The photos are about two or three weeks old. We had our first winter storm in mid-November with plenty of snow that threatened to stay. The rose hips scintillated with all the jewelry provided by the melting snow. The Canada geese nearby were searching successfully for green grass under the snowy blanket. What a delight it was for me to discover an oak leaf on the wintery golf course. Bedecked with raindrops and contrasting with the bright background the leaf at the end of its life cycle looked truly majestic. Enjoy.
Report Written by Peter’s Brother Karl (1929 – 2019)
How was it possible that parents and children were going to flee from different places? Father Ernst Klopp had been ordered from our original residence in the Pomeranian county of Belgard into the Land of the Warthe to hand over expropriated Polish estates to Baltic Germans, who had been resettled primarily from Latvia. My brother Adolf and I were boarding with a family in Belgard to attend a secondary school. From there began on March 3rd, 1945 the flight into a westerly direction.
To what degree do memories committed to paper reflect the truth? This document limits itself to the presentation of direct impressions and experiences and sparsely delves into explanations. Therefore it avoids them unless absolutely necessary.
Due to the regrettable loss of a diary that I had kept since my early childhood days, most likely lost in a hay barn on the trek to the West, it is impossible for the sequence of events to be authentic.
Also subsequent inserts of military and historical value, or attempts of this nature were unproductive. The Wehrmacht reports, which one can read in the archives, and the historical works by authors based on the former – as far as they could be controlled by personal, absolutely authentic facts – lagged behind the events and even jumped ahead of them.
Memories of the Flight (March 1945)
The Incredible Journey
On March 3rd at 6 o’clock in the evening ‘Tank Alert’ rang out in Belgard. Why did the defence and party headquarters choose the evening to evacuate the civilian population? The family Meißner-Kulmann, two women, five little girls and the Klopp brothers moved under the howling sounds of sirens and the wild perpetual ringing of our church to the designated area, where transportation facilities were supposed to be ready, which was not the case. Without any further discussions the group marched in the direction to the exit road leading to Kolberg in order to reach the coast. Halfway there we stopped in the middle of the night for shelter in the village of Leikow. Some luggage was in the handcart, on which also the children were sitting. Soon we realized that the family did not want to go farther. I was sent back the following evening to Belgard on a bicycle that I had been pushing to get a briefcase with documents belonging to one of their grown-up boys out of the house at the Schidlitz. In us grew the decision to separate from the family, who attempted to stop us by saying, “Fine Hitler boys you are!” I should mention that the march of the trek led us past familiar native places of our early childhood, which slid by in the dark night like shapeless outlines. We recognized how close the front line was by the fire in the village of Lülfitz, which was located north of the Kolberg road, which led in a westerly direction to the coast. In that direction stood also a train recognizable by the stream of sparks: Certainly the railroad line had already been cut.
I always liked to tell that early on my birthday I still got a cake – whether Frau Meißner had baked it in the simple quarters in Leikow or in her own oven in Belgard, I did not find out. March 6th was the day of separation from my room and board mother, who later had walked back to her house in Belgard with her daughters and grandchildren.
As a direct consequence of global warming, the Canada geese that used to fly south to escape our harsh winters prefer to stay in the Arrow Lakes region. On the Fauquier golf course, they find lots of green grass, even though they may have to dig it up from under the snow. Recently, I observed snow geese which had joined the flocks of Canada geese. They seemed to get along quite well with their cousins. I created a very brief video documenting this rather rare event. Enjoy.
[Here I must insert a paragraph gleaned from the City of Erfurt website which throws some additional light on the miracle of survival of my brother and sister who lived for a while in that city in Thuringia: “How close Erfurt escaped such an inferno as the city of Dresden had suffered in February, however, no one suspected, right to the top of the Nazi officials. In view of the relocation of armaments factories, Reich authorities and the military to Thuringia, the British in particular pressed for a massive bombing of the Erfurt traffic junction. The attack was initially scheduled for April 2nd and was then postponed twice. On April 4, the Royal Air Force was to launch a double attack on Erfurt and Nordhausen. 376 bombers were standing on the tarmac that morning alone for Erfurt. While the city in the southern Harz had to lament thousands of victims and the total destruction of its old town a few hours later, Erfurt remained unscathed. What happened? The US ground forces under General George S. Patton were at this time already moving towards Erfurt from Gotha, so that the Americans were afraid of bombs being dropped on their own soldiers and literally stopped the British at the last minute.” I searched for the location of the street where my uncle lived and found that is was located very close to the city centre and the railway station. It would have meant certain death for my uncle, aunt and Erika and Adolf].
