The Peter and Gertrud Klopp Family Project

Reflections on Life, Family and Community

Monthly Archives: September 2015

Gerhard Kegler, the general, who dared to disobey Himmler – Part VI

3

General of the Woldenberg Division

Commandant of Fortress Landsberg

Those who missed reading the earlier posts on my uncle Gerhard Kegler can look them up by clicking on the following links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

On January 20, 1945, while still on sick leave, Gerhard Kegler received a call from army HQ with the order to take over the command of a division. A few days later  he was assigned to the post of battle commandant at the city of Thorn (Torun). On January 26, while his family had to flee without his help from the advancing Red Army, he was heading to his assigned post. However, he was unable to reach his destination, since the enemy had already captured the city of Thorn. So instead he was given the command over the newly formed Woldenberg division. He arrived at Friedeberg (Strzelce Krajeńskie) on January 28, where the division was located.

Today's Thorn (Torun) - Photo Credit: tripadviser.com

Today’s Thorn (Torun) – Photo Credit: tripadviser.com

On the very same the Soviets attacked with about 40 or 50 tanks. The town was taken and the division was broken into fragments, most of which managed to withdraw to the city of Landsberg (Gorzów Wielkopolski) at the river Warta.

Landsberg_gross

In those chaotic days, when the entire Eastern Front was at the point of collapse, Hitler in his fortress-like command center in Berlin was moving on military maps tiles, which represented in his mind fully equipped and battle experienced divisions, but in reality were nothing but units that only existed on paper. One of these phantom army units was the so-called Woldenberg division consisting mostly of inexperienced, inadequately trained and equipped soldiers and a lot of useless non-army personnel, with which Major-General Kegler was supposed to defend the Fortress of Landsberg against the impending assault on the city.

Landsberg - Photo Credit:t wodenber-neumark.eu

Landsberg 1943 – Photo Credit: woldenberg-neumark.eu

To be continued …

Johanna Kegler, Widow of Bruno Kegler – in German

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Neuanfang und Existenzkampf der Johanna Kegler Familie

Bericht von Oma Hanna  (Chart II a – II)

Aus den Erinnerungssplittern von ihrer Enkelin Anke Schubert

Im Sommer 1945 wollten wir, da auch hier in Mellen die russische Armee war, vor der wir geflüchtet waren, in die Heimat zurück. Weder Radio noch Zeitungen, nur mündliche Mitteilungen gaben vage Auskunft! So spannte der Bürgermeister – froh, Flüchtlinge loszuwerden, – 3 große Wagen an und transportierte etwa 30 Personen nach Lenzen/Elbe zur Bahn. Tagelang waren wir bis Berlin in überfüllten Zügen, auf deren Dächern Menschen saßen, unterwegs, von Rotarmisten bewacht – manchmal fuhr der Zug nur weiter, wenn dem Rotarmisten, der mit auf der Lok war, „Schnaaps“ spendiert wurde. Wer eine Flasche besaß, mußte sie hergeben. – In Berlin erfuhren wir von Soldaten, die von Hirschberg kamen, dass dort jetzt die Polen waren. Es gab kein Zurück mehr!

Germany 1945 - Photo Credit: nyt.com

Germany 1945 – Photo Credit: nyt.com

Durch das Trümmerfeld Berlin zogen wir mit Handkarren, die irgendwo am Bahnhof rumstanden, aufs Geratewohl zu Verwandten von Keglers, und tatsächlich, wir konnten unterkommen, teils in Charlottenburg, teils im Pfarrhaus in Wedding. Ich bin an diesem Tag mit Hartmut 40 km und mehr hin- und hergelaufen – Bahnen, Busse etc. gingen nicht, Brücken waren kaputt.

Berlin 1945 - PhotoCredit: forum.warthunder.com

Berlin 1945 – PhotoCredit: forum.warthunder.com

Am nächsten Tag ging es wieder zurück nach Wittenberge – tagelang. Dort schrieb ich, noch auf den Treppenstufen des Bahnhofes auf einem alten Feldpostbrief meine Bewerbung um Wiedereinstellung als Lehrerin an das Schulamt, denn die Schulen sollten wieder eröffnet werden. Ich hatte Glück: am 1. Oktober 1945 wurde ich in Rambow – Mellen in den Schuldienst berufen. Es war eine schwere Zeit – keine Hefte, keine zugelassenen Bücher, keine Bleistifte … und es gelang! Arbeitswille und Disziplin halfen mir und 118 Schülern zu bescheidenen Freuden und Erfolgen.

Muehle Mellen

Alte Mühle in Mellen

Meine Familie zog in das Schulhaus in Rambow ein, altes, abgestelltes Gerümpel der Bauern wurde mir geborgt. 1946 wurde die Schule zur Zentralschule, ich zur Schulleiterin, mir wurden vier im Schnellverfahren (acht Monate) ausgebildete Lehrer zur Seite gestellt.

