Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) and his Family – Part 29

Karl and Adolf’s Perilous Journey March 1945

Karl’s Report – Part 4

We soon found out that the Russians were pushing hard directly to the coastline. Shots were coming out of the dunes aimed at the passers-by. German soldiers went into position and repulsed the attack, which would possibly have cut us off. Here is one impressive detail: A soldier was getting ready on the dune in the direction of the pine forest. An overly daring Russian fighter was hit and fell down and remained hanging in the lower branches. He wanted to get an overview of the scenario from the treetop.

I do not know why someone would throw bicycles into the sea. Anyway we got two of them out of the water, loaded our light luggage and moved ahead this way a lot faster. Near the water’s edge the sand was firm; only over the tidal inlets we had to lift our vehicles. The bikes were available to us for many more kilometres, until we caught in Neubrandenburg a train to Erfurt.

From the place, where we found the bikes, we soon reached the village of Dievenow located on either side of the arm of the Oder River, from which it got its name. On the east bank we had a major delay, because there was no bridge, but a ferry instead, which connected the ends of the old highway of the Reich I65 and which was no longer operational. The army had set up a pontoon service, which, when we arrived, was exclusively available for the troops. They consoled us civilians with the evening hours. We looked at the village. There were beautiful villas located near the beach like in so many resorts at the coast. We went into abandoned houses in search for food. The provisions we had with us had been exhausted. Where we had stayed overnight we had begged for food or often filled our stomachs at the military field kitchens. It was awkward that we had neither a tin bowl nor a spoon with us. Once we ate out of a steel helmet, the inner lining of which we had removed. In the houses of Dievenow we found very little, at most canned fruit.

In this beautiful place I should have received my paramilitary training. They were sending the male Hitler-Youth to so-called training camps, from which they were directly transferred to the troops. During our journey I always had the draft notice readily available in my pocket, but had no intention to look around and locate the camp to report for military duty.

Finally they let us two bicyclists onto a pontoon, some of which were ferrying constantly back and forth.. Now one could already hear heavy artillery fire close by. Shells hitting the water indicated that the Soviets intentionally were going to disrupt the withdrawal movements.

Much relieved we pedalled onward in a westerly direction, needed no longer to divert our march into forests and fields, but rode on decent roads. There were also organized centres of provisions through field kitchens. Also the military operations were less noticeable in the rural areas. The city of Wollin, a day’s march from Swinemünde, was only captured on May 4, 1945. We reached Swinemünde, the next city from Dievenow, already on March 12th, a date of horror in my memory.

Modern Swinemünde - Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Modern Swinemünde – Photo Credit: Wikipedia

We soon arrived at the small beach resort town of Misdroy, twelve km before Swinemünde on the main road to Stettin. We had more often heard the thunder of big guns from the direction of the Baltic Sea. The German navy, which not only carried the masses of refugees primarily from the East Prussia to safety, but was also actively engaged with its long range guns in support of the battle on land, and was shooting no-go areas against the enemy to safeguard endangered front lines. What we heard on March 12th, let the ground at a wide range shake and doors bang open and shut. The Americans and British had fooled the antiaircraft authorities by not flying in a straight line to the town of Swinemünde, but then for one hour intensively bombarded the relatively small town area. The bombing raid resulted in 23,000 dead. They rest on the German side on the Golm, a cemetery of an area of one square km. Swinemünde is Polish today.

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) and his Family – Part 28

Karl and Adolf’s Perilous Journey March 1945

Karl’s Report – Part 3

Only once did we get to know the Soviet air force. A ‘Rata’, an awkward looking, slow airplane, was shooting at the trek on the road leading to the West. Near us a woman lost her infant, whom she carried on her arm. We quickly looked for cover to evade further attacks. Once we had a chance to hitch a ride on a hauling truck, which pulled a huge artillery gun. At close range we could observe how the battery moved into position at dusk. We stayed nearby in order not miss a possible ride later on. Then it became clear what was going to happen: a tank attack in the immediate vicinity. I still remember the howling of the tank engines and the noise of the chains. In the flashes of the gun barrels I could watch the gunner load, how he slid the big, heavy shell into the barrel, stopped his ears, waited for the recoil, then picked up the next shell, about three or five times. To the right in the background I saw exploding tanks. The gun towers all-aflame flew up and to the side. The remaining tanks turned and withdrew into the night. Later on I found out that night aiming devices were in existence. I also have been contemplating, as to why I can still visualize so vividly this scene. It was the unshakable calm of the gunner and steadiness of his movements: industrial work at the machine, prepared by ‘Refa’. We were not fast enough; the battery with its three or four artillery guns had disappeared during the night.

t34_76c
Russian T-34 Tank

In one of the next days and nights we stayed in a more westerly located village. I observed a group of our soldiers, who were giving someone a lecture. One asked, “Where do you have your gun, Frenchman?” One needs to know that very many western Europeans under German occupation volunteered to be enlisted in their own units to fight against Bolshevism. The fear of being overrun from the East since the revolution in Russia was great. Almost all countries east of Germany developed into authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, Germany of course also and even more so. Thus, French people entered the German army. The scenario makes me ask: Was it German arrogance or realistic assessment of the French fighting spirit?