And it was decided that Adolf and I were to join Mother in southwest Germany. The necessary papers arrived and we were on our way. The train took us close to the border and we walked the rest of the way. Two Russian border guards saw us coming and questioned us. After studying our valid papers allowing us to pass, they just tore them up. We were stunned at such injustice, after all we were 15 (Adolf) and 13 years old myself. The soldiers shooed us off, one of them pointing at his gun, in case we had any ideas of returning. We left seeking shelter behind a haystack and began to weigh our options on what to do next. Adolf wanted to return to Erfurt, but I would have none of it. I picked up my stuff carefully avoiding the guardhouse. Now a steady rain had begun. Soon I heard my brother’s footsteps behind me and I was much relieved. I don’t remember how long we walked. It seemed like a long time. By the time we got to a small railway station, we were exhausted, yet very much relieved that we were in the West. Two French border guards approached us demanding to see our papers, – no wonder, we looked like runaways. Adolf handled the situation quite well and we were allowed to board the train.
In Nuremberg we found the Red Cross Refugee Camp, where we received food and shelter. As we were out of money, discussing our next move, a woman interrupted us handing Adolf a bill that would cover our train fare to Meßkirch. Several kilometres more on foot and we arrived in Rohrdorf. What a relief for all of us to join our mother and the two youngest brothers again after such a long separation!
It is hard to imagine that some people could like a grey November day. But pampered by so much sunshine for so many days in a row, my wife and I felt very adventurous and decided to go for walk along the shore of our beloved Arrow Lake. Walking through the woods, we found some mushrooms posing to be photographed. At the shore we discovered more of nature’s art work, a head sculpture in the water, interesting driftwood shapes, and tall golden grasses. Even when totally clouded over, our lake, valley and mountains look beautiful. Enjoy.
Here is a funny puzzle that recently emerged from my childhood memories. My mother who had never learned Latin in school asked me one day for a translation of the following phrase by an obscure Roman writer. Di currentum serum. If you have a solid background in the German language, you will be able to crack this nutty puzzle.
In January of 1945 everything came to an abrupt halt. Refugees started pouring in from neighbouring provinces, fleeing from the encroaching Russian front. They were mostly old people, women and children. There was lots of speculation about how this all would develop, some people moved westward on their own, others stayed in the city, hoping that they may return some day. The evacuation order came in early February and trains were ready to take us to safety and by now we could hear the guns in the distance. My family hesitated, there were discussions, but finally common sense prevailed. And our little group left on the last train out; later on we learned that all Russian soldiers entered the city the following day. Our train compartment was very crowded, one toilet, a small hand basin with only cold water for all of us meant long line-ups throughout the day. Food and drink were provided for our journey. The winters in East Germany are very cold, the land covered in snow, not much for us kids to see. Twice the whistle blew, the train stopped and we were ordered to step outside and move away from the train and stand still. When the whistle blew again, we were to get back on the train immediately. These were brief episodes when Allied planes came and went quickly not interested in us at all as they had bigger fish in mind. However our last stop along the way was different, as we were now ordered not to leave the train. We were all wondering what this was all about. Soon it became apparent that Dresden, the beautiful city, had been bombed, the sky was aflame to tell the story. Later we learned that thousands of people had perished, many of them at the main train station. This was the reason for us to be rerouted a day later. Our Tante Margot survived, as they were in another part of Dresden.
Our little group eventually made it to Mark Brandenburg, a place so far untouched by the war. Our major problem was that we were always hungry. Us older kids left daily on food-begging trips. Thus we managed to survive. Often I went on my own. Once while crossing a forested area, I came across the body of a German officer, eyes and mouth open providing a feast for tiny creatures. Another episode was more frightening. Three German teens in uniform, not knowing that the war had ended, shot dead a Russian soldier on patrol. These kids were caught and executed in the courtyard of the farmhouse where we stayed. It was horrifying to hear those shots. Another experience stands out for me. As I was approaching a large farmhouse, the hausfrau saw me coming, yelling at me to leave or she would sic the dog on me. Scared I turned to run off, when a Russian soldier took me by the arm and motioned me to follow him into the root cellar. Here the farmers kept their food. From the shelves the soldier took bread, cheese, a piece of bacon and handed me the goodies, which I put into my bag. I was out of there in no time never to come back to that place again.
Eventually my host family was able to contact an uncle of mine in Erfurt. He and his wife took me in and my life began to normalize again. I loved the family, the school and the beautiful city. However, I often wondered where my parents and siblings might be. My mother and the two youngest brothers were finally located. In the meantime the two older brothers also arrived in Erfurt.