With the article below describing the topic of an open lecture hosted in 2010 by the prestigious Unviversity of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, I am going to provide some background of the tragic events which engulfed the Ernst Klopp family in the 1945 to 1948 time period. My father was one of the over two million Germans who were deported to forced labour in the Soviet Union and our family was one of the 14 million ethnic Germans who were driven from their homes in the eastern provinces. Considering that more than 2 million Germans perished, I cannot help but declare that the survival of the entire family was a first-class miracle.
Recently during my family research, I read online the following announcement by the U of W and I quote:
Pursuant to the 1945 Nürnberg indictment and 1946 judgment the forced deportation of civilians for purposes of demographic manipulation and/or forced labour constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Several Nazi officials were found guilty of having perpetrated these crimes. At the same time as the Nuremberg Trials were conducted, more than 14 million Germans were expelled from their homes in East Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia, East Brandenburg – territories that were part of the defeated German Reich, from Bohemia and Moravia, from Hungary and Yugoslavia. Nearly two million ethnic Germans were deported to forced labour in the Soviet Union as “reparations in kind”. The Statistisches Bundesamt in Wiesbaden and subsequent scientific demographers have estimated that more than two million ethnic Germans perished as a result of their expulsion, either as victims of lethal violence or as a consequence of exposure, hunger and disease. In his 1946 book entitled “Our Threatened Values” Victor Gollancz appealed to a general sense of justice and morality: “If the conscience of mankind ever again becomes sensitive, these expulsions will be remembered to the undying shame of all who committed or connived at them … The Germans were expelled, not just with an absence of over-nice consideration, but with the very maximum of brutality.” Alas, the expulsion of the Germans was given scant press coverage and was seldom discussed or even mentioned in history books. The first UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Jose Ayala Lasso, in a statement to the German expellees assembled at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt am Main on 28 May 1995 stated: “I submit that if in the years following the Second World War the States had reflected more on the implications of the enforced flight and the expulsion of the Germans, today’s demographic catastrophes, particularly those referred to as ‘ethnic cleansing’, would, perhaps, not have occurred to the same extent.” Unfortunately there were no “lessons learned” from the expulsion of the Germans. In 1992 the UN General Assembly called the policy of Ethnic Cleansing in the former Yugoslavia “a form of genocide”. The ICJ and the ICTY similarly found that the massacre of Srebranica constituted genocide. How many massacres of ethnic Germans 1945-48 reached the threshold of genocide or crimes against humanity? Several professors of public international law have raised this issue and insisted that International Law and human rights law cannot be applied à la carte. The UN General Assembly has affirmed the right to truth. The German expellees and their descendants have at least this right.
While my wife has been picking pine mushrooms in our nearby forests, I have been searching for objects that typically represent the autumn scene in our area. Old tree stumps and tree trunks have always fascinated me, as they so wondrously symbolize the end and the beginning of a new life cycle. Mushrooms are pushing through the forest floor to release their spores for the next growing season. Ferns are bending low under the weight of old age while retaining their graceful shapes of geometric patterns for us to admire. Of course, the brightly shining sunflower wheel must always be part of the visual presentation of the wonderful autumn season. Enjoy.
The German management of Gutfelde under my father’s administration abruptly ended on the 12th and 13th of January 1945 with the family’s flight from the advancing Red Army. A few hours before, the attack began, which turned out to be the most massive offensive ever-recorded in international military history. Under the command of Marshal Schukow and Konjew the Soviet army groups conquered Warthegau and advanced within days all the way to Sagan, Silesia. Panic and chaos spread among the defending forces and the civilian population. The flight with as little baggage as possible succeeded in the direction of Landsberg in spite of bitter cold temperatures and icy, snowed-over roads, which were hopelessly overcrowded with people, horses and wagons.