Chapter XIII of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part 4

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Finding Stability during Adolescent Restlessness

Shopping at Arnhem, Holland - Photo Credit: holland.com

Shopping at Arnhem, Holland – Photo Credit: holland.com

When it came to matters concerning the entire tribe Zoska, Günther with the uncomplimentary nickname Little Chicken was in charge and took care of the organization of the big events. Two things stand out for me as truly memorable: the bike ride to Arnhem in Holland and the regional jamboree at the youth hostel in Wesel. Arnhem is the first major city in the Netherlands not far from the German border about an hour’s drive by car from Wesel. The country is as flat as a pancake, especially on the Dutch side of the border where bicycle trails are often totally separated from the noisy traffic arteries. On these trails the combined clans were pedaling in a giant snake-like formation towards our destination, the youth hostel in Arnhem. It was a beautiful sight to behold, some fifty boy scouts in their traditional black attire. Those wearing their uniform-like khaki shirts proudly displayed their honor badges they had earned in the last couple of years. I was at the tail end of this giant human snake winding through the gentle curves on this wonderful bike trail. My job was to make sure that we would not lose any stragglers on our one-day journey. While the sightseeing in Arnhem and the communal life with all its exciting games and best of all the singing were fun, it was the trip itself, the getting-there as one body and soul that I remember best and treasure most as a powerful metaphor for my own journey through life.

Lining Up Part of Tribe Zoska

Lining Up Part of Tribe Zoska

The year 1960 was going to be my last full year of service within the Union of the European Scouts. I had just turned eighteen, brimming with physical strength and vigor, yet very clumsy at sports, full of ideals to create a better world, yet often confused by my own contradictory behavior.  I again began to slip academic achievement, which became more and more important in the senior years. I also lived in an artificial world not of my own making, but by a society that was still stubbornly clinging to archaic traditions in a rapidly changing social environment. One of the traditions was the complete separation of boys and girls in the high schools. There was no provision for interaction with the opposite gender. We boys lived in a bubble filled with an explosive mix of ignorance, half-truths and acute awareness of our own adolescent stirrings. Lacking any objective knowledge either from home or school, we gathered information about sex mainly from highly questionable sources. The rumor about a pregnant student at the girls’ high school at the opposite end of town and her subsequent expulsion ran like wild-fire through the gossip mills in the senior grades at recess and lunch. Sex was on everybody’s mind, surfacing thinly concealed even in our monthly student newspapers. Some would-be scholars made an attempt to lend a degree of academic respectability to the topic by passing notes around in the classroom mostly during the boring geography lessons. It was a never-ending stream of  Latin phrases of highly questionable content. As witty as some of them were, they could only warp even more the already distorted views we held on the topic. The meaning of a healthy relationship that goes beyond the physical to embrace the social even spiritual aspects of a lifelong partnership was completely foreign to us.

The Girl Scouts from the neighboring Town of Geldern

The Girl Scouts from the neighboring Town of Geldern

A source of true comfort and stability continued to be my involvement in the scout movement. It provided an anchor in the turmoil of the emotional storm in which I was being tossed about. Commitment to a worthy cause, action repelling the evil spirit of idleness, order being pitched against chaos, in which a multitude of vices surface and thrive. In short, these virtues provided fixed reference points, which I could use for my own moral orientation. Little Chicken organized a regional jamboree at the Wesel Youth Hostel, to which he had also invited an all girl contingent from the town of Geldern. Except for my elementary school years in Rohrdorf I had never participated in an event on a large scale such as this, where boys and girls were doing things together on an egalitarian basis. While the playing of the customary games, the presentation of humorous skits, the singing of our favorite camp songs pretty near followed the familiar pattern, the girls added a new dimension to our gathering.

Jutta and another Girl Scout Playing the Guitar

Jutta and another Girl Scout Playing the Guitar

Jutta, their leader, impressed me with her gentle firmness in her voice, with which she directed her clan in the various activities. To exercise her authority, she did not need to raise her voice. Her strength lay in the calm assured manner, in which she delivered her instructions. Perhaps more importantly I discovered in the girls a kind of beauty, which distinguished itself through their simple attire and appearance. Just like flowers displaying their natural beauty, these lovely human counterparts needed no artificial hair color, rouge, lipstick, perfume and other distracting accessories to cover up what was already inherently beautiful. Thus, I had developed a liking for natural beauty in girls and this attitude became a guiding principle in my search for a spouse in the following years.

