Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) and his Family – Part 34

The Writing on the Wall

Who can read the signs, when the fabric of family unity begins to unravel, when the glue that once held the clan together breaks loose under the load of stressful times? It is easy to answer such questions as we are looking back more than sixty years into past events. But at the time when the eldest son left the house, it appeared perfectly normal. After all, grown-up children with a few exceptions have always abandoned their nests to assert their independence and eventually have a family of their own. Yet, with hindsight we can probe a little deeper below the appearance of normalcy. Why would Adolf, the second oldest son, choose to immigrate to Canada, which turned out like the promised land, which however he did not know at the time he made the decision to emigrate? Or was it not rather the desire to escape his financial obligation to support the little farm in Rohrdorf with his meagre income? And why would Gerhard, the second youngest son, follow in Adolf’s footsteps if not for the same reasons. But most importantly, we children had no clue about the strain that the failed farming venture exerted on our parents. Ernst Klopp, once responsible as manager and director for a 3000 ha farming operation, utterly failed in turning the puny farmstead into a profitable venture. The psychological blow to my father must have been devastating.

Haren, Ems Bridge – Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

In 1954, Father in search for meaningful employment moved to Haren at the Ems River in Northwest Germany. He worked in the office of the weaving factory of his nephew Georg von Waldenfels. The manufacturing plant was primarily producing cloth which was in high demand at the time. The newly created West German army (Bundeswehr) turned out to be a lucrative market for the son of Anna von Waldenfels. Unfortunately, Ernst Klopp and his meddlesome employer’s mother-in-law did not get along very well. The friction often resulted in unpleasant scenes, which wore him out and caused him to leave in 1957.

Rudersberg

In the meantime, my mother Erika Klopp had taken on a supervisory position in the kitchen facility of a senior citizen home in the town of Rudersberg northeast of Stuttgart. Her sister Maria Kegler, an elementary school teacher at the small village of Brünen near the city of Wesel took the 12-year old Peter under her wings. From there, he took the bus to attended the all-boys high school in Wesel, a city that ten years after the war had still many parts lying in ruins.

Lower Rhine Bridge at Wesel – Photo Credit: Thomas Biermann Pixabay

Rebuilding the city in the mid 1950s was in full in swing and the pressure of the extreme housing shortage was beginning to ease. Through some fortuitous connections, aunt Maria, also endearingly called Mieze, was able to find an apartment. An invitation went out to her sister Erika in Rudersberg to run her household in exchange for free roam and board. So it happened that in 1955, while Father was still doing office work at the cloth factory in the Ems Country, Peter’s mother finally found a place she could call her home again.

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) and his Family – Part 32

The Ös Farm

Then suddenly in the summer of 1950 an opportunity presented itself to Ernst Klopp. An elderly farmer by the short name of Ös decided to retire and leased his farm house and a few parcels of land not more than 6 ha in size to my father on credit. By comparison to the 3,000 ha Ernst had administered in Gutfelde, the total of arable land available for farming was minuscule. The house was adequate and a vast improvement over the upstairs dwelling of the ‘poor house’.  It came with a large barn with a hay loft, a sufficient quantity of farm implements, a fair-sized kitchen, the ubiquitous manure pile in front of the kitchen window and an outhouse. The only luxury item that I recall was the large tile stove (Kachelofen in German) providing warmth and a cozy ambience for the entire dwelling. Many of my sweet childhood memories are going back to the Ös farm, as we often irreverently called it.

The Ös Farm – 2003

So here my father Ernst Klopp tried with little prospect of success to pick up his life-long dream again to running a farm under his very own management. Having no capital to spend on much needed supplies, he heavily depended on loans, which created a heavy financial burden. He must have counted on the help from my older siblings for turning the farming operation into a successful venture. 

  The Farm House opposite to the The Ös Farm – Visit by our sons Robert and Stefan in 2003

Soon after his high school graduation Karl left home to study economics at the university of Braunschweig. Adolf, my second eldest brother, barely 18 years old found work at the Bizerba Factory in Meßkirch. Since that time in the early 1950s the Bizerba Company GMBH has developed into a world leader in weighing technologies for industry and trade. Adolf had to contribute most of the money he earned in order to keep this fledgling farming operation financially afloat. Three years later, Adolf was getting tired to support what in his opinion was a hopeless enterprise. Together with another refugee son by the name of Waldemar Klein he immigrated to Canada. Soon thereafter, my sister Erika also left home to take up nurses’ training in the City of Hamburg. In 1954, Gerhard managed to get an apprenticeship placement in a prestigious institute of technology in Switzerland.

