The war came to an end with Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8th, 1945. But nothing changed in Mother’s life for more than a year until early in the summer of 1946 when she was expelled along with millions of other Germans from her homeland. In a well-calculated program of ethnic cleansing all German nationals were forced to leave in order to make room for the Polish people who had been displaced in turn by the Russians in their eastern provinces. Thus, the Pomeranian lands that had once been settled and cultivated for a period of over 500 years by industrious German pioneers and farmers were put under permanent Polish administration and are now part of Poland.
By now I was a little over four years old. What I have been writing about myself, I had gleaned from Mother’s diary, from my second-generation cousin Eberhard Klopp, who did extensive research on the Klopp family going back some four hundred years, from Uncle Günther’s Kegler Chronicles and other sources. I am especially thankful and greatly indebted to my brothers Karl (died in 2019) and Gerhard and my sister for their personal accounts of their incredible ordeals. I decided to insert them here as documents of a tumultuous period and as a testimony to their inner strength and courage without which they would not have survived.
Report by my sister Erika who adopted a new name Lavana Kilborn in the early 1980s
My Journey from 1943 to 1947
In the summer of 1943, my mother and I left by train for Hirschberg, where relatives of mine resided. As we lived in the country, it was necessary for me to move in order to obtain proper schooling. My host-family consisted of my widowed aunt Johanna, her parents and three cousins of mine, one of them being a girl, named Elisabeth and two boys. After a few days my mother returned home.
I got along very well with my new family, in particular with Elisabeth, who was of the same age as myself. We sat side by side in school and became good friends. The beautiful city had a large swimming pool, surrounded by grass to sunbathe, play ball etc. On weekends the family would go hiking in the nearby mountains, where the source of the mighty Elbe River is located. The song “Oh du schönes Riesengebirge, wo die Elbe heimlich rinnt …” still makes me melancholic, when I sing it. We also skied on wooden skis. There were no lifts then, but how much fun it was. All these activities were new and exciting experiences for me.
While Father slaved away in a Soviet coal mine, Mother had to endure indescribable hardships. Escape across the River Oder, where the area was still in German hands, was no longer an option. The Russian troops were heading in that direction and there was heavy fighting. She was left behind at the forestry with my brother Gerhard and me and the four orphans, whom she had taken along during the arduous trek from Gutfelde. That she and thousands of other women from West Prussia and Pomerania did not despair, did not give up and did not fatalistically slip into a state of utter hopelessness gives me cause for great admiration. After the forestry building burned to the ground, Mother wandered around in search of food, shelter, and relative safety. Eventually she obtained permission from a commanding Russian officer to travel with us children to Belgard in the hope of finding my brothers Karl and Adolf. To her great disappointment she discovered that they had decided to leave school and town, when they had heard that the Red Army would be in Belgard within days.
While the town of Belgard remained relatively unscathed from the ravages of war, Mother had to suffer under the harassment and abuses of the new masters in town. In the secret treaty in 1940 between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union Stalin had acquired control over the eastern parts of Poland and wanted to keep them in compensation for the stupendous losses in life and material during the German invasion of Russia. So he ordered the Poles to leave their homes and their farms and settle in the German provinces east of the Rivers Oder and Neisse.
Now in an ironic reversal of roles, the Poles were now the masters of former German farms and exercising control over the towns and cities. For the Germans, who wanted to stay or could not escape in time, it was now their turn to experience harassment and abuse. Mother refused to be forced into a role in which she would lose her dignity, especially, as it often occurred, if she felt that she was confronted with injustice. She knew about the century old animosity between the Russian and the Polish people. So whenever she felt that the Polish authorities had unfairly treated her, she would go straight to the Russian officer in charge of the district and complain about the incident. To her great satisfaction she received justice ironically from the hands of an enemy officer.
Apart from her inner strength that allowed her to show courage where others would have meekly knuckled under, one must also consider the fact that Russian officers had a heart for the plight of little children. One could dismiss this thought as stereotypical and sentimental bias, if what Mother had experienced in Belgard with the six children in her care had been an isolated case of kindness. But such tender feelings on the part of Russian soldier had been documented so frequently as to attest to their truth.
As already mentioned earlier, my father Ernst Klopp and thousands of other German citizens were captured by Red Army soldiers and as a non-combatants were deported with full approval of the other Allied powers to forced-labour camps in the Soviet Union. At Wikipedia we read: “The capture and transfer of civilian ethnic Germans to the Soviet Union began as soon as countries with a German minority began to be overrun in 1944. Large numbers of civilians were taken from countries such as Romania, Yugoslavia, and from the eastern parts of Germany itself.”
At this tragic juncture, the Ernst Klopp family was scattered all over the eastern provinces of Germany. My mother was left to fend for herself. From Arnswalde she travelled north with four orphans, my brother Gerhard and me in search of the older sons Karl and Adolf to Belgard (today Polish Bialogard). There, they had attended the local high school and had boarded with family friends. But the 16-year and 14-year old brothers had already taken off to escape from the approaching Red Army. For the longest time, Mother did not know their whereabouts. Furthermore, my sister Erika attended school at Hirschberg, Silesia, where she stayed with uncle Bruno’s widow and her children Hartmut, Elisabeth, and Jürgen. Writing a cohesive account of all members of the family during the postwar years is very difficult and has to wait until I have concluded my father’s life story.