Volkssturm
Old People Recruited to Fight – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

A short time later at the same spot we listened, as a battle at close range developed with the Soviet infantry. When tracer bullets were shot over our heads, we threw ourselves behind a manure pile, and we could see now close to our left and right the trails of light flashing by. The Russians were shouting “Hurrä”; in the counter offensive it was responded to with Hurrah. A German soldier lost his nerves. For several minutes he was dancing with his gun in his arm from one leg onto the other. Much later, sitting in relative safety in the train, I retold my observation to another refugee. Thereupon a sergeant severely reprimanded me, “One does not talk about these things in such detail.” The aforementioned attack therefore was repulsed. My brother and I were looking for better cover in a trench. An officer brandishing his pistol startled us and asked us to identify ourselves. He was a so-called hero-nabber (Heldenklau), whose job was to get after cowards and deserters or simply to bring the scattered bunch of his soldiers together again.

... and also Children
… but also Children

The military operations were pushing us again to the coast. Coming out of the dunes we saw an endless tapeworm of people moving west, military personnel as well as civilians, whom we joined. Soon we saw on the left the ruins of a church in the dunes. The village of Hoff lay ahead, a distance of 15 km to the eastern branch of the Oder river, the Dievenow. My grandmother had a picture of these ruins hanging in the hallway, which I had always looked at with great respect. I had spent the first two grades of my schooling in Stolpmünde. Now I saw the remainder of the church that had been destroyed by storm tides in previous centuries under such circumstances before my eyes.

To be continued …

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) and his Family – Part 27

The Two Brothers Karl and Adolf (16 and 13 years old respectively)

Karl’s Report Part 2

Halfway on the road to Kolberg we saw my classmate Ulrich Schulz (Uschu), with whom I had committed many a prank. He was wearing a bandage around his head. We exchanged a few words, but I have forgotten, what he had said about his injury. In the late afternoon of my birthday we arrived in Kolberg. We had entered the city without any problems. Earlier it had been declared a fortress and since then was considered (also according to army reports) surrounded. We hurried to the harbour, which we also knew very well and the seashore, because we had often traveled with the family or alone to this summer resort at the sea. There also existed relatives and a friendly family. The pictures of the German Baltic seaport of 1945 are well known through TV programs. We too saw the line-ups at the ships. We did not take long to think. We decided to march along the coastline. The great bridge at the Persante river was still intact and so we tried to get to the southern part (Maikuhle) of the city, where the friendly Pascheke family lived, who however had already fled. The city of Kolberg was already being fired at by artillery. The Soviets began the encirclement and assault of this also historically important place.

Kolberg March 1945
Kolberg March 1945

Once in a while we had a chance to travel a short distance on military vehicles. Since we had only our schoolbags filled with provisions on us, we were able to quickly climb on board. How nervous some people became, shall be demonstrated by the following example. A woman accused us of having stolen her suitcase filled with valuables. At a beach section we examined a boat that had been pulled up onto the shore as to its sea worthiness, but were quickly distracted by other things. Rides and marches changed according to the situation and opportunity. Finally we were forced to continue on land and a short time later even in an easterly direction. Thus, it happened that we saw a location twice: once on the march back and then again in the planned direction to the Oder estuary. The explanation for this is that the front lines were moving back and forth, often there were even wandering army pockets.

Lighthouse Kolberg Today
Lighthouse Kolberg Today – Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org

On such march in darkness and blowing snow we saw at the roadside an abandoned hearse. Since we were very tired, we simply lay down on the seats to catch a few winks. Whether it was instinct or battle noise, we left the protective shelter and went into the next village and asked the Pomeranian farmer to stay overnight. He did not want to let us into the barn saying, “You will set it on fire!” He offered us the pigsty and so we spent the remainder of the night right next to the box that housed a well-fed sow. We gave her our empty sardine cans, which she was licking and chewing all the time. When we came by the farm the next day on our way west to the Oder estuary, it was engulfed in flames. Now the farmer had lost everything! An hour later we saw the hearse. It had been totally torn to pieces by gunshot.

To be continued …

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) and his Family – Part 26

Report Written by Peter’s Brother Karl (1929 – 2019)

Preface

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.

Refugees 1945 – Photo Credit: The Conversation

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.

To be continued …

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) Part 22

My Mother’s Ordeal in Pomerania 1945 – 1947

 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.

Belgard, Pomerania (now Polish: Bialogard) – Photo Credit Wikipedia

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.

Pomerania, now part of Poland

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.

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) Part 18

Peter’s Second Year – Mother’s Day 1943

From My Mother’s Diary

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.

Peter and his Friend Jupp

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.

Peter’s Mother in a Rye Field 1943

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.