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) and his Family – Part 31

A New Beginning in Southern Germany

Rohrdorf as seen on an old postcard – about 1950

In June 1947, Ernst Klopp established himself anew in Rohrdorf , a small village near Meßkirch in Southern Germany. After finding employment as a forestry worker of the Fürstlich-von-Fürstenbergischen Forestry Administration located at Donaueschingen with a branch office in Meßkirch, he was able to reunite with his wife Erika and children. Adolf and Erika (see my sister’s report in an earlier chapter) joined them after a two- years interim with Uncle Günther in Erfurt.

May Tree with St. Peter and Paul Church in the background – 2003

Karl, the eldest son, was the last one to join the Ernst Klopp family. The von Waldenfels couple, having to flee from their Panwitz property, had settled at their newly acquired estate Pentenried near Munich. In February 1948, they took the 19 year-old Karl into their care and provided food and shelter  for about a year. After an agricultural apprenticeship in Nellenburg near Stockach, Karl was finally able to join his family.

Street connecting the Upper and Lower Village of Rohrdorf – 2003

Rohrdorf consists of a long drawn-out assembly of farms and houses divided into a lower and an upper village. In the upper village we find the places where most of the social activities took place in the late 40s. There were at least two inns, a grocery store, a branch of the Credit Union, a dairy operation on the road to Meßkirch, an elementary school and the catholic St. Peter and Paul church. Our family lived in the lower village in the upstairs portion of a house, which my siblings called the ‘poor house’. Its primitive tight living quarters were a far cry from the spacious and luxurious estate in Gutfelde. Being the youngest child, I felt nothing of the stress that the other family members experienced during these difficult times of the postwar era.

Ernst Klopp (1900 – 1964) and his Family – Part 30

Karl and Adolf’s Perilous Journey March 1945

Karl’s Report – Part 4

When we arrived at the town on the evening after the attack, where we had wanted to stay overnight, visibility was almost zero, the stench horrific, most certainly the smell of corpses. How we got over the relatively wide arm of the River Oder, by the name of Swine, I cannot recall. On account of the smoke I was unable to see.

In the middle of the night we reached Ahlbeck and found some rest in a vacation guesthouse, where a compassionate woman with a little son took us in. For the first time in ten days we slept in a real bed. Only now we began to discuss to which destination we should proceed. There were relatives, whose addresses we had in our heads due to a very active correspondence, in Freiburg and Erfurt. The latter was closer. Therefore, we decided to pedal on in a southeastern direction. Since we had neither maps nor compass, we did not choose the direct way, kept on pedalling six more days all the way to Neubrandenburg, where we became sick and tired of biking. We needed a rest, because the most recent journey went over the Pomeranian ridges, over hills and through valleys and into our bones.

We used a savings account booklet filled with entries from our saved pocket money to buy train tickets to Erfurt and pay for the shipping of the bikes. The savings account organization had made life easier for the refugees with the set-up of a generous transaction policy. It was a strange feeling to sit in a train, where to be sure there was incredible crowdedness, to be able to watch the landscape, to read the names of the cities of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, of Brandenburg, and then of Saxony-Anhalt, places whose names until now had been unknown to me or about which I had a different perception.

Once in a while the train stopped in a hollow to await a bomber formation. Often enough low flying aircraft attacked trains or blocked the route in order to target troop transports. A friendly place-name sign ‘Wolmirstedt’ indicated to us that we were passing through the birthplace of our father Ernst Klopp. Slowly we were approaching Thuringia, where Uncle Günther and Aunt Lucie lived. It was an unknown place to us. A long trip in our childhood, especially during the war, was out of the question. Then came the giant railroad station that destroyed all small town Pomeranian perceptions, then the walk to the probable town section, the search in the long street with the name Nonnenrain and the confusion about the house number, 70 instead of 17. Aunt Lucie was speechless. Of course, she could not answer our first question about the whereabouts of our parents. That we looked like dirty pigs must have affected her rather badly as it would have anybody else. At mealtime there was information on the conditions in the city, above all on the almost daily aerial attacks and on the air raid shelters. Besides the American front was approaching from the west.

Erfurt after a Bombing Raid
Erfurt after a Bombing Raid – Photo Credit: TLZ.de

At first we did not heed the warnings of the aerial attacks, until a powerful explosion of a bomb taught us otherwise. Uncle Günther, who was at the time hospitalized due to health issues going back to WW1, was sent home, and we met again, himself looking quite worried. With the arrival in Erfurt the flight had come to an end, and the thread to our homeland and to the parents was totally cut off. What came next was completely different. End of Karl’s report

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 …