Final Assembly at the Wesel Youth Hostel

Final Assembly at the Wesel Youth Hostel

Gerhard Kegler, the general, who dared to disobey Himmler – Part V

1

In and Out of the Generals’ Reserve List 1944/45

(Chart II a – II)

Before I took a break from writing at the end of June, I described in several posts my uncle’s military career in the German army and the events leading up to the disintegration to the Woldenberg Division. By clicking on the Kegler family page, you will find the combined posts in chronological order.

For the newcomers I will give a summary of the dramatic story of my uncle’s last two weeks before he was arrested and charged for failing to defend the city of Landsberg (Gorzów Wielkopolski) on the Warta river.

Landsberg before WWII

Landsberg before WWII

What follows is partly translation partly adaptation of a report I found in the German army encyclopedia: Lexicon der Wehrmacht. On January 14, 1945 Gerhard Kegler was put on the generals’ reserve list, which was no surprise considering the fact that so many entire German divisions were wiped out during the closing weeks and months of WWII. During that time he took a six-week medical leave at my parents’ place at Gutfelde (Zlotniki) near the town of Dietfurt (Znin), where I was born in 1942.

Bild Gutfelde 29

Uncle Gerhard in the Middle, his Wife, Aunt Margot, on the Left, my Mother with me on her Arm, and Aunt Johanna, Uncle Bruno’s Wife to the Right of the General

He believed he would best recuperate in the presence of his wife and children, who had found refuge in Gutfelde from the bombing raids in Central Germany. Perhaps, if he had gone to an official health spa instead, to which he had been entitled, he might have avoided all the troubles that lay in wait for him.

To be continued …

Highlights of Summer 2015

2

On a Mountain High and then the Accident

Peter on Top of the Power Line Road

Peter on Top of the Power Line Road

On my Yamaha scooter I made several exploratory trips on the nearby forestry roads. The one that grabbed my attention was the Power Line Road so named because it provides access of the BC Hydro crews to the transmission line that carries 500,000 V electricity across the border to the highest bidder in the United States. It is a steep and winding road leading to a ridge from which one can view the Valkyr Range. I heard that the hydro tower on that route has at 2000m the highest altitude in the entire province of BC.

Start of the Power Line Road

Start of the Power Line Road

My aim was to ride my scooter to a viewpoint, from which I could look down onto the lake and see the mountains to the south. When I checked later on a map with contour lines, I found out that I had climbed a total of 1000 m to reach my destination.

Low Shot of one of the Majestic Power Structures

Low Shot of one of the Majestic BC Hydro Towers

The magnificent scenery can hardly be put into words, and the photos on my post can offer only a glimpse of the beauty that I experienced with all five senses, the amazing colors of the valley and the Arrow Lake below, the rustling of dry grasses in the wind, the scent of the wild flowers, the cool mountain air gently stroking my face, and the bitter-sweet taste of wild black currants growing on the sun bathed slopes.

View from Halfway up the Power Line Road

View from Halfway up the Power Line Road

One can imagine how excited I was coming down from the Valkyr range frequently stopping to take pictures, happily whistling and, yes, even singing a few German scout songs that unexpectedly popped into my head, until quite suddenly at the very bottom of the road two giant trailers blocked the access to the campground.

Peter Making a Self-portrait with View onto the Arrow Lake

Peter in a Self-portrait with View onto the Arrow Lake

Anxious to tell Gertrud about my adventure I attempted to maneuver my scooter past these two monstrous recreational vehicles. Everyone knows that when you are riding on two wheels and bring your speed down to zero, you lose your balance. So to make a long story short, I fell off onto the rocky ground with the foot guard of the scooter falling on my right leg. Without really knowing at first I had broken my fibula bone slightly above the ankle.

One could hike to this fantastic viewpoint in abt. 2 hours.

One could hike to this fantastic viewpoint in about. 2 hours.

The consequences were altogether unpleasant to say the least: Gertrud’s anger with my stupidity of going into the mountains without wearing more protective clothing, the physical pain I suffered, my frustration over being severely curtailed to a life of inactivity for more than six weeks, and a lot of regret. Fortunately, my spirits were rising in step with the gradual easing of the pain in my right ankle.

Peter on Crutches at the Arrow Lakes Hospital

Peter on Crutches in front the Arrow Lakes Hospital

While I had to spend many hours on the couch with a so-called aircast on my right foot, the thought occurred to me that the accident may have prevented something much worse. Perhaps I would have become too bold, taken greater risks with my scooter on the following days, and driven even farther away from help on some remote mountain road. Then there were these devastating forest fires in the Southern Okanagan with smoke so dense that air quality alert were being issued at the time we had planned for our vacation at Hedley. So while I was languishing on the couch, I had at least the time to reflect, ponder, meditate and pray. And in itself that was a good thing.

