all had enough guts to jump, but some dared it nevertheless and even did saltos.
The war game had its evil sides, something we children were not aware of. It showed how current political conditions could leave a mark on early youth. We organized an ‘invasion’ into the settlement of Polish rural workers next to the manor. There we took ‘prisoners’ from among the Polish children of our age, whom we marched off to the manor to hand them over to Uncle Ernst. But he dragged us over the coals telling us sternly that one did not do such things and sent the Polish boys and girls back to their village.
In the pond of the park we loved to go bathing, but also played our war games on it. We procured tubs and washbasins, which we used as naval ships, and loaded them up with ammunition, which consisted of clods of dirt and grass. With these ships we rowed around in the pond and fired these clods at each other. The ships that were hit often turned over, and we had to quickly swim with the tubs ashore. However, with one of the especially precious tin tubs we did not succeed in rescuing the naval ship, which sank to the bottom of the pond. In a combined effort we tried to dive for the tub, but could not locate it. Aunt Erika, to whom we had to report this loss, was of course very angry, and we felt ashamed. As far as I know, the tub still rests at the bottom of that pond.
But we also played peaceful games. One of these was ‘circus performances’. In the park stood beside other beautiful shrubbery a large, old tree, where we presented our acrobatic pieces. On a big branch hung swings, onto which we held fast. In addition there was gymnastics with headstand and rolls, as well as all sorts of clowneries. Our mothers and other spectators gave cheerful applause and praise.
Finally I remember one event that happened in connection with Uncle Gerhard’s visit. He was at that time colonel at the eastern front and was on vacation. One day he asked me, if I could handle a rifle. Since I already was in possession of the shooting badge of the German Youth Group (Jungvolk), I proudly said yes. My problem was that as a cub I had only shot with a light air gun, my uncle however entrusted me with a heavy hunting rifle. I was then only eleven or twelve years old, but proudly marched with the rifle onto the field. There I spotted a murder of crows sitting on the poplar trees. Well, I got the firearm ready and raised it up, aimed and shot. The recoil of the gun and the loud bang almost knocked me over. All the crows flew off, for I had hit none. Since then I have never touched a rifle, did not need to, nor was forced to touch one.
The relationship of Uncle Ernst and Aunt Erika to the Polish personnel was fair and respectful. They reaped the reward for their decent treatment of the Polish employees during the German occupation of Poland later towards the end of the war. Aunt Erika maintained long after the war a friendly correspondence with the educated and conscientious secretary. Nothing of the known and understandable hatred of the Poles elsewhere against the Germans was according to my knowledge noticeable in Gutfelde.
While at the front lines and in the bombed German cities, in concentration camps and POW camps innumerable people died daily, we children spent happy holidays in occupied Poland. I started only much later to think about it. At any rate I am thankful to Aunt Erika and Uncle Ernst that we could enjoy their hospitality and play there to our heart’s content.” Here ends Hartmut’s report on his childhood memories, which I somewhat abbreviated without altering the essence of his story.