There was an agreement between the NS leader (Ortsgruppenleiter) in Seebrück (Rogowo) and the German farmers including all administrators of the region to join together in order to escape in one single trek. My father found out that the party leaders and NS officials had secretively taken off to safety on their own. He became quite enraged over this lack of leadership on the part of the very people who through courage and fearless guidance were supposed to set an example. While the lonely three trek wagons (Klopp, Kegler, and Dwinger) were slowly heading west, my father on a fast one-horse buggy was racing from farm to farm to warn stragglers of the impending danger and say good-bye to his Polish friends.
The trek managed to get as far as Arnswalde (Choszczno), Pomerania, where the family found temporary shelter in the forestry Kühnemühle. As the place appeared safe at least for the time being, Father decided to stay there longer than warranted by the critical circumstances created by the Soviet armies advancing westwards at lightning speed. Precious time was being wasted with useless discussions and playing Doppelkopf. Perhaps a trace of unfounded hope that the enemy on the eastern front could still be thrown back through a heroic effort by the German troops lingered at the back of everybody’s mind and caused them to dawdle. Suddenly in early February Red Army soldiers arrived at the forestry and took Father as prisoner of war although he was no combatant and assigned him to hard labor in the Soviet Union. In a forced march he returned to Posen (Poznan), to the very region whence he had escaped. Then the Russians shipped him by train to the Donbas area, where somewhere between Charkow and Rostow on the River Don he had to work in the coal mines.
Recently I observed a woodpecker preoccupied with drilling holes into the old tree stump that has served as a stand for our wash basket. It did not notice me with my movie camera. So I managed to get as close as five metres away from this colourful bird. The result is this short video. Enjoy.
Spring came early in 1943. I spent a lot of time outside exploring the world around me. I learned to stand up on my own and ventured to make my first stumbling steps. Jupp, the friendly family dog, was my steady companion and my best friend for a while. Unlike my older siblings I refused to take the bottle and from my first birthday on I proudly drank my milk from the cup. When people were watching, I did my best to entertain them and show off my newly acquired skills. With the good weather also came a stream of visitors to enjoy the peaceful environment and the hospitality they found at Gutfelde. These visits spread over a couple of months were quite enjoyable for hosts and guests alike, even though some stayed for as long as three weeks or even longer. On top of it all, Karl and Adolf came home for the Easter holidays. Karl had acquired a certain degree of stardom with his excellent performance at the Belgard High School and his rapid development of his piano playing skills. As always, when he was home, he was asked to demonstrate his progress at the family piano. This went over very well, especially as his music teacher was also present and accompanied him on Father’s violin.
Mother was honoured for the second time on Mother’s Day in Seebrück (Rogowo), a near-by town southwest of Gutfelde. With her five children, four of whom were male, she ranked very high among all the mothers in the region. Mother’s Day was a state supported festival, upon which a lot of emphasis was given to the meaning of motherhood mostly for ideological and mythical reasons based on ancient Teutonic folklore. Women in general were considered not weak, but very precious who had to be protected at all cost from any involvement in war activities. Germany was the only nation that did not employ women in the war effort in any shape or form. Young girls in colourful dresses presented flowers to the mothers. This year it was Father’s turn to make a speech to the assembly. What he was saying about motherhood and family came straight from the heart and with his genuine admiration for all mothers and especially for his beloved wife left a lasting impression on all those who were present.
Mother’s diary of the first 15 months of my life came to a sudden end, because she had simply reached the last page and did not want to start another booklet. If one considers that this diary with the many tiny photographs pasted into it and written in beautiful Sütterlin handwriting was from among all the other precious goods the only object that she managed to bring safely to West Germany, one must concede that we are dealing with a little miracle. The far greater miracle, the survival of the entire Klopp family in the closing days of World War II and afterwards, will be the subject of the next chapter.
Last week I indulged in capturing a hover-fly feasting on the pollen of a daisy. On that same canoe trip, I could not resist taking photos of a driftwood sculpture and a beautifully shaped root formation laid bare by the constantly rising and falling lake level. Also the first rose hips have made their appearance, a sure sign that the fall season is upon us. Enjoy.