Chapter XIII of the P. and G. Klopp Story – Part 3

1

Dangerous Play with Ammunition

The Siegfried Line (Westwall) was a German defense system covering a distance of 630 km with over 18,000 bunkers, tunnels and tank traps, the so-called dragon’s teeth. It started in Kleve on the border with the Netherlands along the western border and went as far south as the town of Weil am Rhein on the border with Switzerland. Touted by the Nazi propaganda as a unbreachable bulwark, the Siegfried Line was only able to delay the Allied advance to the center of Germany for a very short time in early 1945.

Fixing a Flat Tire on the Way to our Hide-Out

Fixing a Flat Tire on the Way to our Hide-Out

On our way home taking another route away from the main highway we discovered deep in the forest of the Reichswald a number of bunkers from that famous last line of defense. Their walls and ceiling were 1.5 meters thick and had once offered room for a dozen soldiers each. This would be an ideal shelter and hideout for my clan, I thought. Far from the major traffic routes we would be shielded from curious eyes. There in the densest part of the forest we selected the least damaged bunker that would serve as a permanent base for our outdoor activities. I instantly realized the advantage of a bunker over a tipi. The communal tent would have to be laboriously set up. Young trees would have to be cut to provide the poles for the tipi that was barely large enough to accommodate the clan. Of course, enthusiasm among the scouts was high. Attendance went up and new members showed up for our weekly sessions in the citadel. After two or three weekend trips to our fortress, we had transformed the austere looking concrete dwelling into a cozy shelter complete with beds, table and chairs all made of dead wood that we had picked up from the forest floor. We even had turned a barrel into a primitive stove, which provided warmth during the chilly nights of the approaching fall season.

Hans and a Fellow Scout Preparing a Meal for the Clan

Hans and a Fellow Scout Preparing a Meal for the Clan

Fifteen years after the war great dangers were still lurking in this section of the Reichswald. Heavy fighting must have taken place around our bunker. For we found unexploded shells, so-called duds on the forest floor. One young scout stumbled over one of these rocket-shaped shells and tossed it against the concrete wall. I guess in his total ignorance of the potentially fatal consequences he expected it to blow up like a giant firecracker. Fortunately for us it did not go off. When I had somewhat recovered from the initial shock, I blew the whistle as a signal to the scouts to assemble around me. Then pointing to the shell I gave them a stern lecture on the danger to life and limb and ordered them not to touch any of these explosive devices. As punishment for the reckless boy I ordered that they should throw a rope over a sturdy tree branch and attach to it a stick, on which the delinquent would have to sit. In a somber, authoritative voice I pronounced the verdict. The boy shall be pulled up three meters above the ground, where he will have time to reflect on his reckless behavior and serve as a warning to all others who might be tempted to imitate his foolish act. While I maintained a straight face, the entire clan including the culprit took the whole proceedings as excitement and fun. With shouts of hooray they pulled at the rope to raise the boy to the desired height. There he was swinging back and forth until his release from his lofty prison.

Peter's Clan Relaxing in a WW2 Bunker

Peter’s Clan Relaxing in a WWII Bunker

Had I learned my very own lesson about safety regarding WWII projectiles? Looking back, I would say no. For on the day we were breaking camp, I secretly wrapped one of the best looking shells in a towel, placed it deep inside my luggage bag and took it home. There it stood for a while like a trophy in my room on the windowsill. With a new coat of red paint it looked shiny and new and attracted the attention of my visiting friends. It was a very fitting display at a time, when the Russians were launching with great fanfare the first man-made satellites, their famous Sputniks.

Two Scouts Posing in front of Our Bunker

Two Scouts Posing in front of Our Bunker

On the next bike trip to our bunker we were in for a great disappointment. Someone had discovered our weekend base and reported it to the police as a potential hideout for fugitives from the law. Thus, being alerted, they began patrolling the access roads to the Reichswald. How surprised were they when instead of nabbing a gang of criminals they caught a bunch of teenage boys dressed in neat scout uniforms. Unlike the irate youth hostel man the officer told us in a calm, professional manner how dangerous it was to camp out here with all those explosive devices lying all over the forest floor. He also gave us a scare when he recorded all our names and addresses with a warning that he would notify our parents and that there would be possible fines for trespassing. Luckily, the letters never came. But the encounter with the police made us go to safer wooded areas and sleep again in our tipi. As for me the leader of the clan, I now realized that even though I had taken vigorous measures to alert the scouts to the dangers of the shells I should have avoided the bunkers in the first place. In retrospect it was like divine intervention that the police had put a sudden stop to our adventurous trips to the Siegfried Line. That very same weekend I took the ‘rocket’ and threw it in the garbage can. For all I know it still rests somewhere in the Wesel garbage dump.

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