In the meantime Father had a major accident, while he was working in the coal mines in the Donbass region of the USSR. He received treatment for his head injury and would have been sent back to work, if he had not feigned continual headaches. Thus, he succeeded in getting an early release and was sent back to Germany. When he arrived at Uncle Günther’s place in Erfurt, he heard that the entire family had survived the war. He established contact with Mother and the children and in 1947 moved to Rohrdorf, a small village in Southern Germany between the River Danube and Lake Constance. There he found employment with the regional branch of the Fürstlich-von-Fürstenberg forest administration. Eventually the entire Klopp family was reunited. Although now extremely poor, often hungry, and dispossessed, the family was finally together again and could attempt a new beginning.
At the time of my birth, Father as manager and inspector was in charge of the estates Silberberg, Oberhof and Gutfelde totalling an area of approximately 3000 ha. Although he must have been thankful to the authorities for landing him such challenging and prestigious position and therefore may have harboured a favourable disposition towards the Nazi regime, he always strove to keep his humanity in dealing with his fellow human beings, Germans and Poles alike. In particular, through his actions he distanced himself from the policy that forbade German citizens to fraternize with the defeated enemy. It is a great testimony to his moral independence from the dark and sinister sides of Nazi Germany that he allowed Polish men and women to live and work closely and cordially with the Klopp family at the Gutfelde residence and the agricultural headquarter for the region.
From the stories I picked up from my mother I speculate that Father owed his survival to his reputation of treating fairly and equitably all the people who worked for the large estate under his directorship. Other administrators notorious for their arrogance, cruelty and injustice in dealing with the Polish population were rounded up, lynched, hanged or shot in the closing months of the war. On a Polish website with a special focus on mansions, manors, and castles of Poland, I found an entire page devoted to Gutfelde – now an agricultural training center with orchards, wheat and corn under cultivation, 800 cows and 8000 pigs. The same page to my great surprise also mentioned my father’s name as an administrator during WW2!
The following are excerpts from my mother’s diary which she wrote from baby Peter’s perspective.
When I arrived with Mother at Gutfelde, I received a truly royal reception. My brother Karl, who attends a boarding school in Belgard (Bialogard), would see me a few months later at the beginning of his summer holidays. But the others including my proud father did everything to welcome the fifth child in the family. Flags were waving. Fir branches and a big welcome sign decorated the door to my very own room. Inside the sunny and warm room several pots with beautiful flowers created a cheerful atmosphere for the latest arrival in Gutfelde.
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 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.
This is the third part of the guest post written by my cousin Hartmut Kegler, who also wrote the children’s seminary on Albert Schweitzer I published a few months ago in the original German. I waited until now because it throws some additional light on my father Ernst Klopp and on the happy years in Gutfelde (Zlotniki).
The Games we played in Gutfelde
In the pond of the park, we enjoyed going for a swim but also played ‘war’ on it. We scrounged up wash-bins and tubs, we used as our battleships and loaded them up with chunks of sod that were our ammunition. On these ships, we rowed around the pond and fired at each other with the clumps of grass and dirt. The ‘ships’ that had been hit often tipped over so that we were forced to swim with them ashore. However, we did not succeed rescuing a particularly valuable zinc tub, which sank in the deep water. Together we tried to retrieve the tub by diving but could not find it. Aunt Erika to whom we had to report the loss naturally was very angry with us and we were much ashamed of our misdeed. The tub most likely still lies today at the bottom of the pond.
We also played peaceful games. One of them was circus performances. In the park, there stood next to beautiful shrubbery a big old tree. There we presented our acrobatic showmanship. From the sturdy branch hung a swing, which we skillfully used for our performances. In addition, we did gymnastics exercises complete with headstands and rolls spiced up with oodles of clownery. Our mothers and other spectators generously provided applause and praise.
In Gutfelde, we had our own carousel. At the lower end of the estate building was a horse-operated gin. It consisted of a massive wood beam that was mounted on a large cogwheel, which in turn was connected to a shaft leading into the house. Its purpose was most likely to drive a generator inside the building. The beam was pulled by a horse, which trod around in a circle and was guided by the coachman. We children sat down on the beam and with great delight, we turned cozily round and round on this most unusual carousel.
The following story is a guest post written by my cousin Hartmut Kegler, who also wrote the children’s seminary on Albert Schweitzer I published a few months ago in the original German. I waited until now because it throws some additional light on my father Ernst Klopp and on the happy years in Gutfelde (Zlotniki).
My Memories of Gutfelde after more than Seventy Years
I gladly remember the wonderful vacations we were able to spend in the years of 1942 and 1943 during the murderous World War II at Gutfelde. Our aunt Erika Klopp, the sister of my father Bruno Kegler killed in action in 1940, and her husband Ernst Klopp were the caretakers and administrators of the Polish estate Gutfelde in the so-called Warthegau. They lived in a spacious mansion, behind which was a big beautiful park with a small pond. About the house, I still remember the large dining room and the estate office.
In the dining room, there was a long table. There we all, the four Klopp children and their parents and we three Kegler kids with our mother would sit to have lunch and dinner. Beforehand, the Polish domestic employee would diligently set the table. I remember her well because of what she said after one of us children had hidden a fork from the carefully laid-out cutlery. Quite shocked, she exclaimed in garbled German, “Where is forkie this?” We rascals were very much amused by her reaction. But the young Polish woman took our prank all in strides and was not even cross with us. When all had punctually taken their seats at the dinner table Uncle Ernst opened the mealtime with these somewhat irreverent words, “People eat, horses gorge. But today it will be the other way around. Enjoy your meal.” Not exactly a pious expression. According to the spirit of the times, the Klopps had left the church but described themselves as God-fearing.
Our holidays were filled with playing many games often bordering on extremely dangerous escapades.