A Touching Love Story
Contributed by Anke Schubert
Chart II a – II & IV
My grandmother Johanna attended a teacher’s college in Stettin. Her hometown was Hirschberg in the Giant Mountains. Her father, the headteacher Ludwig Engel, had chosen this institute of higher learning, because in contrast to all the others only female students were educated here. Now it so happened that a young customs officer by the name of Bruno Kegler was a guest at her cousin’s place. On the wall of the apartment hung Johanna’s picture, and Bruno curiously asked who she was. He was being informed, and he in turn asked if he could pass on a greeting to the cousin. He was permitted to do so. When Johanna during her semester break was at home in Hirschberg, she received one day a letter with a strange handwriting with the even stranger address, “Dear honourable Miss!” She laughed and showed the lines to her parents. She read out that the writer had requested a meeting with her so he could pass on her cousin’s greeting. Father Ludwig immediately said, “You will write that there will be no such meeting, because you happened to be in Hirschberg just now.” Johanna sat down at once and wrote her refusal on a tiny little letter card. The envelope landed into the mailbox, while her father was overseeing it from the balcony, and Johanna contentedly spent the rest of her vacation.
When she was back again in Stettin, Bruno wrote another letter to Hirschberg, The letter was opened, but at least was forwarded to Johanna in Stettin. It contained the repeated request to pass on the greetings. Johanna showed the message to her classmates, who warned her about the forceful handwriting. Nevertheless she responded to the letter and gave a time and place, a café, for the date. All her classmates wanted to come along!
As a sign for recognition Bruno had indicated that he would wear a gray suit with a white carnation in the buttonhole. Johanna wanted to wear a white dress and a white scarf.
When she showed up at the appointed time in the café, she saw … two gentlemen in gray suits, and nobody had a white carnation in the buttonhole! But one of them rose, walked up to her and introduced himself – and it was like if they had known each other for years.
For Johanna a wonderful time now began. They saw each other as often as they could; they went on hikes together and enjoyed steamboat excursions.
To the two old ladies, from whom he was renting furnished accommodation, Bruno said already after their first date that he had just got acquainted with his future wife. Without saying anything to Johanna he wrote to her parents, described his economic status and his family and asked to pay them a visit. That being granted, they met and got to know each other, and on April 29th, 1930, Johanna and Bruno got married. They were a very happy couple and consolidated their happiness with the births of their children Hartmut, Elisabeth and Jürgen.
Tribute to our Father and Grandfather Bruno Kegler
by Jürgen Kegler and Anke Schubert – Chart II a – II & III
When the war broke out in September 1939, Bruno considered it his duty to participate in Germany’s struggle to shape her destiny. He enlisted in the army. At that time he was an enthusiastic supporter of National Socialism and proud to be a member of the Party with a fairly low membership number. He took part in the campaign against Poland. However, upon his return he was totally depressed and disgusted about what he had experienced. He said to his wife Johanna that the Party was nothing but a criminal bunch of rabble (Sauhaufen). With his illusions about a better world destroyed, he had to go back to the front lines.
To describe what happened next, it is best to let his youngest son Jürgen Kegler continue. In 1956 he made a bicycle tour with a friend through Western Europe . Their goal was to explore Belgium, Holland, Great Britain and France. He wrote:
“The journey back home went over Paris in the direction of the Vosges Mountains. By the way, we slept in the open air, ate little, and experienced much. On a map I discovered the little village of Kientzheim. I wondered if it was possible to locate my father’s grave site. I found it marked by a simple wooden cross and a tin tag, which every soldier had to wear on his body. It was a strange feeling to read my father’s name in an unfamiliar region of a foreign country . It was like something very much alive rising from the ground, quite a mystifying feeling. While I was squatting down at the grave site, a woman approached me and asked if I was a relative of the German soldier. When I had introduced myself as the youngest son of Bruno Kegler, she began to tell me the following story.
Kientzheim. Alsace, June 1940
by local resident Theresa Held-Schmitt
“I was 10 years old at the time. Germany’s attack on France lasted only a few weeks. France was ready to surrender. June 18, 1940 was a sunny day. A company of German infantry was approaching the village on bicycles. Although they could see no French soldier far and wide nor hear any shots, the commander, Sergeant Bruno Kegler, let his unit wait at the village outskirts and went alone into the village. He wanted to find out, whether the quiet scene was perhaps a trap. He stopped at our house, which was close to the graveyard wall, and asked, if he could have a look from the attic window. He wanted a better view onto the surrounding area. I was just a little girl and accompanied the German soldier to the attic. There he was attentively looking out of the window. I stood next to him. Suddenly a shot rang out. He touched his head and said, ‘I have been hit’. Then he collapsed onto the floor. When my mother alarmed by my screaming entered the attic, Bruno Kegler was already dead.
He was the only dead German soldier at the invasion of our region and all the inhabitants of Kientzheim were of the same opinion. An overly zealous German soldier mistook him for an enemy and shot one of his own troops (in modern terminology he was killed by ‘friendly fire’).”
Jürgen Kegler continues, “When I returned home from my bicycle tour, I reported what I had experienced. My uncles reproached me for not letting my mother in the belief that my father had died for ‘Führer, country and his people’, as it was written in the letter from the regiment’s commander. But she took the news in stride. She even was thankful for it. she knew that the notifications were all worded the same way, and that the circumstances of death were, however, always different.
I was thinking by myself how his early death had perhaps saved him from greater trouble in the war. There was also the possibility that out of disappointment with the system he may have sought contact with the Resistance Movement against Hitler’s regime and could have ended up in the torture chambers of the Gestapo. Is it not true that disillusioned idealists most often have to face the most radical consequences?”